Youth Dev.-Teaching Your Players to Read the Defence

Basketball can be a very complicated game, particularly for players just learning to play.  Teaching players to 'read the defence' will make the game easier for the players because they will develop anticipatory skills rather than simply reacting.

At the youth level coaches need to make use of numerical advantage games (2 on 1, 3 on 2, etc.) and/or small-sided (1 on 1, 2 on 2, 3 on 3). These types of games will give the players more meaningful touches, which are simply opportunities to 'read the defence' and make a decision, and will remove a great number of distractions created by additional players being on the floor.  However, playing small-sided or numerical advantage games alone may not help develop the ability to 'read the defence'. It is the responsibility of the coach to instruct the players on what to look for - i.e. what they should be 'reading'. If the coach does this, eventually the players learn to read the movement of the defenders and can anticipate the movement of their teammates. Their decision-making ability develops more quickly and their play is enhanced.

Let's use the 5 in a Line Toss Drill clip below to illustrate this idea. In the first group when the offensive player tosses the ball outside the 3 pt. line, she will catch it on a jump stop, pivot and face the basket. Immediately as she faces up, she must see how the defenders are positioned (reading the defence).  The 2nd and 3rd players must get out to the 3 pt. line (or out to space) and then must also read the defence.

When the 1st player turned with the ball, she should recognize that the basket is not being defended, and therefore should 'anticipate' a teammate cutting, and be ready to deliver the pass with proper timing, as she did.  Further, she should expect the 2nd player to cut because the 3rd player was being guarded (or she 'reads' the 2nd player wasn't defended).

Here is an example of how a coach might teach the players to 'read the defence' in this drill:

   1. Begin by walking the players through the drill and having the defenders guard the ball and one of the cutters.

   2. As the 1st player turns, ask her "what are you looking at?" - her response should be "the 2nd defender" (we need to get players past worrying about their defender - yes, I know easier said that done).

   3. We can then ask the 2nd cutter "is there a defender between you and the basket?" - her response would be "no", to which the coach then asks "so what should you do?", and the response should be "cut!"; Coach "yes!- good read".

    4. The 3rd cutter should be asked "what do you see?", her response should be "I am being defended"; the coach then asks "what should you do then?" and the answer we hope to get "stay out wide" or "stay spaced out".

Teaching reading the defender(s) helps to develop the anticipatory skills necessary for success in basketball.  Anticipation will create quicker play because the players thoughts are slightly ahead of the movement, and they will be ready to make the play immediately, if the movement they are anticipating occurs.

Too often young players away from the ball are only focussed on the ball.  There tendency is to move towards the ball and destroy spacing, or to stand, and not recognize opportunities to cut to the basket, or move to open space and receive a pass. The player with the ball does not recognize opportunities to shoot, pass, or drive because they are unaware of the defenders' positioning. The player may focus too much on his/her teammates or may only see the defender on him or her.

The statement we use constantly is "the defender(s) will tell you what to do". By using this statement player(s) eventually get to the point where they see the defender(s), see more of the floor and, most importantly, begin to make the correct decisions.  

Are you, as a coach, attempting to take the complexity out of the game and trying to make it simple for your kids to understand? Teaching players that the "defence will tell them what to do" will make the game easier to understand. By teaching players to 'read the defence' you are teaching them a skill that will be with them for the rest of their career and will make them significantly better players.