Creating an Advantage

There are many highly skilled players who literally seem to have the ball “on a string” but who lack the ability to beat their opponent.  Whether it is getting open to receive a pass, avoiding a defender’s “block out” in order to get an offensive rebound or dribbling past a defender, winning the 1v1 contest within basketball is fundamental to success.

For example, an offensive player may use a dribble move in order to shift the defender (or get them to shift their weight in one direction).  If successful, this gives the offensive player an advantage that they can “exploit” by now going past the defender in the other direction.

Accordingly, coaches must include “contested” elements even if they are within the context of a fun activity in each practice so that players can develop this necessary skill.  It is as much a “mindset” as it is a physical skill. 

“Foot advantage”

Whether offensively or defensively, whichever player gets their foot in front of the opponent has the preferable position.  Particularly in post play, it is common to see players pushing/holding with their arms and upper body trying to get position.  However, it is getting “foot advantage” that is key to winning the contest.

Taking the Advantage

“Attack the hips”

Offensively players want to get past their opponent and they best way to do this is to “attack the hips”.  Many players will move to the sideway, which gives the defender the chance to recover.  When the offensive player “attacks the hips” the defensive player cannot recover easily, as shown below:

Combination Moves

A skilled opponent may be able to react in time to an initial move, however the player can still beat the opponent by making a second move – combining a “fake crossover” dribble with an actual crossover.  The key is to not perform the combination moves too quickly.  Give the opponent time to react to the first move, and then beat them with a second move!

Changing Pace

A player that moves at the same pace all the time is much easier to defend, mostly because it is predictable.  Even if they are fast enough to beat one opponent, the team can counter this by switching.  However, using a change of pace is a very effective way to beat an opponent.

Often when a player slows, their opponent may relax (and move out of a good stance), and can then be beaten by quickly moving again.

Move Backwards to Go Forwards

Similar to changing pace, changing direction is also a good way to beat an opponent.  In particular, when dribbling often dribbling backwards will result in the defender “lunging forwards”, which provides an opportunity to get past.

To many players keep dribbling forwards, which makes setting “traps” or “double teams” much easier.


Basketball is a contact sport.  Often contact results in a foul, however incidental contact is not called a foul.  Offensive players (particularly when doing a lay-up) too often try to avoid contact, which results in being off balance and missing the shot.

Obviously, if a defender has good defensive position in front of the offensive player, the offensive player must avoid any contact.  However, when attempting a lay-up (with defenders on the side), the offensive player’s focus should be on “attacking” the basket and scoring the basket, not worrying about avoiding contact.

“Walk Away from the Fight”

With older athletes it is common to see them fighting for position, particularly in post play, although it also happens when players are cutting or using screens.  Sometimes it is more effective to “walk away”, almost as if you are not going to be involved in the play.

This will often result in the defender turning their concentration to being a “help” defender.  Once they do this, is the perfect time to attack!  The offensive player should particularly remember that if they can see the back of their opponent’s head, their opponent cannot see them!

“Reads not Rules” – “The Defender Tells You What to Do”

A common mistake with young players is that they will decide what they are going to do (e.g. pass in a 2x1 situation) well before the decision needs to be made.  Where a team has set offensive rules (e.g. Player A passes to the wing and then cuts to the corner), inexperienced players will follow that rule without exception.

However, an offensive player must remember that the “defender tells them what to do”.  This is an example of a player reacting to what their opponent does and coaches should be careful that they are not too strict in requiring “set plays”.  For this reason, “motion” offence is the preferred offence initially with junior athletes.