Using Guided Defense in Player Development

It’s great to observe more coaches embracing guided defense nowadays and discussing it on social media. We have been experimenting extensively with guided defense over the years. Within this blog, the aim is to address some misconceptions about what guided defense entails and what it doesn’t.

What is Guided Defense?

Guided defense is the application of task constraints specifically onto a defensive player (s). The defense are constrained by the choice of coverages they can use to defend a particular sequence or possession. Critically, the offense does not know what coverage the defense will use.  The goal of guided defense is for the defensive personnel to develop functional movement solutions for executing and using different coverages. The defense uses the coverage and then attempts to neutralize the offense. This naturally leads to variability and unpredictability for the offense which the offense must attempt to counter with their own functional movement solution.”

When using guided defense, it is first and foremost critical to coach the defense to ensure the cues given are accurate. This is not merely for shaping offensive learning, but also so the defense can learn effective coverage strategies that they would use in a game.

To get an understanding what this looks like on the court, watch this video:

Applications of Guided Defense

This concept is something coaches can immediately implement into your practice design, and something which greatly aids in enhancing the decision-making abilities of the players you are working with. Guided defense can be used with any SSG, such as 1-on-1, 3-on-3 or 5-on-5 and it can also be used in an individual workout with one coach against a player. Simply think of guided defense of being a specific task constraint placed upon the defense.

To use guided defense, you may wish to consider not rotating until a set number of reps have been completed, with the defense guiding and giving a different decision for the offense on each rep. This allows for a good time on task level, as well as for the different guides to be used effectively. It is absolutely critical that the cue used is realistic and similar to how defense could guard a particular action or movement within the game. 

After defense gives the cue, offense and defense play it out completely live. A scoring system may be used, but if the defense do not use one of the available coverages properly (e.g. using a drop coverage instead of a switch if using guided defense for PNR, and the coverage options are switch, hedge and trap), they have to re-do the repetition. 

Design your Own Task using Guided Defense

Begin by reverse engineering. Think of every trigger or situation which could happen in the offensive phrases of the game. Then, think of at least three different ways the defense could guard the action. There could of course be more, but starting with three may be optimal before loading up and layering in more choices.

For instance, let’s take a blast cut:

A blast cut is a cut made from a double gap into a single gap. Starting with three reps, three different coverages the defense use could be:

A = Defense overplays during the blast. Possible solution

B = Defense sags on the catch after the blast cut is made

C = Defense attempts a failed denial (late on the pass)  

Self-Discovery and CLA to bring Game Principles to Life

The most important thing is for coaches to avoid telling the offense what to do against each coverage. The idea is that the guided defense streamlines and accelerates self-discovery. If coaches tell the offense specifically what to do through using “either/or” decisions it removes this opportunity. Additionally, there are a plethora of solutions for players to use against each coverage. Constraining players to just one solution can potentially pigeonhole their development. It prevents them from exploring a solution which could be more effective for them.

No matter how messy it looks, players must first have this chance to self-discover. The offensive solutions can be polished at a later date through de-briefs and film study. 

Why does instructing the offense on what to do against each coverage not align with the CLA framework? Because different players have different individual constraints and varying skills. What could be an effective solution for one player, might not be for another player. While they may have some solutions that they use more than others, players are free to choose their own. As long as it is effective and functional, it works!

One of the most important considerations for using guided defuse is that it also needs to transfer to playing half-court defense live, without specific constraints on the defense. The concept is that the defense can then choose what works best for them within the overriding game model of the team, based on the different strategies they explored while using guided defense. They may find that they liked using one coverage, or that one particular coverage only works against a few players.

Art of the Demonstration in Guided Defense

If we are to be wary of falling into the absolutist trap when using guided defense, the demonstration component is critical. During the demonstration, I always use the players to demo unless they really can’t do it. As I prompt the defense to make the cue (e.g. “show me what you think an overplay is on this blast cut?”), I then look to see what the offense does. I am looking to see if the athlete can make a decision without me telling them what to do. The former explicitly suggests that there is only one solution for the problem in-mind. Now, for certain cues such as the defense overplaying, there are obvious solutions (to cut backdoor), but for other cues, some ambiguity may exist. This is where players need to be allowed to try new things and experiment on what works for them.

For instance, if the defender sags during a blast cut, the decision to shoot appears obvious. But in a practice recently, one of my players took advantage of having space to build up speed and attack downhill, using the speed advantage to blow-by a static defender who was much slower than them. This is what I consider to be creativity. The player is coming up with a novel solution and decision for the problem at-hand.

Why use Guided Defense Anyway?

The most important question! Playing against live defenders is obviously a major advantage as opposed to doing on-air, isolated practice. Without using these constraints, defense is likely to guard the action whichever way they think gives them the opportunity to ‘win the drill.’

This means the offense doesn’t spend enough time reading all the different actions. They often only practice against one or two different solutions. Consequently, they get a very low number of reps playing against a particular read in the practice environment, and the defense can get away with doing the same thing. This solution might work at their current level, but not at their next higher level. For example,  a 6ft 3 high school player defending a PNR using drop coverage, whereas at the next level they’ll most likely be having to switch. 

It is key to remember that guided defense is not playing “bad defense” for the sake of the offense. Using different coverages is actually a positive as opposed to a hindrance. It makes the players better defenders because they realize how guarding an action one way results in offense countering it. For instance, if guarding a non-shooter, players have practiced and built an understanding of the ‘muck’ option (gapping and not defending the shooter). Players recognize the advantage of using this technique because the offensive player is not skilled enough to exploit how the defender is guarding. This is why it is more optimal to use players vs coaches to give the guides, particularly at youth levels. 


In conclusion, the increasing adoption of guided defense among coaches signifies a positive shift in defensive strategies within the realm of basketball. Through our extensive experimentation and exploration of guided defense in this blog, we aimed to clarify the concept by addressing common misconceptions. As defined, guided defense involves the application of task constraints on defensive players, challenging them to develop functional movement solutions within different coverages. The element of unpredictability introduced by guided defense not only sharpens defensive skills but also necessitates adaptive responses from the offense. Embracing and understanding the nuances of guided defense can undoubtedly contribute to a more dynamic and effective defensive approach in the ever-evolving landscape of basketball strategies.

As always, you can learn much more about this teaching concept and so much more, including video examples and course learning, as a member of the Basketball Immersion community.

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