I remember it like it was yesterday. It was the first official practice of the 2007-2008 season. I was a Junior in college, and you better believe I put in so much work in the summer of 2007, so I was ready. My teammates and I were foam rolling and getting ready for practice when the coaching staff walks in. They go to the two main baskets and put the weirdest looking contraption I had ever seen over both baskets. We circled up, set the goals and intentions for the day’s practice and then went to work. However, it was the hardest practice ever. No shots were going in! The weird contraption was a cover over the hoop that would not let any shots go in and forced us to rebound. It was brutal, and we all hated it.

My coach had one goal, and he was committed to achieving it, and we were going to buy into it no matter what we thought at the time. He said, “Defense wins championships. In order to finish defensive plays, we’ve got to become the best rebounding team.” We spent the next 3 weeks with covers on the rims and learned how to defend and rebound. He taught us to expect the other team to miss their shots, and be ready to finish the defensive play. It was ingrained in us that teams will not score. We went on to become the number one overall defense in the nation and top five in five different categories. We won the conference tournament that year and went on to play in the national tournament. Defense wins championships. Period.
Before we get into the 5 steps, I’d like to invite you to take a look at your mindset, love for the game, and commitment to being the best. Are you mentally tough? We’ll find out when we see you defend. Do you love the game? We’ll find out when we see you defend. Are you committed to being the best? We’ll find out when we see you defend. You can discover a lot about a player when you watch their intensity on defense, their communication, and their commitment to getting stops. Defense takes heart and pride, so it’s gut check time.
Step 1) Build your hearts capacity
What the heck does that mean? You have to have so much heart when it comes to playing defense. Players that aren’t good at defense or don’t really care if they get scored on, do not have a lot of heart. You’ve got to fall in love with stopping another player. You’ve got to go all out on every play to shut another player down. It has to fire you up to guard the best player, and not just hold them below their average, but to make them scoreless. Build up your heart and desire for defense. Go all out.
Step 2) Your commitment has to be in a world of its own
Your approach to the defensive drills your coach has you doing is a good indicator of your commitment. Are you analyzing, studying the guys that go in front of you, and asking questions about what you can improve on? This is the level of commitment it takes. Are you studying gamefilm? Not to watch your jump shots but to see your on ball defense, to watch your rotations, and to see how crisp and effective your close outs are. I’m talking about an obsession here. You always get your standards, so overcommit and overdeliver.
Step 3) Be fundamentally sound
You want to have all the right techniques, footwork, and vision on the court for defense. Court awareness and knowing where you need to be on the court at all times will change your game. Many players get lost on D because they aren’t fundamentally sound and don’t know when to rotate. Or they don’t know how to do a proper drop step and not open up all the way when playing on the ball defense. Be sure that you are technically sound and ask lots of questions. Some of the pros we work with aren’t fundamentally sound, so we are sure to improve their technique as well. It’s important to have sound fundamentals on defense if you want more playing time, and ultimately, if you want to win.
Step 4) Improve your speed, agility, and quickness
Once you have the fundamentals down and are continuously improving your technique, the next step is to improve your speed, agility, and quickness. Agility drills should always be done first when you’re training, then move to your speed work. Ladder drills are some of the best agility workouts available. The goal with agility drills is to improve your foot speed and coordination. We call it having your mind in your feet. With proper training and coaching, players begin to see dramatic differences on defense without even thinking about it. They become automatic. Speed is important for getting back on defense, chasing players around screens, and being able to sprint step. Sprint work is a must. You can go out to the track and run some 10, 20, 50, 100, and 200 yard sprints. The total distance of sprints never really needs to be over 2 miles for any training session. A mile worth of sprint work is adequate.
Step 5) Strength training will give you a competitive advantage on D
Defense is such a mental game as you can see from the above steps. When your heart is in it and you’re committed, you’re well on your way. Having the strength to defend and match up with players in different positions, brings it all together. Mental strength combined with physical strength gives you the tools to be the go to defensive stopper on your team. If you’re older than 14, then I recommend getting into the weight room and adding strength and muscle to your frame. (See: Strength Training For Basketball Players…It’s Different) Lock down defenders have incredible core strength, strong upper bodies, and powerful and explosive legs. When you’re training in the weightroom, be sure to give it all you’ve got and gain that edge. Knowing that you are the strongest player on the court, gives you a swag and confidence that others can’t match.
Become a lock down defender and raise the standard for your team. If you want to be a winner, then commit to defense and play with heart. Defense wins championships and that’s why we play. Winners win. Be a winner. Decide today to become a lock down defender.
Stay relentless. Play the optimum way.
Article by Brandon Cochran
Co-Founder Optimum Basketball