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Man to Man vs Zone defence in youth basketball, Why is it such a hot topic amongst coaches?

Man to man (m2m) and zone defences in youth basketball is always a hot topic on coaching forums world wide.

Coaches normally split into 2 sides,

M2M ONLY or It doesn't matter.

In my experience defences like a 2-3 zone work against bad teams but get destroyed against good teams, especially anywhere under varsity/U18s.

But why?

Hold up, before we dive into this, let me just be clear on what I'm talking about.


When we talking about zones at the youth level it's normally one of these two. A 2-3 zone and a 3-2 zone. There are others but these are the main ones.

I haven't included the offence because it doesn't matter. Regardless of the ball, those players that are in the key way, will always be there, especially in youth hoops. The other players move to the ball and then back.

Now you guys know what type of defence I'm talking about let's get into it.


So why is this such a hot topic with coaches?

It simply comes down to fairness of competition, and understanding that we are talking about children's sports (yes teenagers are still children, even if they think differently), not Men's or Women's sport.

I understand that the word "fairness" is going to trigger some feelings, but it is important to understand that for the first 2 to 4 years of a player playing a sport, they are a beginner, and basketball is a game of fast paced, 3D chess, with 10 active players, and 4-30,000+ non active players. This is why "fairness of competition" is important in YOUTH sport to ensure players can learn and develop in the right environment. Lets take a deeper look at how this plays out around the world.


Around the world a lot of organisations and competitions completely BAN zone defences until Under 16s, but there are also place that do allow it.

The reason most places don't allow zone D until U16s is because until then most of the players can only score consistently inside of 10/15ft. Not just because of the strength, but their brain as well. Therefore just having 1 player stay inside the key way is really unfair. For both teams if they both do it.

Kids can't process the game quick enough or make decisions quick enough to deal with that, so by stating m2m only it allows all kids to develop at the right level for their BRAIN.

Yes you will stop the other team shooting with a zone, of course you will. It's physically not possible for the kids to win against it. Which is why we don't do it. YET!


That is why it is unfair to the other team, but what about your team? Dose teaching zone not m2m at the youth level have any pros/cons in terms of development.

In my experience there aren't any pros from the development side of teaching zone not m2m. My main concern with players that learn zone and not m2m at the beginning of their basketball journey miss a number of really important lessons, which can be hard to come back and re learn.

M2m teaches players how to guard their yard, communicate deny, help, cuts, screens etc whilst also having to stay aware of their player. They must learn when to help and when not to help, helping the helper and much more. This way both offence and defence have the same decision making time in terms of when to cut/help etc.

M2M keeps the game fair for both teams. It allows the players to have a higher chance of success on offence, which builds player confidence, which builds love for the game, which makes them train in their own time, which means when they get to U16s/varsity their body and mind are ready to transfer their Man 2 Man Principles to their Zone Strategy's.

Yes winning feels good, but blow-out wins suck. Unless there is a real prize on the line (like $1000's or places at the next level, not a u12s trophy)

Until your coaching u18s and above, development of players comes before winning games as the main focus. Do a good job at developing players skill and IQ and they will win games.

The snowball effect of good early coaching only raises the level of players representing the schools and clubs in your area as they grow into adulthood. Ultimately as youth coaches we have a choice,

1. Focus on winning now, if players cant do it they don't play.

2. Accept there are going to be lost games, develop players for their continued participation.

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