On-the-Ball Basketball Defense
Basic Defensive Stance

Play killer basketball defense with 14 keys to tough 1-on-1 defense. 

Better 1-on-1 Defense

Learn the fundamentals of a good on-the-ball defensive stance, and practice them daily during your basketball training program.

When you're guarding the player with the ball, you have a huge responsibility!

Your #1 job playing "on-the-ball" defense is to make the ball handler's life miserable!

You want to hassle him so much he can't wait to get rid of the ball and either pick up his dribble or turn the ball over.

You don't want to let him do anything he wants to do.

Every time he tries to dribble, pass, or shoot you should be right there to take away all of his options.

This kind of ball pressure starts with the basic defensive stance.

Basketball Fundamentals
14 Keys to Basic Basketball Defense Stance

1. Stay down low

Your knees should be bent. 

By keeping your center of gravity low, you can move and change direction quickly.

When you stand up tall and straighten your legs, you become very slow.

Let me tell you from personal experience, staying down low in a defensive stance is tiring! Some good basketball defense practice drills will help you improve your physical conditioning while you improve your basketball defense skills.

2. Keep on the balls of your feet

Good basketball defense is played with the feet

Don't ever stand flat-footed.

Keep your feet moving with your weight on the balls of your feet. Don't get caught back on your heels, or you'll lose your balance.

Don't reach or lunge with your arms as the ball goes by, but move your feet to stop the dribble with your body.

3. Step-slide

defensive slide - Better BBall

Slide your feet. Don't cross them. 

Step with your lead foot first, which is the foot closest to the sideline in the direction the dribbler is going. This should be your outside foot. Step in the direction of the dribble and then slide your other foot up to meet it. 

Your feet should end up heel to toe. Then step and slide again. 

Don't bounce up and down while you do this, but stay down low.

4. Force the ball to the sideline

force sideline - Better BBall

You never want to let the dribbler have the middle of the floor. She has too many options there. 

Generally, on the left side of the court, your right foot should be forward or a little higher than the left one. 

On the right side, your left foot should be forward. This stance at about a 45-degree angle helps you "herd" the ball handler to the sideline. 

Be careful not to open up this stance too much or you'll give her a straight drive to the basket.

5. Have a wide base of support

Your feet should be a little wider than shoulder-width apart with your body weight evenly distributed. 

A wide base of support means your body is down low for quick movement and that you have good balance.

As your youth basketball player gets a little older and wants a more serious basketball training program, a weight training program will help you build strength and endurance in your leg muscles.

6. Hands should be active

Keep your palms facing up and constantly harassing the ball.

On the dribble, try to tip the ball up, instead of slapping down on it.

By coming up from underneath, you usually won't be called for a foul.

Once the dribbler picks up the ball, your hands should mirror the ball so you can deflect any shot or pass attempts.

7. Arms should be constantly moving

Don't give the ball handler any free looks. 

When the ball is picked up, the arms should either be out wide to try and knock down passes, or they should be up in the air to block a shot or overhead pass.

By constantly moving your arms, you not only block potential passing lanes, but you also make it very difficult for the ball handler to see any openings on the court.

8. Give yourself a cushion

Try to keep about an arm's length away from the dribbler.

basketball defense - Better Basketball

The "smother" basketball defense is popular among youth basketball players. I know you've seen this technique where defenders belly up to the dribbler with outstretched arms as if they're about to give a huge bear hug. This is too close!

On-the-ball basketball defense is best played from about an arm's length away. This distance gives you a cushion, so you can change direction when you need to without getting beat.

If you have a hard time staying with the dribbler, give yourself a little more cushion by backing off a bit more.

9. Keep your back straight

Don't hunch over, but keep your back pretty straight, kind of like you're sitting in a chair. 

This allows you to keep your head up and gives you a better center of gravity.

If you find your head is out over your knees, you need to rotate your upper body to bring your head up.

10. Keep your eyes on the belly button

A good dribbler might fake you out with her eyes, a good jab step, or a ball fake, but she can't do much with her belly button. 

If you watch your opponent's eyes, feet, or the ball, you will most likely react by jumping in the direction of the fake and ending up totally out of position.

The dribbler can't go anywhere without her belly button, and it will only move when and where the rest of the body does. So, keep your eyes on the mid-section.

11. Maintain "Ball-You-Basket" position

Always stay between your player and the basket, so you're lined up in the order "Ball-You-Basket." 

If you ever find yourself out of position, get out of your defensive stance and run to get yourself back in between the ball and the basket.

Then get back down into your defensive stance.

12. No freebies

Challenge every move your opponent makes. 

Don't give away any freebies. Contest EVERY drive, pass, or shot attempt.

If your player does get off a shot, you definitely want to beat him to the rebound. Check out these rebounding basketball fundamentals to make sure you get the best position.

You might also want some good jumping drills to teach you how to jump higher for the ball.

contest the shot - Better BBall

13. "Belly up" on a dead ball

Belly up to the ball handler when she picks up the ball. 

Once her dribble is dead, she's in big trouble.

The only way she can beat you is by making a good pass or a shot, and she only has 5 seconds to figure out what to do.

Get as close to her as you possibly can without touching her and mirror the ball with your hands.

14. Force dribbler to use weak hand

You increase the chances of getting a turnover if you make the ball handler dribble with his weak hand. 

Most youth basketball players are not comfortable dribbling with either hand. They usually have a pretty strong preference.

Your job on basketball defense is to overplay them by adjusting your feet so you "herd" them in the direction where they have to use their weaker hand.

Playing on-the-ball basketball defense is just one defensive situation you will come across in the game.

You may spend a lot of time guarding a player who doesn't touch the ball much. What do you do then?

Check out the following topics if you want to learn how to play basketball defense better:


Covering Out

Guarding the Post

Screen Defense


Team Defense



A good defensive player needs a "good set of wheels." Make sure you have a good pair of basketball shoes that fit properly with some thick socks.

Trust me, the last thing you want is sore feet!

Share this page:
Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.

Home > Basketball Defense > Basic Defensive Stance