5-on-5-to-5 Defense drill elevates practice intensity From Don Horwood, contributing writer

Coaches constantly try to create situations in practice that simulate game intensity. Several years ago, I found that my team couldn’t seem to establish the intensity in our defensive drills that we needed to help us in games.

minnesota basketball
Photo: Lorie Shaull, Flickr

The most basic way to get athletes to play harder is to make your drills competitive and punish the losing team with sprints. But I found that making the losers run after spending 10 minutes on a defensive drill would still not accomplish what we wanted. Ten minutes is a long time, and players can coast for part of the time and not play with the intensity we need. Therefore, we eliminated the time limit and decided that the first team to score five points would win our defensive drills.

After some trial and error, we hit upon an effective drill called “5-on-5-to-5 Defense.”

5-on-5-to-5 Defense drill

Focused primarily on defense, this drill is essentially a game of 5-on-5 played to five points. A team scores two points for any shot made beyond the 3-point line, and one point for all other field goals. A foul shot is worth one point, and coaches call the fouls. The first team to five points is the winner, and the losing squad has to complete one suicide in less than 30 seconds.

The offensive team has to run a “rat-ball” (freelance) type offense so that the defensive players can’t get familiar with certain moves and cheat defensively. If the defense rebounds or steals the ball, it can run a fast break the other way. If it scores, it gets the ball back. The team who scores always gets the ball back at the top.

   » ALSO SEE: The building blocks to attack man defense

Each possession becomes critical. The reason this drill is run to five points is to make each basket important, increasing the pressure on the defense. You can usually play two games in 10 minutes. The losing team must do its runs immediately after the winner scores its fifth point.

Our players like this drill so much that they’ve designed T-shirts with “5-5-5” emblazoned on the front.

Drill variations

If you want to work on your offense, you can run a 5-on-5-to-10 drill with the same rules. Because you’re emphasizing offense, you want to allow for more scoring.

I find 5-on-5-to-10 works as a good standard when your team is preparing to face an opponent that plays zone defense. It tends to encourage players to take more 3-point shots.

You also can use this system to practice your pressure defense. We’ll go 5-on-5-to-3 to work on our man-pressure defense. Teams can only score points for a steal or by causing a turnover. The losing team runs.

You can play with any variation of this drill and scoring system to accomplish whatever it is that your team needs to work on. The more competitive you can make practices, the more prepared you’ll be for games.

   » MORE: Check out the Winning Hoops drills library


Don Horwood is the former head coach of the University of Alberta men’s basketball team. He’s a three-time recipient of the Stuart W. Aberdeen Memorial Trophy as Canadian Interuniversity Sport Coach of the Year.




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