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Training Defensive Capabilities vs Skills

I believe there are two big domains to player development when we talk about defense. One of which as a basketball community we are really great a teaching and coaching, but the other domain, we need some more attention directed to. The two large domains are the technique-driven approach, the affordances, and the action capability or potential, the development of their athleticism. While we excel in honing the techniques and skills, there's a notable gap in training the action potential necessary for elite-level defense.

The Technique-Driven Approach


Think about the meticulous breakdown of a jump shot – we leave no stone unturned, guiding players step by step through the mechanics. This process extends from the basic form to introducing game elements and competition. It's a gradual process of building and refining technique, an approach at which we as a basketball community comes natural.

When it comes to defense, the technique-driven approach is similar. We focus on teaching players footwork patterns, stances, and angles. Introducing and training these defensive techniques can surely transform a poor defender into a capable or average one. Players learn how to stay in front of their opponents, closeout to impact shots, etc.


Let’s imagine an athlete being trained in a defensive drill, and let’s assume its a well designed 1v1 drill. We can continue to execute this drill rep after rep after rep, and yes, the player will develop better angles, probably better footwork patterns and techniques to impact the finish, drive or shot. However, there's a critical element still hanging above the athlete preventing them from going beyond average – their athletic potential.


The Missing Piece: Action Capabilities


While mastering defensive technique is essential, there's still that limiting factor that hinders players from making the next jump: explosiveness, force absorption, stability, and quick changes of direction, all crucial components of becoming an elite defender. Unfortunately, we tend to overlook this aspect of defensive training.


Contrast this with other sports like track and field or football, where athleticism plays a pivotal role in player development. These sports incorporate technique-driven drills into their strength and conditioning programs relentlessly. Athletes focus not only on perfecting their technique but also on building explosive movements within those actions.


For example, sprinters work on their leg swing and first-step speed while using weighted resistance to improve explosiveness. This comprehensive approach allows athletes to apply their techniques with greater power and precision.


The Lockdown Approach


To elevate basketball defense to the next level, we must adopt a similar approach. While technique remains paramount, we must also prioritize athleticism, agility, and explosiveness. Here are some key aspects to consider:

  • Stability: Incorporate strength and conditioning exercises tailored to enhance core strength, solid movement patterns, correct inefficiencies. Break the old and implement the new. These workouts can include drills for lateral footwork, first-step speed, and balance drills.

  • Change of Direction (COD): Implement drills that focus on rapid changes of direction, force absorption and production, mirroring the unpredictable nature of basketball defense. Developing the ability to stop, start, and change direction with speed is crucial.

  • Explosiveness: Plyometric based exercises, resistance training and accelerator training, can improve a player's explosiveness. These exercises enhance a player's ability to win the first dribble, improve closeout speed, contest more shots, prevent more paint touches, etc.

We need both pieces of the puzzle to succeed in developing great defenders. Although I love the constraints-led and games-based approaches to training, they fall short at times in underemphasizing the development of action capabilities. That being said, both approaches need to work in tandem and progress together. That’s what the Lockdown Program is all about. The step-by-step progression from developing defensive athleticism, layering in live/reactive stimulus, expanding to constraints led drills and finishing with broader games-based applications.


If you want to get the Lockdown Program, head to Amazon.com to get your copy as well as access to its own video library of over 50+ drills.

If you want to hear more about this concept of training defensive athleticism with a focus on progressions and corrective drills, check out my free clinic with United Basketball about incorporating defensive training into the off-season: Watch Now.


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