What Should a Defensive Playbook Include?

Most coaches are very aware of the need to build their competence when associated with offensive plays, tactics, and strategy, but never spare a thought in providing the same amount of energy to developing a Defensive Playbook. A defensive playbook is just as important in regards to building a team’s options as offense. However, the two areas of offense and defence rarely are equal in their time devoted to each of them.


A defensive playbook should look to provide options for a team and their coach throughout the game that counter the offensive efforts of their opponents. This seems like an obvious statement but the underlying reason for a comprehensive defensive playbook is it allows a team to be proactive rather than reactive. The possibilities available from a defensive playbook can allow a team more control over what they can do on the floor. This in turn means that a team’s defence can be used as an occasion to attack as much as a team’s offense.


Having a Defensive Playbook brings further Purpose to a Team's Defence (Source: White & Blue Review)
Having a Defensive Playbook brings further Purpose to a Team’s Defence (Source: White & Blue Review)

As a starting point, a defensive playbook can be broken down into some core areas such as:



These elements can be expanded upon and broken down further as a coach’s knowledge and experience increases. This will allow over successive seasons refinement for a coach’s defensive playbook to increase in detail after each campaign’s review and evaluation.


As a point of note, all elements of the defensive playbook should be diagrammed to allow for ease of understanding by players and support staff alike.


Within the Full Court category, the defensive playbook should look to provide options that cover aspects such as trapping defences. Trapping or pressing defences can be either from a zone or man-to-man options and if the true potential of a defensive playbook is to be reached then both zoning and man-to-man possibilities must be covered.


By having a trapping option imbedded within a team full court man to man defence then the focus can be changed during the run of the game without the opposition being aware of the change-up and therefore unable to anticipate the play throughout the game. The man-to-man principles and focus points are covered in the full court category. This will help define a team’s desired style of defensive play and is very important as many team’s predominantly use a man-to-man defence as their default option for a majority of game situations.


The Half Court category, should cover off on the tactical areas such as zone and man-to-man defences. The zone options can be both focused on the trapping and extended to the halfway line, or they can be restrained in the quarter court. Even within the quarter court, having the ability to be able to trap is especially useful to disrupt an offensive team’s style of play and tactics in general.


Similarly, the man-to-man defensive options should have variations to allow for ‘straight up’ guarding or the inclusion of trapping principles to allow for variety of choice in dealing with an offensive team.


The Special Situations section within the defensive playbook can focus on a very wide array of difference scenarios. Some of the options for this area might be defending an inbound situation by doubling the player to try to force the turnover. Other possible tactics might include a specialised defence for facing up against a baseline offensive play. Last but by no means least, this section should include reference to dealing with intentional fouling.


The final section highlighted is the Defensive Breakdowns section. In this area of the defensive playbook options when guarding an on-ball screen, different types of off the ball screens, defending the post and other specific tactical philosophies a coach might like to highlight for players on how they would like things to be done. This section will focus more about the specific technical teaching points that area breakdowns of the overall defences they are within.


A defensive playbook can be as simple or as complex as your players can handle. Just like an offensive playbook various plays can be implemented and refined over the course a season, a defensive playbook can also be utilised in this way. For teams within a season based competition, this will allow for your opposition to never be complacent when preparing to face your team as a coach.

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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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