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Teaching Zone Defense


Why Play Zone:


Ø      Force a team to play together to beat you – this could be especially effective at the high school level where often times teams rely on one or two players to generate the bulk of their offense.

Ø      Multiple defensive looksopportunity to double team is increased. Also you have increased opportunity to win ground balls dropped in the 8m.

Ø      If you have a good goalie and/or limited defenders By playing a zone you attempt to limit the quality of shot by an opponent while hiding your weaknesses and not exposing your team to 1v1 scenarios.

Ø       Most importantly, allows you to FAST BREAK!  Players are free to break out with out being matched up with an opponent right away.  We have a fast team so we encourage a quick break out and chance to push the ball.


Introducing Zone;


Ø      Know WHY you want your team to play a zone.

Ø      COMMIT the time to teaching it – we work on it for at least 15 minutes every practice from day one.

Ø      By teaching zone you are not only expanding the capability of your defense but you’re helping your offense learn how to BEAT zone defense.

Ø      Identify the strengths and weaknesses of the zone – “This is what we are taking away and this is what we are willing to give up”

o       Giving up: outside lane shots

o       Taking away: the middle of the 8M – the “sweet spot”

Ø      Identify “vocal” leaders and “thinkers” and put them in key spots – the crease, rover, or top center.


Different types of Zone:


Ø      1-4-2 (Sagging Defenese)


·        1 = defender pressuring ball; 4 = defenders shelling the top of the 8M; 2 = low crease defenders

·        Shell the 8M with 7 Defenders

·        Allows for maximum ball pressure which helps to disguise open looks in the 8M.

·        1 player is pressuring ball, 2 adjacents are stepping to ball, looking to double on challenge while juggling cutters as well, 4 other players sagging toward ball to take cutters or help with a challenge.




Ø      1-3-1-2 (Zone w/ Rover)


·        1 = player pressuring ball; 3 = defenders shelling the top of the 8M; 1 = Rover; 2 = low crease defenders

·        More conservative – completely focused on defending the 8M

·        6 players (4 on top and 2 on the crease) shell the 8M and 1 player (the rover) works just around the 8M, picking up cutters to allow shell players to get back to their spots faster.

·        Rover position is very demanding – if you have a smart, athletic player who can handle chaos than try it.

·        This zone does not require the extent of shifting and bumping of the other zone.


Getting into the Zone:


Ø      Option 1: Concede the midfield and drop in right away – a good option if you have slow midfielders and a weak goalie.

Ø      Option 2: Pressure to the 30 yd line and then drop in once the opponent has settled the ball. Must have attackers who will redefend. Zone starts with the low attackers.  They buy time for defenders to get in position.


Practicing Zone: 

(many of these concepts are the same as player to player defense.  Try to make this connection and Zone will not feel so foreign and uncomfortable)


Ø      Start with Passing off cutters – elbow to opposite crease

·        Need 2 defenders and 2 attackers, and a goalie.  One attacker, standing at the top of the 12M has the ball and will feed if the cutter is open for a pass in the 8M.  Cutter goes ½ speed from the opposite corner to the crease.  Defenders are working on perfecting the details of the handoff and not allowing for a open pass.  If a pass gets in, play it out with a shot..  Defenders should take about 5 attackers through before switching in other people.

·        Emphasize body position (defender plays ball side – not goalside- defense – They must get in front of the cutter and force her to change her cut rather than escorting her through the 8M), stick position (stick to stick – defenders must pass off by touching sticks), talk (got her, take her, etc. – make sure you emphasis LOUD talk and  be sure they are using the names of their teammates and the right vocabulary) and returning to your zone quickly – without any hestitation..


Ø      Pinching In – work on doubling the challenge. 

·        Need 2 defenders and one attacker and a goalie

·        Defenders are working on defending the drive.  One defender greets the ball and forces her to the other defender – you must mark off the middle of the 8M with cones and limit the Attack to only challenging from the side of the 8M where the 2 top defenders are.  This will force attack to challenge defenders and defenders must work on applying a good double team and pressure on the shot.

·        Defenders adjacent to the ball must take a step towards the ball and away from the 8M.  This puts them in the right place to help defend the drive.

·        Important adjacents don’t drift from ball as they take cutters.


Ø      Crease to Elbow hand off

·        This is one of the weakest points in the zone – be sure it is a quick and efficient hand off. 

·        Start off with 2 defenders, 2 attackers and a goalie.  Attack is working on a crease roll from behind.  Both attackers start behind the goal and one attempts a crease roll while the other makes a “follow me” cut.  This will force your crease defender to get back once the hand off to the elbow defender has occurred.  If she doesn’t get back in time, the following attacker will be able to sneak under the defense as an open player.

