Coach Rudge: Man to Man Defence early introduction

The term Man to Man defence has an immediate recognition for all our coaches. We know what MTM means and we know what we expect from our players.

The fact that we are constantly frustrated by many players not executing the MTM defence correctly is usually because the players were not taught the basics when they were first introduced to basketball.

This could be for all sorts of reasons:

  1. The School teacher didn’t know the basics.
  2. The School teacher had too many kids of various abilities and not enough time.
  3. The kids have picked up what they know about basketball from playing scrimmage games and pickup games.
  4. They were coached how to play the MTM but because of limited resources they were not given enough time to understand the various principles of the defence.
  5. I am sure you could add many more to the above.

The problem for all coaches, coaching at all levels from very young to hardened adults, is that we have to use our practice time for the benefit of the team. This leaves little time to concentrate on the individual development.

Within West Brom Basketball Club we are privileged to be given players at a very young age which gives us the chance to actually teach the players basic fundamentals.

In countries such as Latvia, Estonia and other Eastern European countries children from age seven or eight are asked to spend endless training sessions simply passing the ball to each other. They are never allowed to play a game or even shoot. The thinking is that the kids need to have the basics to be able to play. They need to learn to pass, dribble, move to receive a pass, pivot with the ball etc before they can move on to learning how to shoot. Only then can they start to learn how to play. Part of learning how to play is to understand how to defend.

There is a school of thought that says you can’t teach MTM defence until the players understand how to play a zone defence. I can hear you saying but junior teams can’t play zones! Learning how to play a zone doesn’t mean you have to use it in a game but learning how to play a zone does make the players understand the concept of space and danger areas. In a zone the player has responsibility for an area, if an opposition player comes in that space it is then the responsibility of that player, they may even have to cope with two players at the same time. What this does is make the defender aware of how important defending space actually is.

This is something that is often lost on players when playing MTM defence and it is really important for coaches to emphasise how important the concept of space really is when making choices in the MTM defence.

We have all seen young players (and lots of adults too) playing far too close to their man when the ball is nowhere near them. We have seen them playing far too far away as their man is in a danger area (the concept of space and when to be tight).

We have also seen them concentrating on their man so hard they can’t see anything else and in particular the ball!

So how do we make it easier to teach the MTM principles to all our players?

We have to give the players very simple rules:

  1. The very first is to be able to see both your man and the ball at the same time. To get young players to understand how they can do this here is a very simple demonstration. Have the player look straight ahead and then have two players stand three metres either side of him/her about a metre further up the court than he/she is. Then ask the two team mates to wave their hands and ask the player if he can see them? When the player says he can see both teammates waving have them move very slightly higher and a little further away until the player can’t see them. Then ask them to step back slightly until the player can see both of them waving their arms. Once you get to that point get both to stop waving and tell the two team mates to only wave when you point at them. The player then has to point to whichever is waving. After a while point to both wavers and the player should point to both as well. This confirms that without looking directly at either the ball or the man the player can see both. What happens when one of the wavers moves? The player has to adjust his position to be able to see both. Get the two wavers to come close together and explain that it now allows the player to get closer because he/she can clearly see both man and ball similar to being one pass away or when the player he/she is marking actually has the ball. I know this is time consuming and potentially boring but it is such a key element of understanding the MTM defence it is worth persevering until they understand. It is a good drill to use if the players you are coaching are of much different talents, as everyone can do this and understand the concept.
  2. If our man is not a danger we mark ‘space’ or be ready to help a team mate if his player gets free. When is the player you are marking not a danger? When he/she is far enough away from the ball that you as a defender know that however they get the ball either from one long pass or via two or three passes you will have plenty of time to get to your player either as the ball arrives or slightly before. How many times have we seen a player still only a metre or so away from the player they are marking when the ball is on the other side of the court? Using the skills from ‘Rule 1’ we can explain to the defender he is not helping his team by being so close.
  3. When the defender you are marking has the ball be sure to decide on a strong side and over play that side. If the player you are marking uses his/her right hand to dribble the ball then overplay that hand and ‘allow’ him/her to see space on his/her left hand. This has two distinct advantages. First it is clear to all the other four players that if you are going to get beat it is on just that one side and they can be ready to help. Secondly it makes sure your opponent cannot beat you head on and leave you behind. If he/she attacks on the weaker left hand as you are over playing the right hand your body shape is already set to at least stay level with your opponent and, if it his/her weaker hand gives you a very good chance of stealing the ball or they lose it because of the help you know you will get.
  4. If you get ‘lost’ or maybe beaten by your opponent or you helped and the ball gets passed back out or if you lose the player you are marking DO NOT start looking for him/her from where you are. Always go under the basket where you can be of help in the danger area and locate the player you are marking from there.
  5. When defending with MTM the less you move your head the better! The best defenders hardly ever move their heads but move their feet to see man and ball. Those defenders who have not been taught well or possibly never been coached will have ‘heads on swivels’ as they try to see the man then the ball then the man and so on.
  6. MTM sounds like it is five players defending the oppositions five players in isolation. This could not be further from the truth as MTM is the ultimate ‘team’ defence. The first three rules help to get this point over to players but the collective effort becomes much greater than the sum of five individual defenders.
  7. Talk to your players about ‘what the team are trying to achieve’ with the MTM defence. If you ask them, they will probably say ‘to stop the opposition scoring’. This is understandable but in reality that is not the overall aim. Basketball games are not like football where a team can win 1-0. The opposition will always score but the more difficult you make it for them to score each time they come down the floor, the less their overall score will be. So, tell your players that you know the opposition will score but we want them to take difficult shots and deny them the easy ones. This is so important to get over when playing any defence but especially MTM so that in the 23 sec of a hard defensive effort you NEVER get a player fouling an opponent trying a prayer shot, off balance, from the corner or any rushed shot for that matter. If they are taking difficult shots, let them.
  8. Where do your players pick up their opponent? You as coach decide this but for a standard half court MTM it is usually just outside of three-point range.
  9. Remember that defence starts as soon as the offence fails. It can’t be emphasised enough that as soon as we lose the ball everyone sprints back as fast as they can to the key and then picks up their men from there.

There are many more subtle points to make but these ‘rules’, reinforced in practice sessions, will set young players up for life playing MTM defence with any team.

Check out our previous post covered ‘positionless basketball.’ If there are any topics you would like us to discuss please get in touch with us