Zone defense is a type of defense, used in team sports, which is the alternative to man-to-man defense; instead of each player guarding a corresponding player on the other team, each defensive player is given an area known as a "zone" to cover.
A zone defense can be used in virtually all sports where defensive players guard players on the other team. The following description refers specifically to basketball.
The names given to zone defenses start with the number of players on the front of the zone (farthest from the goal) followed by the numbers of players in the rear zones. For example, in a 2-3 zone two defenders are covering areas in the top of the zone (near the top of the key) while three defenders are covering areas near the baseline.
Other types of zone defense include:
When a team plays a zone, the defenders must keep their hands up and in passing lanes and quickly adjust their positions as the ball and the offensive players move around. Teams that successfully play zone defenses are very vocal and effectively communicate where they, the ball, and their opponents are or will be.
Teams playing a zone occasionally try to "trap" the ball handler, an aggressive strategy of double-teaming the ball carrier. While this tactic may cause a turnover, it leaves one or more players on the offense undefended. The undefended player(s) are generally schemed to be on the opposite side of the court, away from the ball, so any attempt to pass the ball to them would result in long distance pass or a relay pass by a third offensive player, allowing the defense to recover. Good ball handlers can also try to "split" the trap by bringing the ball through the space in the middle of the two trapping defenders, creating an instant advantage for the offense.
Zone defenses were prohibited in the National Basketball Association prior to the 2001-2002 season. The NBA now permits the use of zones, though most teams don't use them as a primary defensive strategy, and defenses featuring an unguarded defender inside the free throw lane are now disallowed (a violation that results in a defensive three-second violation, which is a technical foul that was also implemented in the 2001-2002 season). The Dallas Mavericks are an example of an NBA team that regularly uses zone defenses. During the 2011 Playoffs, their zone defense was credited with slowing down offenses, forcing opposing players to determine which defense they were playing. Zone defenses are more common in international, college, and youth competition because the defensive three-second violation makes it difficult for NBA teams to play zone, since such defenses usually position a player in the middle of the key to stop penetration.
Some of the reasons for using a zone defense are:
Playing a zone entails some risks. Some are listed below.
While strategies for countering zone defenses vary and often depend on the strengths and weaknesses of both the offensive and defensive teams, there are some general principles that are typically used by offensive teams when facing a zone.
Frank Lindley, Newton, KS High School basketball coach from 1914 to 1945, was among the first to use the zone defense and other innovations in the game and authored numerous books about basketball. He finished his career with a record of 594-118 and guided the Railroaders to ten state titles and seven second-place finishes. Jim Boeheim, coach of the Syracuse Orange men's basketball team, is famous for using a 2-3 zone that is among the best in the NCAA. His zone, which typically features athletic, disruptive, and aggressive defenders, has become a prototype for use on other teams including the United States men's national basketball team, where he has spent time as an assistant coach.
The zone defence tactic, borrowed from basketball, was introduced into Australian football in the late 1980s by Robert Walls and revolutionized the game. It was used most effectively by Essendon Football Club coach Kevin Sheedy.
The tactic is used from the fullback kick in after a behind is scored. The side in opposition to the player kicking in places their forward players, including their full-forward and centre half forward, in evenly spaced zones in the back 50-metre arc. This makes it easier for them to block leading players and forces the kick in to be more precise, in effect increasing the margin for error which can cause a turnover and another shot at goal. As a result, the best ways to break the zone are for the full-back to bomb it long (over 50 meters), often requiring a low percentage torpedo punt, or to play a short chipping game out of defence and then to switch play as opposition players break the zone. The latter has negated the effectiveness of the tactic since the 1990s.
Another kick-in technique is the huddle, often used before the zone, which involves all of the players from the opposition team to the player is kicking in huddling together and then breaking in different directions. The kicker typically aims in whichever direction that the designated target (typically the ruckman) runs in.
Netball is a sport similar to basketball with similar strategies and tactics employed, although with seven players per team. Zone defense is one of the main defensive strategies employed by teams, along with one-on-one defense. Common variants include center-court block, box-and-two zone, diamond-and-two zone, box-out zone and split-circle zone.
Ultimate allows for a number of zone defence tactics, usually employed in poor (such as windy, rainy or snowy) conditions, to discourage long passes and slow the progress of the opposition's movement.