The Best Defense For Youth Basketball

The Best Defense for Youth BasketballLet’s play a game.

We’re going to design the perfect defense for youth basketball…

Here are 3 important criteria I came up with off the top of my head that are imperative when designing a youth basketball defense:

1. The perfect youth basketball defense should prepare players for the next level.

2. The perfect youth basketball defense should allow players to experience all components of defense.

3. The perfect youth basketball defense should be easy to learn.

Are there any defenses you can think of that fit this criteria?

It’s definitely not a zone defense.

Most coaches would guess the traditional man-to-man defense but it’s not that either (although your guess is close).

What if I was to tell you that there’s a defense that has all the benefits of man-to-man defense except it’s far easier for coaches to teach and players to learn?

Because this defense does exist.

It’s the Pack Line defense.

Every youth basketball team (any team below high school level) should be running the Pack Line defense.

Before I explain why, let’s discuss what this defense is…


What is the Pack Line Defense?

The Pack Line defense is a variation of a man-to-man defense that involves players sagging closer to the basket instead of cutting off passing lanes.

It was created by Dick Bennett of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, Wisconsin-Green Bay, University of Wisconsin, and Washington State.

The Pack Line defense is already used by many youth basketball coaches as well as high school teams and some of the best college basketball teams in America.

The best examples being Jim Boone at Delta State University, Mike Neighbours at the University of Washington, and Chris Mack at Xavier University.

But don’t be scared off by the big names. This defense is simple enough to employ with players as young as 5-years-old.


Differences Between Pack Line and Man to Man Defense

Let’s clear this up…

There is very little difference between the Pack Line defense and a traditional man-to-man defense.

In fact, there’s only one main difference…

The position of the defender one pass away from the basketball.

The Pack Line defense positions the defender one pass away in ‘help’ position.

The traditional man-to-man defense positions the defender one-pass away in ‘denial’ position.

Pack Line Best Defense

That’s all.

Defending ball screens is exactly the same.

Transition defense is exactly the same.

Boxing out and rebounding are exactly the same.

There are certain ‘rules’ when running the Pack Line defense such as not allowing players to drive baseline or three-quarter fronting the post, but these aren’t set in stone and can be done in a man-to-man too.

There’s not as much difference between the Pack Line defense and man-to-man defense as most coaches seem to think.

But the small differences that do exist are important and make defense much simpler to teach than

Let me explain why…


Why the Pack Line Defense is the Best Defense For Youth Basketball

Traditional man-to-man defense is too hard to teach to young players.

It’s like trying to teach a 5-year-old how to break a full-court press before they can even dribble with their head up.

Sure, it can happen… but it won’t be very good.

Instead, there needs to be a simpler progression before players attempt to master the man-to-man defense.

The Pack Line defense is the perfect defense to introduce players to man-to-man concepts while being much easier to learn.

Here are the two most important reasons why…

Reason #1 – It’s much easier for players to learn the Pack Line defense despite only being a small (but important) difference from a traditional man-to-man defense.

Jim Boone and other advocates of the Pack Line defense all believe that off-ball defenders cannot accomplish all three of these things effectively:

1. Deny
2. Help
3. Recover

Think about it…

How often do your players get confused whether they should be in help position or denying the pass to their player?

It happens all the time in youth basketball.

With constant movement of the offensive team, a player can go from denial to help to denial to help in the space of 10 seconds.

This is too much for players still learning how to play the game. No wonder they always get lost on defense!

Implementing the Pack Line defense removes this confusion by removing the denial aspect of defense.

Instead, players only have to focus on two things:

1. Help
2. Recover

Defenders know that when they’re not playing on-ball defense, they should be in help position.

The Pack Line teaches the four off-ball defenders where they must be on the floor to help their teammates.

While this might not sound like much, don’t underestimate the significance of this difference. It makes defense much easier for youth players to understand.

Reason #2 – It teaches players how to play defense as a team

In a traditional man-to-man defense, it’s common to see players denying their player the basketball from all over the court.

They’ll often even lose sight of where the basketball is on the court because their focus is on shutting down the player they’re defending.

A player’s thoughts are: “If I stop my player from scoring the basketball then I’ve done my role for the team.”

It’s an individual mindset.

Whereas the Pack Line defense is always one player playing on-ball defense while the other 4 players are in help position ready to react to whatever the player with the basketball does.

