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Zone Defence

This is an excerpt from Transforming Play by Dennis Slade.

The beauty of this game is the way the teaching moment so readily occurs and allows you to pause the game and ask questions that lead to a basic explanation of zone defence. This occurs because two defenders naturally defend the two cones, leaving the third defender without a specific defensive task. This player often instinctively sets up in front of and between the other two defenders. This establishes a triangular defensive pattern with one of the defenders ‘pointing' the zone defence.

Learning Objectives

Players will do the following:

Learn the concepts associated with zone defence

Adjust their playing positions in relation to the direction of the attack

Point on defence

Throw a ball accurately at the cones

Use time-outs


Four hoops

Four cones

One ball (netball or similar)

Bibs to distinguish the teams


Create two teams of five, with three players from each team on the court (a third of a netball or a volleyball court). Place two large cones inside two hoops at each end of the court area. The distance between the cones is not set, but ensure that the width between them is such that one player cannot mark both cones at the same time. Play can be in front of and behind the cones (see figure a).


Players move up the court by passing the ball (they can take a step with the ball but they cannot run with it) and then attempt to score a goal by throwing the ball at the cones. A goal is scored if a cone is struck or knocked over. Defensive players attempt to block or intercept passes and throws at the cones, but they must stay at least one step away from the player with the ball. Opposition players are not allowed to take, or snatch, the ball from someone holding it. Defensive players cannot stand inside the hoops where the cones are or hold on to the cones to stop them from being knocked over. Play is continuous unless the ball goes out or a goal is scored. Players use a pass-off by the defending team's goal cones to restart the game.

Have the players play 3v3 for approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Allow the substitutes of each team to call two time-outs of 30 seconds to 1 minute in each period of play. They should use this time to substitute players and talk tactics.



Attackers may pass the ball in any manner including bounce passes.

Attackers may take a step and pivot with the ball.

Running or walking with the ball is not permitted.

Attackers may play or position themselves anywhere in front of, to the side of or behind the cones.


Defenders must always be at least one step away from any attackers.

Defenders may block shots at cones with any part of the body, including the legs, but they must not strike the ball with their feet in a kicking motion.

All interceptions result in an automatic turnover of possession.

Defenders may not stand inside the hoops.

Defenders may not hold on to or secure in any way the cones that constitute the goals in this game.


The ball hitting or knocking over a cone is a goal.

After a goal the ball is turned over to the defenders, who become the attackers.

Each team is allowed to call two time-outs in the time period set for the game to make substitutions or discuss tactics.


With advanced players in specific sports, the single cones could be replaced with mini-goals while maintaining the same formation. For example, in football, two small goals that attackers would try to pass the ball through for a goal would result in the same defensive formation.

Sport Language

Zone defence

Pointing on defence

Sliding defence


Player rotation

Tactics and Strategies

Having two cones for players to defend forces a pyramid defence with one player in front of each cone and another out in front of them. The consequence of this is that a zone defence is established (see figure b). The player in front of the cones points the defence. It is important that the person pointing the defence moves across the front of the cones if the attackers shift the point of their attack (see figure c). If the attackers pass the ball behind the goals, the defenders need to communicate and quickly adjust their positions to maintain the shape of their defensive pattern. Encourage a discussion of a moving defence, teamwork and defending and attacking together.

The attackers need to learn to move quickly off the ball, and when they have the ball, to learn to pass to the space where they anticipate their players are moving to. Holding on to the ball for too long gives the defenders time to organise their defence of the cones. If the defenders are all in position, the attackers need to be patient and pass the ball around quickly to look for an opening to shoot at the cones or encourage the defenders to try for an interception and expose their goal.

The placement of the cones can make the game favour the defenders or the attackers. The closer the cones are to each other, the easier it is for the defenders; the further they are apart, the easier it is for the attackers.

If students don't naturally pick up the zone concept, stop the game at an appropriate teaching moment and ask them the questions at the end of this game description.

Attacking Skills

Maintaining possession

Disguising intention to shoot

Accurate throws

Defending Skills

Pyramid zone defence

Sliding defence

Intercepting passes



Q: Why is it important to pass quickly to team-mates?

A: Quick passes force the defenders to keep adjusting their positions while retreating. This can lead to confusion in the defence and easy chances for the attackers to throw the ball at the cones.

Q: If the defenders are well set up in defence, what are the best attacking options?

A: Attackers should position themselves so they can pass both across and behind the defenders to force them to constantly adjust their defensive positions.

Q: Against a set defence, what type of shots might give attackers the best chance of scoring goals?

A: Feinting the first or even second throw. Passers should try to get the defender to commit to a block before actually releasing the ball.


Q: When there is a turnover, what is an the option for the defending team?

A: The defending team can counter-attack. This requires the players without the ball to quickly find space in which to receive a pass.

Q: How many players should directly defend the cones?

A: Two.

Q: Where should the third defending player stand?

A: Out in front to point the defence and create a pyramid defensive pattern.

Q: Are there any advantages for the defenders in standing slightly out in front of the cones?

A: Yes. Doing so forces the attackers to play further away from the goal resulting in longer and more difficult shots.

Q: If the attackers pass the ball around (e.g., from left to right) and attack from the other side, how should the defenders move to stop their attack?

A: They should slide from left to right with the attack.

Q: Is talking in defence important? Why?

A: Yes, because in many games defenders cannot see all of the attackers, and they need advice on where to move to ensure that all attackers are being marked.

Q: Who in the defence has the best view of the attacking team's options?

A: Usually the defensive player furthest back from the attack. In this game that is usually the player on the side opposite the point of attack.

More Excerpts From Transforming Play