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1-2-1-1 FULL COURT PRESSURE DEFENSE

Maybe you are a coach who wants to speed up the tempo of the game to give your team a better chance of competing.  Or, you could be a coach who needs to find a way to come from behind to win games late.  Either way, if you are one of these coaches, you probably should consider using a 1-2-1-1 full court pressure defense to speed up the tempo, get turnovers, utilize the speed of your team on defense and get your players to play harder than they already are.

Advantages of the 1-2-1-1 Full Court Pressure Defense

When considering a full-court pressure defense, there are several items to take into consideration.  There are many significant advantages of utilizing the 1-2-1-1 full court pressure defense.

  1. The 1-2-1-1 full court pressure defense allows you to speed up the tempo of the game.  For the remainder of this article, you will need to remember that this is possible because of the nature of the defense.  This defense is put together for the sole purpose of getting the game to be played at a quicker pace.

  2. The 1-2-1-1 full court pressure defense is exceptional at forcing turnovers, especially those that are in the backcourt.  The best turnovers are those that are near the opponent's basket.  That is because they result in quick scores and high percentage shots.  The 1-2-1-1 full court press does an outstanding job of increasing the pressure on an offense to get the ball across half court and to score against the press.  If this is not done quickly, it can lead to turnovers and violations that give the ball back to the defense.

  3. The 1-2-1-1 full court pressure defense requires your players to play harder.  If you have a team that needs to be motivated to play harder, then the 1-2-1-1 full court press accomplishes just that.  The press is designed to force players to play harder on defense and your players must be capable of responding to the demands for hustle the defense presents them.

  4. If you are behind late in games, the 1-2-1-1 full court pressure defense can help you come from behind late in games.  Because the defense can cause turnovers, especially those in the backcourt, the 1-2-1-1 full court press can get your team started on double-digit runs when the defense is executed correctly.  The amazement of how quickly you can score to get back into games will impress your team and your fans.

  5. Finally, the 1-2-1-1 full court pressure defense can wear out your opponents.  Fatigue is a significant factor in winning games late.  No player wants to walk off the court completely drained of energy.  When players reach their own physical breaking points, they have two decisions to make: play on and run out of gas or stop playing hard and allow the other team to come from behind.

Disadvantages of the 1-2-1-1 Full Court Pressure Defense

However, there are disadvantages of running any kind of full-court pressure defense.  These also have to be taken into consideration and they include the following:

  1. How fast is too fast?  If your players are not capable of playing at a faster pace, then you probably should consider not running the 1-2-1-1 full court pressure defense.  The defense is geared towards speeding up the game so you should run it with the full knowledge that the tempo of the game is going to be increased.

  2. While the 1-2-1-1 full court pressure defense can do a great job in forcing turnovers, the defense is also prone to giving up easy baskets if the press is broken.  If your teams are playing just for turnovers, you run the risk of giving up high-percentage shots on the back end of the press.  Unless you have a plan to match point for point, you need to consider transitioning out of the press as soon as you realize you cannot force a turnover.

  3. How many players are you willing to play and for how long?  If you are not willing to play anywhere from 8-11 players in a game, you may not want to press.  Also, if fatigue becomes a factor, you run the risk of limiting the minutes of your best players because they will need to rest.  These items have to be taken into consideration as well.

  4. If you press late with a lead, that lead could no longer be considered safe.  You have to know when to apply the press and when to stop pressing.  If you lead late, you will need to consider shortening the game and running out the clock.  Because full-court pressure defense does not slow down the game, coaches need to know when to stop pressing.

Goals of Any Pressure Defense

The first goal of any pressure defense is to speed up the tempo of the game.  We want our opponents to play at a speed with which they are uncomfortable.  When teams get sped up, it is amazing to see how many more mistakes they make.  Think of it this way: when you are made to do something faster than you want to do it (mowing the lawn, for example), you make more mistakes than you would going at a comfortable speed.  That is what we want to do when we press.

Second, we want to force turnovers, especially in the backcourt.  Turnovers allow us to transition from defense to offense.  We prefer to get turnovers by having the offense throw us the ball.  However, we will also take balls thrown out of bounds just the same.  Either way, we have the ball and an opportunity to score.

