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The Basics of the SWARM Defense

By Wayne Walters

Traditionally, if you were the underdog athletically, on defense you were forced to apply less pressure on the ball and or help very early because you were locked into the concept of help and recover.  Your second option was to simply clog the lane in a zone and hope that you opponent did not hit outside shots.  If you insisted on playing man to man and your opponent has at least one outside shooter, a mismatch at the top and a drive and kick resulted in an open jumper, a lay up or a dunk.  If your opponent has a shooter on each side, it was lethal and left your players between the proverbial "rock and a hard place" especially since the three point shot was added.  Even using a zone if the athletic gap was wide enough, your opponent could still drive and dish. 

Sometimes the flaws in help and recover do not surface until later in the season when an
athletic team meets either a more skilled team or more athletic team.  This is the reason I believe that some successful coaches are unwilling to change. I believe that using the SWARM Defense a 25-5 coach will still win those 25 games but may win 3 of the 5 lost games. 

Over a decade ago, I began my search for alternative concepts to form the foundation of my defensive system.  The result of that search is the SWARM Defense.  Here are some things to consider.  Why do players playing help and recover help too late?  First, they may be guarding a good shooter and do not want to leave.  Second, we tell them to help when needed which may be unclear because of our concepts on the ball.  Some coaches want help and denial... talk about impossible. We demand 110% when that may not be enough because of God given talent so we frustrate our players.  Why do players sit in the lane and not contest open shooters?  How many people do you know who can do more than one thing at a time well and full speed? Yet, we ask our off the ball defenders to both help and recover.  We ask our on the ball defenders to stop drive right or left plus contest the jump shot.  Which is faster sliding or sprinting?   Help and recover depends on having some excellent one on one defenders and the speed of their recovery back to good shooters.  What if you have no good individual defender and little team speed? The SWARM  defense does all the things good defense has always done but in a different way if you are willing to think a little "out side the box". The SWARM is the most team oriented concept that I have seen in over 25 years of coaching.  This defense allows five players working in harmony to negate the athletic advantage of their opponents.

The basic concepts of the SWARM are designed to solve the problems presented earlier.  As a coach that started out speaking at camps on triple threat footwork, I realized at some point that unless you had very athletic defenders, you were setting them up for failure by telling them to stay between their man and the ball while claiming that you were forcing them in a certain direction.  On offense, we attacked the forward foot of the defense when it was in front of us.  The only way I know to "Force" a good player to a side is to get a foot above their offensive stance.  From that position, you are responsible to guide and take a charge on all crossovers.  This also makes the need for help easier to determine because only one defender is thinking help while the other thinks deny and rotate.  Secondly, if you want early help you can not play in a closed stance one pass away from the ball unless you are an excellent athlete.  Some coaches may argue that technique and your conditioning will make help faster (and recover) but to a limited extent. You must play in an open stance and deny by being in the passing lane between the ball and your player.  Force them to throw over you.  Unless you have a veteran team, experienced in the SWARM, we help double on a set number of dribbles depending on the position of the ball.  Two
dribbles over half court at the point and one dribble on the wing.  Players helping are never expected to recover to their player that is covered by one of our three basic rotations.  Players behind the help double must leave when the help player leaves and sprint to the next ball side player for this defense to be most effective.  Once the ball is stopped and the dribble is
lost, one player leaves the help double and sprints blind to the middle of the floor because on a trap we all sprint some one to the high post.  The key to the quick release is teaching players to watch for the free hand on the ball.  We release blind with hands up to increase deflections.  Normally, the very last player in the rotation, our Bandit calls "switch" and the releasing player guards the high post and they return to their player.  We get that steal often because they are coming out of a "blind spot".  Coach have several options for who leaves the help double and how you rematch to make best use of your talent from year to year you can modify your base rule.  Adapting without changing your base philosophy.  You can play this using either man to man or zone as your base defense. The SWARM defense is better than trapping defenses because we rematch to five on five so we do not give up uncontested shots.  My last four years at the JUCO level with middle of the league players, we forced over thirty turnovers a game without pressing because we stopped penetration and released to passing lanes that were open in all other games for our opponents.  As a matter of habit, they threw the ball right to us.  If this sounds like something that you would like to explore in greater detail, please e-mail me at your earliest convenience



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