This changes the mindset from ‘how can I stop my player’ to ‘how can we stop the basketball as a team’.

Quick Note: Just because there’s help doesn’t remove the responsibility of the on-ball defender to guard their player one-on-one. It must be constantly emphasized that each player must ‘guard their yard’.

So how do you teach it?


How to Teach the Pack Line Defense

I’ve already written a full coaching guide to the Pack Line defense so I’m not going to go into detail in this post.

The purpose of this article is to explain to you why the Pack Line defense is the best defense for youth basketball.

But don’t worry…

I will provide you with all the resources you need to implement it with your team!

Check out my 2,500+ word guide I wrote on the Pack Line defense on the link below:

The Complete Guide to the Pack Line Defense


2 Common Misconceptions About the Pack Line Defense

There are two frequent arguments used by coaches who are against the Pack Line defense in youth basketball:

1. “The Pack Line defense is a zone defense disguised as a man-to-man defense.”
2. ” The Pack Line defense doesn’t develop players as well as the traditional man-to-man defense.”

Both of these accusations could not be further from the truth.

Here is why in more detail…

1. “The Pack Line defense is a zone defense disguised as a man-to-man defense.”

This is completely wrong. The only coaches who will say this are those that aren’t aware of how the Pack Line defense works.

It is not at all like any zone defense. Players are required to guard an opposing player, not an area.

I’m going to share with you the 4 reasons why zone defense is terrible for youth basketball that I wrote about in my ‘Zone Defense is Terrible For Youth Basketball’ blog post, and why the same is not true for the Pack Line defense.

a. Zone defense creates poor defensive habits.

To name just a few…

• A zone defense creates lazy on-ball defenders. In the Pack Line, on-ball defense is exactly the same as man-to-man defense.

• In a zone, defense players guard an area by standing and watching the basketball. In the Pack Line, defense players have a direct opponent and must be constantly adjusting their off-ball position.

• In a zone defense, there are minimal opportunities to defend a ball screen. In the Pack Line, defense players must fight through screens exactly the same as man-to-man.

• In a zone defense, there are minimal opportunities for a guard to defend on the inside or a post player to guard the perimeter. In the Pack Line, defense players guard everywhere on the floor.

b. A zone hinders the offensive team’s development too.

Most zones in youth basketball will pack the paint with defenders and force their opponent to shoot long shots from the outside.

This is because players aren’t guarding a direct opponent, they’re guarding an area. So they barely ever move.

In the Pack Line defense, every defender has an opponent. Defenders have to chase their opponent around the court, fight through screens and defend all over the court.

While this develops the defenders and lets them experience all parts of defending, they will make mistakes and the offensive team will be able to take advantage of them.

c. Zone defense doesn’t prepare players for the next level.

A zone doesn’t prepare players for the next level because of all the poor defensive habits they pick up and because they don’t experience enough components of defense.

As we’ve just talked about, in the Pack Line defense players don’t pick up these bad habits and they do experience all components of defense.

So players are prepared for the next level.

d. Zone defense doesn’t make basketball fun.

Zone defense isn’t fun in basketball because players have minimal chance of scoring because they’re forced to shoot long-distance shots.

When running Pack Line defense players won’t be packing the key and forcing outside shots.

They’ll be playing very similar to a man-to-man defense (except easier to learn).

The defense will make mistakes and the offensive team will be able to move the basketball around and take advantage of them.


2. ” The Pack Line defense doesn’t develop players as well as the traditional man-to-man defense.”

Let’s start off by remembering that the only difference from a traditional man-to-man defense and the Pack Line is the defender one-pass away.

Players will have to learn how to deny this pass eventually.

But we shouldn’t throw young players into the deep end immediately and expect them to learn the complexity of a man-to-man defense immediately.

The Pack Line defense is a progression.

Use the Pack Line defense to teach the principles and basics of man-to-man defense and then when your players are capable, start introducing the denial aspect of man-to-man.

We must sacrifice some complexity in the beginning to allow players to develop quicker.



The Pack Line defense is the best defense for youth basketball.

It doesn’t matter about the height of your team, how athletic they, or any other excuse that coaches find to run a different defense.

The Pack Line will provide your players with all the benefits of running a traditional man-to-man defense but will be much easier to teach your players.

Due to simplicity and promoting team basketball, the Pack Line defense is the only defense I’ll be recommending for youth basketball from now on.

Until there’s something better…


basketball defense, defense

You may also like

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}