Coaching Basketball:Teaching Defensive Transition

I recently sent out a survey to my global newsletter list asking for coaches to tell me what their most pressing basketball related question is.

Coach Anindya, from India, asked how to train his players to get back quickly on defense. I thought this was a question I should deal with as an article, because I have had this question asked before.

This is more of a team issue than an individual issue, and while I try to maintain my focus on only teaching individual aspects of the game, the transition issue relates to both the fast break and rebounding—areas I have covered in my e-books and DVD/videos. So, I decided to offer my thoughts on how Coach Anindya might help his players transition to defense more quickly.

Any of you coaches reading this article, having other ideas on how to train for getting back quickly, while transitioning to defense, please feel free to write in with your training tips.

I can’t possibly cover the myriad of ways coaches teach defensive transitioning, but here is what I have used successfully.

I have covered some aspects of what we need to understand, in regards to how many players I send after a rebound, in my rebounding e-book ( and my video ( I describe how I have four rebounders getting into place while always having one player back for quick defensive help. This demonstration can also be viewed in my DVD/Streaming Video (

From my rebounding e-book, I offer this advice: “... in my offenses, I send four players to get a rebound and send one player (defensive safety) back with deep defensive responsibility. The shooter (unless the farthest player back toward the defensive end--safety), when possible, will follow his/her shot. The shooter will usually have the best idea where the rebound is headed and can often chase it down, otherwise he/she will take the high rebound position. The other three positions are 5 to 7 feet from either side of the rim and 5 to7 feet directly in front of the rim. The remaining player is back as a defensive safety.”

This rebounding box would usually be made up the wings and post forming a rebounding triangle, while the shooter would move to a high rebound position between the dotted line and the free throw line. (I train a variety of scenarios moving players around the different positions, because we never know where the shot will be coming from. I have rules set for where each player will be in the triangle, depending on who is shooting and which players are already nearest the rebounding positions.)

Your team is on offense. If you lose the rebound, now your players must practice getting back on defense, the same way you practice getting a defensive rebound and beginning your offensive fast break. First of all, the operative word here is "fast". Just as you seek to achieve quick transition on your fast break, you must also drill to stop the break, while getting your players back into defense "fast".

The success of your defense really depends on the success of your offensive rebounding and in eliminating turnovers. These two big areas are where the offensive fast break by the other team begins. If you get the offensive rebound, you've stopped their break, for the moment, because you still have the ball. If you have fewer turnovers, the other team must continue to play on defense.

So, when you lose the offensive rebound, or lose possession of the ball, what do you do? The safety sprints down court immediately. The closest player to the ball attempts to tie up the player with the ball, or at least slow down the advance of the ball. That player should not leave the player with the ball, as long as that player is in possession of the ball. If he dribbles, hound him. If he passes, get back into the defensive position that needs to be filled. The defensive safety is already back to stop any deep pass, while the other 3 players sprint back up the middle of the floor to get to the top of the defensive key before the offense transitions that deeply.

You practice this the same way you practice fast breaking. Use a stop-watch and time the retreat. Do it over and over and over again, from different rebounding/ turnover scenarios. It must become spontaneous and second nature. Is anyone looking around to see what happened to the ball? All players should know at all times, where the ball is and in who's possession. When your offense has lost the ball, your transition break to defense must begin immediately and spontaneously.

After you have accomplished the “fast” in getting your players to retreat, now you will have to decide what your defensive philosophy is--man or zone-and how to get into that set. Also, once you have the full retreat accomplished, then you can begin to experiment with any pressing techniques—three-quarter court, half-court, etc.

This is just one approach to finding a solution for a slow transition problem, but I hope it poses at least a partial solution for any coach looking for help with this. Coaches, your players must have the conditioning, the will and the desire to make this work or else it won't work.

Because of the amount of email I receive, it is impossible to spend this kind of time answering each request. For this reason, I created my Coaches Mentoring Program ( If getting some 1-on-1 coaching time is of interest to you, please check out this program. It's really the only way I can completely work with a coach to solve a particular coaching dilemma.