Defining Communication between Half Court Defenders

In every single training session at least at one stage or another, you will hear a coach emphasise the importance of communication. Communication is always one of the skills most spoken about by coaches to their players and amongst other coaches. One point of note though is a lack of clarity on exactly what a coach would like their players to say. It seems that for all the effort that goes into improving this aspect of defence, there is a shortfall with the specific detail of exactly what needs to be said.


Most players will determine some sort of consistency in their communication with verbal cues such as “Ball”, “Help” and “Screen”. However, there is so much more to be discussed on the floor when playing defence. Having a simple, yet specific group of verbal cues can help significantly in making the communication between players more effective and efficient.


It is common for defenders to repeat the different key words they have while on defence to help improve the understanding of what they are saying. This is always a debatable point. How many times should a defender repeat what they communicating? Is there any improvement in calling Ball three times compared to once? There are of course reasons for favouring both points. One stipulation is to ensure communication is always loud and clear. Players should think of always communicating with purpose, and this purpose is to let their teammates know what they are doing and what is happening on the floor from their perspective. In a basketball game for this communication to be effective, it must be loud. This will need to be practiced and feedback given to players on the volume of their communication and how appropriate it is for the game situation.


Below is a list of some of these cues to implement within a team. While the specific language may differ between countries or programs, what is important is that these terms form the basis upon which to build greater detail in communication between defenders.




Probably the most utilised verbal cue is “Ball”. Ball is used to communicate when a player is closing out or guarding the ball handler. Ball is one of the few verbal cues that it is suggested to be repeated multiple times while on defence. This is because all players will need to be aware of where the ball is and move accordingly no matter whether they are guarding the ball or in a help position.


A common standard is for the verbal cue of Ball to be repeated three times.


Help Left/Right


There are two contexts for when “Help” can be utilised. The first is for those players off the ball who move into a help position for the on-ball defender. Depending on which side of the on-ball defender they are they will communicate either Help Left or Help Right. This communication is used as a way of letting their teammate know that they are willing and able to provide assistance in defence.


The second context is if the on-ball defender realises they have been beat on the dribble. Calling Help in this situation is really about triggering the off the ball defender rotations as early as possible so they can assist and limit the possible advantage generated by the offensive player.


Defining Communication between Half Court Defenders Diagram 1
In the Diagram Above Four (4) is the player in the “Split Line” position. The communication of Split Line in this scenario is to let defenders One (1) and Three (3) know there is help towards the baseline should they be beaten.

Split line


“Split Line” refers to the position a player assumes along the split line of the court. The usual position that triggers this verbal cue is when a defender is positioned on the front of the basket. This position is usually one the first rotations to happen in helping a teammate that has been beaten baseline from the wing position.


In the half court, this player would be looking to rotate so to stop the offensive player from ever entering the keyway when dribbling baseline.


Cutter Left/Right


One of the lesser utilised verbal cues is “Cutter”. Best used by players who are two or three passes away from the ball this allows for the defence to start to define where offensive players are moving. The defender will communicate that there is a cutter moving to the left or right of their teammate with the statement “Cutter Moving Left Sam”.


In some instances, the offensive player’s position on the court will only be communicated. For example “Cutter Left” or “Cutter to the Low Post”. The problem with this form of communication is that it does not draw any specific person’s attention to the fact of where the threat is. By adding a name to the communication, it lets the teammate know that they need to be aware of this situation.


Screen Left/Right


The “Screen” cue helps tell a teammate they are about to be screened. In some circumstances, a defensive player will not see the screener until contact is just about to be made. So communication is vital to ensure no advantage (or as little as possible) is obtained by the offense. Off the ball defenders must be very active in using these verbal cues to help those closer to the action become aware of when the screening tactic is being employed. Like with the cutter cue, screening is best communicated by those defenders two or three passes away from the ball. These defenders will have the biggest view of the court the unfolding the offense.


The communication again should highlight not only that a screen is about to happen, but to what side it is and the name of the defensive player who is about to be screened.




Another common cue is “Shot”. The obvious reason for calling Shot is to let teammates know that a shot has been taken by the offense. This should trigger the defenders on the floor to start to move into rebounding positions and find an offensive player to box-out.


Shot should be communicated before the ball has been released by the offensive player. Typically, this is done when the shooter is in the air and just about to release the ball. This will provide the maximum amount of time for a defensive team to move into position for the rebounding contest.




“Box” or “Box-Out” is another option that can be used as a way of triggering a response from the defence to move into a rebounding position. All players on defence would communicate this cue every time they hear the call of “Shot”.


A better option though then using the term Box-Out is for players to associate Shot with triggering them to boxing out on defence. In this situation less communication is better, and with the Shot call being made that little bit sooner by the person guarding the ball handler it will provide some additional time for defenders to move or create an advantageous rebounding position.


There are a number of additional cues that can be employed by a team to help with refining a half-court defence. Whatever the cue used, it must be used by everyone and have consistency in application as well as a universal meaning to the team. Otherwise, players a just speaking without any purpose or benefit to their teammates…

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Coach Riches has been working within the sport, business and education industries for many years. During this time he has built an extensive number of formal and informal qualifications. A firm believer in training and development designed to help people reach their full potential, relevant o their needs and functional to their industry environment.

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