8 Ways to Become A Better Defender [Basketball Man-to-Man Defense]

basketball defense tips

It’s probably the most common chant for any basketball game

DEFENSE *clap clap clap* DEFENSE *clap clap clap*

Defending in basketball is the second most important trait to any good team.

You can be an extremely efficient team when scoring. But for every bucket you make, if you can’t defend as a unit, the opposition will just keep scoring.

This might work against opposition that have poor shooting technique, poor ball handling, or inefficient attacking play.

But as soon as you come up against a team who can both defend and attack with precision, you’re going to lose.

And by a lot.

That’s where defending as a team is so important. But with any team sport, it all starts with YOU.

Offence is flashy, gets spectators off their seats and creates moments of awe. But this is only half the game.

Being fundamental to improving on your basketball game, we break down 8 Ways to Tighten your Defense. We mainly focus on what you can do an an individual player to improve your own man-to-man defense.

#1 Increased Focus

You’ve got to remain focused at all times to be a good defender.

In particular, you don’t want to be giving your offensive player an easy shot. Force them to make a low percentage shot.

Whether it goes in or not, it doesn’t matter.

There are going to be times where your eyes are on the ball, you are completely in the zone and you have the offensive player at your mercy. They take a step and nail a fade away shot.

Don’t let that get you down. It’s going to happen.

If you can increase your focus, force the offensive player into a tricky shot every time – then it’s job done on your end.

Just. Focus.


#2 Keep Your Balance

Lose your balance?

You won’t just look the fool, but players will pass you left, right and center.

Balance is absolutely everything on defense.

Having good balance means that you’ll be able to react faster to quick movements by the offensive team.

This includes quick movements aimed at bamboozling you such as fake passes, fake shots, jab step.s

Having poor/no balance means the complete opposite.

You can’t be a good defender without having good balance.

How does one achieve great balance? That moves onto having a good defensive stance.

#3 Defensive Stance

When marking your player, whether they have the ball or not, it’s always good to be in a defensive stance.

Being in a defensive stance not only hones your concentration, but it also aids quick decisive movements and reaction when the play needs it – key to having great balance.

Most players tend to only fall into their defensive stance when the player they’re marking has the basketball. This creates lapses of concentration.

A split second advantage is all a good offensive player needs.

A good defensive stance requires the following:

  • More than half of your weight should be at the balls of your feet allowing quick movement. Keep your heels on the ground though.
  • Feet should be facing straight ahead with a wide stance
  • Your butt should be behind your knees, with your knees bent
  • Knees should be tucked in
  • Shoulder over your knees
  • Hands up

Obviously, different game situations require different stances – but we would consider this your fundamental defensive stance.

#4 Work Hard

Another great tip to being a great defender is actually putting the effort in.

It’s so easy to get lazy in transition – your team has just scored a sweet bucket. However, unless told otherwise, you’ve got to work hard to get back into your defensive position.

Sprint back, transition into your defensive position, and get set.

You need your whole team doing the same thing – but if one cog isn’t working properly, the whole machine won’t run.

A great fast break will often lead into easy lay ups and points for the opposing team.

It’s up to you to do your best to work for your team to make it as hard as possible for the attacking team. Force the offense into making low percentage shots.

#5 Understand your Opponent

Key to being a great defender also means that you need to understand the person you’re up against.

Obviously NBA has infinite reels of highlights and analysis that players can determine how to best defend something.


This does not mean you can’t do the same.

From the first whistle, analyse your opponent’s movement. Figure out what type of role they have in the opposing team’s offensive play.

Watch to see what hand they dribble with. Do they prefer to make lay ups? Are they poor from beyond the arc? Where do they score the most points? Do they only pass to the same person? Are they lacking athletic ability?

These are all small pointers. But as soon as you get through the first 5-10 minutes

#6 Watch your Opponent’s Chest

This is one of the best tips anyone starting out as a defender can learn.

A lot of the time, the eyes of a player will follow the basketball, or the fact of player with the basketball when playing on-ball defense. This leaves you susceptible to fakes and quick movements.

The offensive player seeks to get you off balance, going the other way – allowing them an easy shot or pass.

If you’re defending a quick player like Irving and stare at the basketball, you’ll be flat on your ass before you know it.

Best place to look? The chest/belly button.

It doesn’t matter what movements a player can make, the midsection of the body will always tell the defender which way the ball is going.

Of course, you can’t just stare at their chest without taking note of the basketball. But when in doubt, watch their chest carefully.


#7 Constant Pressure

You want to be containing players as best as you possibly can.

Standing 2 metres away from the player you’re supposed to defend on a man-to-man tactic will not only give the offensive team an easy pass, but also gives the player all the time in the world to make a shot.

Contain and pressurize them.

Make them feel uncomfortable. Force the error. Force the turn over.

This could cause hesitation in the shooter’s mind. They won’t want to dribble the ball at you, they’ll just look to find the easy pass.

In these cases, you’ve won the mental battle.

The rest is a piece of cake.

#8 Communication

Communication separates the good from the great.

We’re going to repeat ourselves here. A great defensive team is one that works as a unit.

On top of all the good training you might put in at practice, game day is a completely different beast. Teams will chop and change their tactics on the fly.

That’s where you, individually, and as part of a team, need to communicate exactly what’s going on.

Let your mates know if you’re on the ball, when you need help, where the screen is going up, which player is making a run.

If you’re a leader in the team. This is crucial.

If you’re not a leader. This part is still crucial. Especially where inexperienced players need guiding.

Communication is key to any good defense, and it starts with YOU.


While offence gets all the glitz and glamour to basketball, defending is key to winning.

As the famous phrase goes

Offence wins games. Defence wins Championships.”

Is it true? Who knows.

But what we do know, that defence is absolutely essential to a good, well drilled side. But with everything, it all comes down to the individual effort and mental battle that each player faces come game day.

These 8 defensive tips won’t make you an absolute world beater, but they act as a great foundation to answering the question “How do I get better at defending at basketball?”

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