Third, we want our players to play harder.  The highest compliment that can be paid to any coach is how hard your teams play.  Eventually teams that play hard will be rewarded with some form of luck.  When that happens, your team will have the confidence in playing hard and your players will work even harder on the basketball court to ensure that your team wins more games.  Also, if you have an athletic director, school president, superintendent, principal or any other administrator who sees that your team is playing hard, you are more likely to have a job next season regardless of your team's record.  Finally, fan appreciate hustle and dedication, especially if it comes from playing an up-tempo style of basketball.

Fourth, we want to have the ability to come from behind late in games.  It is a given that teams will trail on the scoreboard at some point in the game.  How you plan for a contingency to come from behind and win is entirely up to you.  No coach ever wants to have the fear of falling behind a certain amount of points early in a game and not be capable of winning by coming from behind.  If you are going to fall behind, you need to have a press defense at your disposal so that you can overcome deficits, early and late.

Finally, the last goal of pressure defense is to induce fatigue in our opponents.  When I was at William Jewell College, our team motto was "Compete at a level your opponent is unwilling to match."  If you have your opponents tired and you are still somewhat fresh late in games, you are extremely close to getting your opponent to not be able to match your level of conditioning.  Here, one of two things will happen: they will either play it out and be exhausted by the end of the game or they will stop playing to save themselves from further physical exertion.  If you are able to get the latter, you will win the game.  However, if you get the former, they will never forget how hard it was to play against you.

Setting Up the Defense

The first player that we will position to set up the 1-2-1-1 full court press is X4.  We will have him defend the basketball when it is taken out of bounds.  He must use his hands to trace the basketball so that we can take away as many passing lanes as possible and possibly get a five-second count and the ball under our opponent's defensive basket.  If the inbounds passer runs the baseline or passes to another player out of bounds before the ball is inbounded, he will continue to guard the basketball.  To help X4 in defending against ball fakes, we tell him to read the eyes of the inbounds passer to help him determine where the ball is going.

The next set of defenders that we position are X2 and X3.  These players have interchangeable responsibilities based on which one is the ball-side defender and which one is the help-side defender.  We tell the ball-side defender to play the first receiver to the ball side of X4 in an intercept position.  We want him to see both the man and the ball and invite the pass into the corner.  If this happens, the ball-side defender will attempt to trap the ball with X4.  We also want the ball-side defender to not be afraid to make a play on the ball, but we also tell him that he is responsible for not being able to make a play if he tries to make on that isn't there.

The help-side defender will take the first receiver to the help side of X4.  He needs to remember that the backboard is an extra defensive player and that the deep pass to his side is impossible without the ball hitting the backboard.  We limit the help-side defender's ability to move by keeping him in the free-throw lane running along the lane line.  He must keep the man and the ball in his sights at all times.

The next line of defense is X1.  He needs to read the eyes of the inbounds passer and attempt to intercept a pass that is thrown beyond X2 and X3.  He will assigned to guard the third nearest person to the ball.

Finally, we place X5 at the back of the press.  He will always have the responsibility for the deepest man in the press offense.  He needs to see the ball and his man at all times and be ready for a possible flash by the deepest offensive player.


Diagram 1: 1-2-1-1 Press Set-Up

Setting Up the Traps

When setting a trap, there are certain aspects of fundamentals that have to be taken into consideration.  First, the trap must be set by no more than two players.  The rule of thumb to remember is that when you have an extra defensive player guarding a given offensive player, another offensive player is left unguarded.

Second, the defensive players need to use their feet and hands properly.  The feet should form a "T" so as to prevent the offensive player from stepping through the trap.  The hands should never reach for the basketball.  The officials are very tempted to call fouls when a player is trapped and players are reaching for the basketball, even if the takeaway is clean.

Finally, the defensive players should also know the optimal areas for trapping.  The shaded areas in Diagram 2 show the areas where we want to trap with the defense.  Whenever we want to trap, we want to trap in the frontcourt in the long corners and where the sideline and half court line meet.  We will trap in the backcourt where the sideline and the half court line meet and in the corners where the sidelines and the baseline meet.


Diagram 2: The shaded trapping areas for the 1-2-1-1 full court pressure defense.

In setting our traps, we have three types of players who are involved in the process of getting the turnover.  We have already discussed the trappers and what they must do.  There are two other groups of players that are instrumental in successfully forcing turnovers and a faster pace with traps.

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