Shell Drill

The “Shell Drill” is one of the most effective and best known defensive drills. Following its description by the Coach's Notebook are some descriptions provided by other coaches as submitted to the coaching forum on You can participate by logging on to and join in the fun.

Opinions and tips from other coaches are included below. Be sure to check out their insights as well.

by Steve Jordan, Coach’s Notebook, Anchorage, AK

The shell drill is a crucial defensive tool. I will give you a simple description then you are welcome to ask questions. To describe it completely will be a lot of work.

OK, imagine 4 offensive players (in blue) equally spaced around the three point line. Facing each of them is a defensive player. The offensive team passes the ball from man to man while the defense adjusts and follows the ball. 

The ball is in the upper right corner. Notice that the yellow defensive man is right on the ball. The next defensive man is playing "on the line, up the line" and is close enough to the passing lane to get a body in the path of the pass. The next defensive man is two passes away so he sags enough to have one foot in the key. The last defensive man sags full in the key to provide help for a driving offensive player. Notice he is at the level of the ball.

If the offense passes cross court, the defense will have time (if they hustle), to recover proper position.

As the ball is passed to the left, the defense shifts accordingly. One pass away has a body part in the lane. Two passes away sag to the key.

As the ball travels left, the defense shifts, keeping the same rules in mind. Once the players are familiar with the rules, allow the offense to become more game-like until the defense reacts instinctively.

In the bottom picture, notice the adjustments made when the ball-handler attempts to penetrate. The two closest defenders "close the door". The other two defenders move to cover the passing lanes. There should be time to react and defend the long pass and possible shot if the defenders anticipate these actions.

You usually need restrictive elements, like defense putting hands behind their backs and staying behind three point line. The offensive liberties change depending on what facet needs to be practiced. Usually they stay outside the 3-point line.


The defense must follow these rules:

  1. When your man has the ball, you must be in an aggressive, on the ball position, basically in the face of the ballhandler.
  2. When the ball is on either side of your man (one pass away), you play with a body part in the passing lane, keeping the ball and your man in sight at the same time.
  3. When the ball is two passes away, you sag all the way into the key.
  4. Defenders close together if the ballhandler tries to drive between them.

When the ball is passed quickly, the defense must change positions ASAP. Use defensive slide steps and anticipate pass direction to accomplish this. Here are the benefits of the four rules:

  1. If your defense posture on the ball is aggressive, the ball-handler will not be open for a shot, will have difficulty seeing passers and may be forced into a turnover. Unfortunately, many teams never progress past this point.
  2. Body part in the lane - this is pass denial. The offense is never really pressured if there is someone open to pass to. But, what if you are under aggressive pressure and everyone looks covered - what do you do?
  3. When you sag into the key, you are in a great position to help if another player's man is able to dribble in. You don't need to come into the key to help, you are already there! If the opponent makes a long pass to your man while you are sagging in the key, you really do have time to recover while the pass is in the air.
  4. Never allow people to drive in the key. "Close the door" when a dribbler tries to drive between you and your teammate.

If your team learns these four points and employs them in your man to man defense, they will be tough to beat. Keeping hands behind the back will force payers to use their bodies in the proper position. You may add fifth players, allow use of hands, shots, drives, etc. as the kids progress. Definitely give this drill a chance.

By Lason Perkins

The Shell Drill is a defensive drill designed to teach the basic positions of man to man defense (on the ball, denial, help-side position). It is a 4-4 drill. You can place two players at the top and two at the wing to begin your initial teaching, later on use whatever alignments you wish, especially your opponent’s favorite alignments on offense.

The method I use to teach in the Shell Drill is to begin with position and movement. The coach yells "pass" and the ball is passed from one offensive player to the other. The defense must adjust based on the position of the ball and the man they are guarding. Then I let the offense take a dribble into the gap between two defenders, working on help and recover.

Later on, I add techniques such as jumping to the ball on cuts, defending flashes, defending down screens, back screens, and cross screens. You can also work on any type of offensive action you will face such as flex cuts, screen the screener, stacks, stagger screens, etc. out of shell. We run it 10-15 minutes a day working on various aspects.

You may also start shell drill from under the basket and sideline to simulate out of bounds situations. We will just screen away and screen up to start the action from out of bounds.

We also use "Actions of the Day" in shell to simulate what opponents will do in a game offensively. For example, on Monday, we will be working on down screens and cross screens in shell because our opponent on Tuesday night runs a motion game using those actions. Our opponent on Friday will use weave action with the guards, so we will run shell drill on Thursday with our guards running weave action as well.

You can also make it competitive by telling the defense they must stop the offense 3 times in a row before switching to offense.

By Rob Huckins,
Conant High School, Jaffrey, NH

Even with varsity age kids, I start out with the old "shell game". Start 4-on-4, showing them where to be when the ball is in various places, such as weak-side, help side, on the ball, etc. At first, just use the "coach's call" where you tell them when to pass and correct them after each pass. It sounds tedious, but after a few times, they will get it and you can have very good half-court (or full-court) controlled scrimmaging. These principles can be employed in any particular man-to-man system, whatever your preference.

With younger players, the shell game works even more. It is a basic set which allows kids to see where they should be according to where the ball may be. I teach "ball first, then man, then basket" in terms of priority, but you may be different. I put the ball first because that is the only thing which can ultimately hurt your team. If your man is away from the hoop, leave him, and find the ball. At the very least, find the basket. Anyway, shell game can be started with 4-on-4, then 5-on-5 with a post player, etc. It works well, and doesn't leave a lot for discussion as to "who had that guy?"

By Coach Bernie Semler

I found that it really stresses the defense is you have man2man assignments prior to setting the drill into action.  I like to put all 3 of my offensive players at
the top of the key, and have my defenders facing me under the basket so they can't see where their man is. While the defense is doing "Rapid Fire" I have the offensive players move to any perimeter position they want. This way, when I pass the ball in bounds, the defense has to find their man man and react to the situation.