·        Don’t want crease defender to get pulled up to the elbow – this takes total priority! Elbow players must prioritize this help and the defender next to them must recognize the situation and assist with cutters.

·        You can add another pair of attack and defense.  Have the third defender next to the elbow player and place the third attacker just off the elbow.  When the crease roll happens and the elbow defender has to help, have the attacker on the wing cut through and tell the adjacent defender it’s her job to pick her up. 

·        This will help your defense recognize this play and will give them confidence to deal with it.


Ø      Finally, when you work in all seven defenders, you MUST put limitations on the attack. 

·        First they can ONLY perimeter pass. 

·        Then, they are only permitted to cut from one elbow to the opposite crease. This will help limit the confusion for the defense and also build their confidence. 

·        The confidence of the defensive unit it key to their success.  They are only as good as they think they are. 


Be prepared to stop the action and discuss issues.  Zone defense requires defenders to make decisions and the more they understand how to manage all of the confusion by prioritizing certain things they will be a better defense.  For example, ball has to be the #1 priority – defenders when they first start will often leave their ball responsibility to pick up an open cutter – you must address this.  Also, encourage them to stay on double teams when they occur.  If an attacker challenges, is doubled by the adjacent zone defender and starts to back out, tell defenders they must stay on the double team and apply lots of pressure.  This is where the zone pays off in creating opportunities for maximum pressure and possible turnovers.


TENETS of the Zone:


v     Sticks up – take away the space:  important visual cue to the offense. Also asserts the attitude of the defense and can be intimidating.  It literally can make someone seem covered when really a defender might be a step behind.


v     See Ball, See ZoneSwivel head mentality.  Very critical skill – must always be looking around and evaluating danger.****I cannot emphasize this enough.  If players struggle with this skill, you will see constant back door cuts – work with defenders to constantly check ball, check cutters***


v     Cover the Crease – low defenders are key to making the Zone work!  They not only take care of crease challenges but they are relied up to be mini-rovers: that is to take all of the cutters from the top so that top defenders can get back to their zones.  They are also CRITICAL to the collapse when the ball does get inside the 8M.  Low D has to be very careful that they don’t ball watch – need to be aware of players behind the goal and not get back doored by these cutters.


v     ***CUT THE CUTTER*** This is the single most important skill you can teach your high school players. Virtually zero first-years in college are capable of doing this skill to the extent that we ask them.  It is the most critical factor in asserting the power of the defender and dictating the play!  (This skill is explained in the body position part of practicing the zone).


v     Shift Ball Side as Zone – important to overload to the ballside so that there appear to be fewer options.  If they do choose to skip pass you have plenty of time to adjust when the ball is in the air. 


v     Bump – this is a movement of the zone that requires shifting to teammates zone areas.  This can happen if you’re pressuring the ball and you attempt to hand off and there is no one to hand off to  - ie. Your adjacent has taken a cutter and vacated her zone.  You must stay with ball and your teammate will recover to your spot.  Requires extreme COMMUNICATION.


v     COLLAPSE – Hugely important – essentially why you play a zone.  This skill ensures that all shots will be contested to a certain degree.  Players must collapse on opponents who have penetrated the “sweet spot” – the 8M –  either by driving with the ball or receiving a feed.  All seven defenders (or at least the four closest) must collapse and contest the shot, further diminishing the quality of the opportunity.




Zone Defense is about protecting the “SWEET SPOT” in the 8M



Why we play zone?


  • Forces a team to play together to beat us
  • Creates lots of ground ball opportunities
  • Most importantly…WILL ALLOW US TO FAST BREAK



How do we get into the zone?


  • We will NOT concede the midfield to drop into zone
  • We WILL pressure to the 30 yd line and then drop in. (we will practice this)



Tenets of the Zone:




  1. SEE BALL – SEE ZONE – AWARENESS (Swivel Head)


  1. COVER THE CREASE – Low Defenders are Key to making the ZONE work!


  1. SHIFT BALL SIDE AS ZONE – encourage skip pass

*when shifting, adjust when ball is in the air


  1. CUT THE CUTTER – Deny cutters access to the 8M – change her cut!!


  1. BUMP – If there is no one to pass off your cutter to – then BUMP (we will talk much more about this and when it’s appropriate)


  1. COLLAPSE – this is critical to success of zone.


  1. “If you see her, take her” – Don’t assume other people are covering open cutters!!





“Big things are accomplished only through the perfection of minor details”


Take care of the details, Bants!!