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How to perform the shell drill in basketball (defensive exercise)

One of the most versatile exercises a coach can use to learn defensive concepts is the Shell Drill.

With this exercise, coaches can explain defensive responsibilities in a controlled environment.

Progress is limited only by the creativity of the trainer to manufacture the drill himself.

When a coach starts teaching players how to play solid defense, it’s important to start with the basics … and this exercise provides coaches with the perfect opportunity to do so.

What I like most about the Shell Drill is that it evolves as players improve.

There are a number of “progressions” that I will now explain in this blog post.

Let’s get started!

What is the Shell Drill?

The Shell Drill is a ‘progressive drill’ to teach TEAM defense and positioning.

Although 1-on-1 exercises are ideal for defending on the ball, exercises like the “Shell Drill” can help players learn how to defend away from the ball.

If you’re running at youth level, this may be the first time some of these young players have heard important defensive terms like ‘help’, ‘once’, ‘rotations’ and ‘close’.

How to manage the drill

Traditionally, the Shell Drill is driven 4-to-4.

Place four attacking players around the arc – one in each slot and one on each wing. The four defenders then match each other with their offensive counterparts.

This is how it works …

The first thing that should happen when using this exercise is a pass through the basketball at each offensive position so that all defenders know where they need to be.

If the basketball is on wing, there should be a defender on the ball, one defender denying one pass, and two defenders playing on the split line defending from the assist side.

If the basketball is with a player in the slot, there must be one defender on the ball, two players passing once, and one player in the assist defense on the split line.

4-to-4 shell drilling diagrams

Let the offensive players, after walking through each position, move around the perimeter (hold for about 3 seconds) while the defense adjusts to the correct position.

Then finally start.

Do this by the attacking team doubling the ball around the perimeter and then moving on to a competitive 4-on-4 game with the focus on defensive positioning.


3-on-3 shell drill

4-to-4 shell drill

5-to-5 shell drill

Coaching points:

The emphasis on this exercise is to ensure players to maintain awareness.

Defenders should always be able to see their game and the ball.

For younger players, it can help if coaches teach them to point to the ball and their game throughout practice.

Another point of emphasis is communication.

With the shell exercise, coaches can install the specific wording they want to use for defense.

Some of the most common calls include: ‘ball’, ‘deny’ and ‘help’.

Why the Shell Drill is Important

With the shell exercise, coaches can teach important defensive concepts in a controlled environment.

Communication and awareness is an integral part of any defense scheme, and it applies to coaches as well as players.

The exercise is a simple platform for coaches to give direct instructions to their players on defenses and calls.

During this exercise, players learn positioning and important defensive principles such as ‘helping hand’, and coaches can show players how to close properly and how to turn.

For players …

The repetition of the shell drill helps to build confidence in their defensive positioning.

Once players understand how they can participate in the exercise, even though it moves fast, they gain the necessary certainty needed to become a good defender.

Lastly, if you are looking for more defensive drills, click here.

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