Thursday, October 18, 2012

Defense? What's that?

Well, we are nearing the end of our first week of practice, and the clock says "Offensive work- 8 hours, Defensive work- Zero."  It's been a great week!

I know it's pretty common among basketball coaches to introduce the offense and defense simultaneously, and divide daily practice time between these two phases of the game.

We don't do that.  I'm not sure exactly where I got the idea to work on offense and defense on different days, but like 90% of my System philosophy, that approach probably came from Coach Arseneault.  Why do it this way?  Well first of all, because System offense takes much more time to perfect, for the simple reason (as John Wooden pointed out) that you have to coordinate player movement with the basketball, whereas on defense you don't have to worry about timing, handling the ball, etc.

Second, offense is clearly the major emphasis in a System that averages 100+ points per game. And since it takes more time to develop those offensive skills, that leaves relatively less time for defense.  Therefore, if we must make a choice about what to work on (given that we have such short, intense practices), we choose offense. 

Now, I know there's a strong bias among basketball coaches--even bordering on fanaticism--towards the defensive end.  But let's get real.  Nobody really LIKES to play conventional defense! So if you claim to just love coaching defense, please recollect that pivotal moment, early in your coaching career, when some clinic speaker first confused you by telling you, "Defense is more important than offense!"  And you actually believed them.  Up till then you were a normal person who understood that liking to play (or coach) defense is a little weird.  "Zig-Zag Drill?  Yes!  I love it!"  See what I mean?

Of course, I'm being  a little facetious here to make a point:  it's okay to like coaching offense more than defense.  So get back in touch with your inner child and remember that being a great defensive player is not something you ever dreamed about as you were shooting around in your driveway.  You never did a defensive count down:  "3 seconds left on the clock... 2... 1... OH! TIMMY STEPS IN AND DRAWS THE CHARGE AT THE BUZZER TO WIN THE GAME!"  No, it was:  "3-2-1 Timmy hits the winning shot!"  Right?  Of course.

So am I saying that I don't think defense is important?  Well sure it is.  It gives you something to do while you are waiting to get the ball back from the other team.  Oops!  There I go again. 

Seriously, defense matters to me, but not in the way you think.  For a System coach, defense is about steals and tempo.  Or to put it another way, it's about making something happen, not preventing something from happening (which is what conventional defense is all about.)  See the difference?

Anyway, what this means is that System defense isn't something we worry about (or practice) every day.  In fact, once the playing season begins, we work on defense only one day a week. Spending more time than that on defense is actually going to be counterproductive, because a) you'll wear out your kids' legs if you press every day in practice (and System defense IS the press), and b) it's not that complicated. 

By way of illustration, just imagine how you would play defense in the following scenario:  "You're down 8 with one minute to play."  Now, play defense like that all the time.  In other words: trap constantly, everywhere on the court, gamble, anticipate, and work really hard.   Sure there's more to it than that... but not much more.

In the preseason, we spend the first week entirely on offense, and the second week entirely on our press (after made and missed shots, front and backcourt traps, and defending sideline and OB-under situations.)   After the preseason, once games begin, we work on defense once a week to polish some of the basic skills and concepts.  Oh... and (I lied) we also "work" on defense the day before a game when we walk through our opponent's press breaker alignment and their OB formations, just so we know where to stand at the start of each defensive possession.

And I just remembered one other reason we only work on defense one day a week:  It's more fun to work on offense.  There, I said it.  So, go out there and coach offense, guilt free. 

And just for the record: we averaged 36 defensive turnovers a game last year.

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