5 Reasons that Tagging Up is a better Transition Defense System for Youth Development

A huge part of the game is played in transition. It is estimated that 25% of baskets scored are in transition. Of course, this depends on the level and the team. Teams that tend to push the ball and play fast generally score a higher percentage in transition. Teams that play a slow, structured game score more from their half-court actions.

The hardest teams to play are those that get out and run in the open court, playing at a high pace and scoring before the defense even has time to recover.

As a program, we want to limit the oppositions transition game and make them play more in the half-court. This allows us to be matched up and in good defensive positioning. Being able to play this way means we’re not in a numbers disadvantage or scramble situations.

When it comes to defensive transition, most teams have the same core objectives. It can be worded differently, but it comes down to slowing down the opposition’s attack and allowing their defense to be matched up 5/5.

We simply state, “delay the advance and allow our team to recover. Prevent uncontested lay-ups and open threes

(Side Note: This is something that we’re looking to change so that it can be more measurable – we’re toying with getting matched up in 5 seconds or something along those lines. The issue now is that we can’t actually measure “delaying the advance of the ball”!)

The main school of transition defense (3-Up) works on the following principles.

  • protect the basket so that open lay-ups aren’t given up
  • engage the ball early, so that the offensive ball handler doesn’t build up steam
  • deny pitch ahead passes to prevent teams from easily advancing the ball
  • Get back and match up 5/5 to eliminate the numbers advantage

Most teams want to use their transition defense to slow down the ball and get matched up 5/5. This is a key part of transition defense because it prevents numerical disadvantage and scramble situations.

Our transition defense philosophy is Tagging Up. The key difference between our style and the 3-Up System is:

  • Traditional transition defense sends two players back on the rise of the shot and three to get an offensive rebound; we send all five to the offensive boards

Whenever I have the conversation with other coaches, I am met with looks of amazement and almost a certain type of, “Are you stupid? Why on earth would you do that?” look. Usually, they are polite enough not to actually say what is on their mind.

Here are five reasons why we use the Tagging Up System.

It Allows us to Jam the Ball Early

Regardless of what system you use, one of the first parts of the transition defense is to jam the rebounder. Doing this allows the outlet pass to be delayed a little, which allows the rest of your team to recover and get to their respective spots.

Both systems (3-Up and Tagging Up) allow for this part to be seamless.

It Allows us to Contest the first Pass

The next point that coaches will teach on transition defense is to contest the outlet pass. This means that in the diagram below, someone has to contest the pass to Red-2.

This is usually the responsibility of Green-2, which is a difficult task if he’s already at the halfway line. Green-4 could also do it but they are a step behind already.

Tagging Up doesn’t have this problem. Notice how Black-2 and Black-3 are already in good defensive positions to contest the outlet passes (Diagram 4 – above).

It Puts us in Immediate Help Position

Once two players are back protecting the basket, the rebounder has been jammed and the outlet has been contested, the next thing that we need to do is prevent pitch ahead passes.

Green-4, -5 & -1 are out of position and are sprinting to get back in position. With the Red team running wide and deep, it becomes difficult to get into help-side position as well as deny pitch ahead passes (these are daggers to the transition defense).

By tagging Up, all players are already in good defensive positions and can load to help early in transition.

It Gets us Matched up Straight Away

Transition ends when all five players are matched up.

The 3-Up system has the Green Team on the back foot (Diagram 3 – above), Green is scrambling almost straight away and trying to play through tandem, triangle and diamond formations to get matched up and prevent numerical advantages.

By Tagging Up, this problem is solved straight away (Diagram 4 – above). All players are matched up as soon as the ball is released.

It Increases our Offensive Rebounding Percentage

Tagging Up increases our offensive rebounding percentages One of the key benefits of Tagging Up is that our Offensive Rebounding % and Second Chance Points have both increased exponentially. Since we’re tagging aggressively and driving the defense towards the baseline, we end up getting the long rebounds. Even if the ball falls into the defensive teams’ hands, we are still in a good position to start the next phase of play.

2 Bonus reasons

Improves Defensive Rebounding Percentages

Tagging-Up is great at developing boxing out and defensive rebounding habits in practice.

Implementing this system in practice has allowed us to really focus on our bump and box (defensive rebounding system) concept. Any full-court drill or game gives us a chance to work on both the defensive and offensive rebounding aspects.

Because we are really aggressive with our Tagging Up, it has forced our defensive players to brace themselves, seek contact first and box out the offensive players before they get tagged.

It Gives us a Mental Edge

Teams hate playing us.

Wouldn’t you?

Just imagine being pressed full court for the full game. In addition to dealing with that, every one of our shot attempts results in you being aggressively tagged.

If that’s not enough, we’re getting multiple offensive rebounds on each possession while your coach on the sideline is throwing up his hands in exasperation. By the time the fourth quarter rolls around, you are physically and mentally exhausted. We have the mental edge. This is how we play in practice every day.

Key points on the Tagging Up System:

  • On the shot release, all five players move forward and Tag up with the defensive players. This happens in a sort of scrum.
  • The players need to remain high side and not fight for the inside position – This is a CRUCIAL POINT!
  • Once Tagged, the black team drives the red team towards the baseline (Diagram 4) – We employ three elements (Hard Tag, Soft Tag, Tag & Drop).

Some issues that we’ve experienced so far:

  • Some players want to get inside position all the time. The more experienced the player, the more they tend to do this. We don’t want this at all.
  • If the opposition leak out or fly by, we are a step behind (more to do with our learning process, rather than the system).
  • Switching Back – some of our guys are intent on finding their player and switch at awkward times, leaving guys open in transition (This is another issue that is part of the learning process and not the system. We want to get matched up and it doesn’t matter who is guarding who for us).
  • Off Ball Fouls – We have been called for some more fouls this season that happen after the release of the ball. This is a trade-off that we are okay with. If they start adding up, we switch to Soft Tags.

Most teams’ objective in transition is to prevent uncontested lay-ups and open threes in transition. That’s a key reason why two players are sent back. Their job is to protect the basket.

Unfortunately, that gives the opposition a numerical advantage and puts the defensive team in scramble situations. This is the problem that coaches are trying to solve with the 3-Up system.

The Tagging Up System does that for us – we’re matched up in the full court on the release of the shot. We are not at a numerical disadvantage and the opposition is forced to play us full court.

Finally, one of the key things that attracted me to this style is sheer aggressiveness. As a youth coach, I want all our players to be aggressive. I want them to attack the basket aggressively on offense and attack the ball on defense. Aggressiveness is a skill. It is a mindset. As the players move up through the system and get to the senior levels, we can taper down that aggressiveness, but at the youth level, we want them to adopt this mindset.

We bring this to life through Tagging Up.


That’s all for this week. I hope you guys enjoy seeing what we do within our practices. If there is a specific action or drill that you would like us to share, just drop us a message and we’ll be happy to do so.

We’ll be breaking down more of the drills and activities that we do in practice, as well as sharing some of our practice plans.

Until next week.

Coach Nabil Murad

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