“The Split Line”

The next defensive team concept that players must be taught is the “split line”, which is an imaginary line that runs down the middle of the court – from basket to basket.

This is also called the “help line” and is an important concept when putting together a team’s overall defensive scheme. However, it can be introduced initially without reference to the overall scheme:


When the ball is on one side of the court, players that are guarding an opponent who is on the opposite side to the ball (x3 and x4) can be instructed to move to the “split line”.

This can be simply introduced as an example of the rule that the further an opponent is away from the ball, the further the defender can be from the opponent.

Once players have established a habit of moving to the split line, coaches must ensure that those defenders are active on the split line – and they should regard it not as a specific spot, but as a “thick line”.


Defenders on the split line should move in anticipation of what is about to happen.

For example, if they anticipate that the player with the ball (2) may drive baseline:

  • x3 takes a step towards Player 2;
  •  x4 takes a step towards the foul line

The players are moving in the direction that they would move to if the player were to drive.


If the defenders anticipate that Player 2 will pass, they should both take a step towards their player, maintaining vision of the ball.


As a visual cue, players can be instructed to regard the split line as being the width of the backboard, and they may move in anticipation from one side to the other.

The movements suggested, very much fit within an overall defensive scheme.


Anticipating the Offence

Some cues to look for to anticipate what a player with the ball may do are:

  • The position of the player’s defender:
  • If the defender has their nose on the player’s right shoulder, the player is likely to pass / dribble to their left (and vice versa);
  • If the defender is aggressive, with active hands placing direct pressure on the ball, the player is more likely to pass;
  • If the player has the ball at waist level, they are likely to drive;
  • If the player has the ball above their waist, they are likely to pass (or shoot);
  • If the player has the ball above their shoulders, they are likely to pass;
  • If the player has the ball on their left hand side, they are likely to move / pass to their left (and vice versa).

The team’s defensive rules also help anticipate what the offence will do.