The Lost Art of Teaching the Trap

Contributed by Brett Ayers. Email the author at

One of the things I really see as a lost art in the modern college game is the trap itself when a team is either executing some sort of pressure defense of the zone variety or of the man to man variety. So often you see teams who trap and the traps are easily split and or they seem to come at wrong times and are attempted  in very poor trapping places on the court.

One of the things I think that more teams to need to breakdown and practice is how to trap properly, in and of itself. One of the things we did in college, though we did not adhere to certain details as much as we should have, was to run three man trapping drills. The ball handler started out in the corner and tried to get out of the impending trap while two guys would approach, one from the front and the other from the side.

I think a better version of this drill would be to start your to defenders like they were in a trap with a top man high and side man down further and make them approach the ball handler from the distances they would in a game. Far too often I see coaches run drills that do not really simulate game conditions in any way, shape or form. The players gain nothing from this. Always remember, game spots, game speed.

There are two things that need to be stressed when teaching how to trap properly. The first thing is that your kids need to understand that stealing the ball and or taking it from the defender is not the prime objective. The second thing is that they need to learn to trap the ball not the man. Getting your finger tips on the ball when it is passed or making it very difficult to pass is just as desirable as stealing the ball from the ball handler. One of the very bad results that come from trying to steal the ball is useless, stupid fouls earned from reaching in wantonly.

When your kids approach the ball handler, first thing is that the man who is the top man on the press should approach when the man with the ball is dribbling away from him, preferably towards the sideline. A top defender on the trapping defense should never approach until the ball handler is either looking away towards the sideline and or faced up court and not looking back over the middle of the court. Both the top man and the wing defender on the ball side should angle slightly to force or invite the ball handler to try to head up the sideline.

One of the lost arts of trapping is using that sideline as as defender. Trappers should always be aware of this and, like I said, I would position my top three men in such a fashion on any trap. You have your top man on the press angled and facing the ball handler, bouncing up and down with hands up and in the passing lane directly going to the middle. The trapper who is on the ball side and part of the two guards right below the top man on the press should be back in about five steps off of the sideline with his back to the middle and body angled towards the sideline, hands up bouncing and trying to get the ball handler to think that the sideline is the way to bring the ball up.

The bottom man on the top three of the press on the ball side has two jobs. The first I have stated and that is to try to force the ball handler to the sideline and the second job is to cut the ball handler off on the sideline once he gets him going that direction. The top man on the press who is coming over to create the trap has one very, very important job and that is to contain the ball handler and to not let him bring the ball via the dribble back into the middle of the court and keep him over on that sideline.

One of the things you see a lot of today is that once two trappers get a guy on the sideline they immediately stand up and think they have the ball handler trapped, but along the way someone forgot to inform the ball handler of this because he keeps his dribble and simply dribbles back and gets out of the trap. The trappers stand up as if the ball handler has picked up the ball and lose all of their ability to continue to move defensively. Now the trap is beat and the press is beaten. The defenders must remember their above listed responsibilities and play the ball handler as if they are playing man to man in the half court. You spring the trap once you get the ball handler to pick the ball up.

Two things to remember when trapping a man who has just picked up the ball. First thing, trap him quickly. Do not sit back, look at each other and then a second or two later decide to put the trap on. Second thing the trappers have to do is to create a tall trap, mirroring the ball with their hands and locking their inside legs so that the man with the ball can not split the trap which also is an oft occurrence these days, it seems. It is imperative that the guys trapping remember to not break that "defensive plane" and to really mirror the ball the best they can while both of them yell out "dead, dead, dead" letting everyone else in the gym and on defense know that the ball handler has picked up the ball and it has been trapped. When a guy has the ball along the sideline, either near or around the half court line, up in the corner after the inbounds or on the other side of half court, for goodness sakes, do not let him out of jail with a cheap reaching foul. Let the offensive man give you the ball. Do not think it necessary that you reach in and take it. Purpose of defensive pressure on both the full court and half court are something you must establish in practice from day one.

Well there are some very long winded thoughts on trapping.