The Shell Drill – Basketballs #1 Defense Drill - CoachMattDennis.com
The Shell Drill

Why Coaches Love The Shell Drill

Ask any coach the one drill they can't go without in practice and they all will say the shell drill. The reason for this is because of the versatility of the shell drill. More than any other drill, the shell drill allows teams to get more done in less time. And what coach doesn't love to do this?

What Is The Shell Drill?

The shell drill in its basic form is putting the offense and defense on the floor in a 3v3 or 4v4 format to play against each other. These formation are used to teach certain aspects of an offense or defense under constraints. By using constraints a coach puts one group at a disadvantage and one at an advantage. 

The constraints allow a coach to:

  1. Award behavior they want.
  2. Teach specific areas of the game.
  3. Control the tempo of practice.
  4. Control the duration of work.
  5. Create a competitive environment.

Let's take a look at two different shell drill set-ups. First you have a 3v3 set up and second there is 4v4 set-up. 

3v3 Shell Drill Set-up

3v3 Shell Drill

4v4 Shell Drill Set-up

4v4 Shell Drill

Don't allow yourself to think the shell drill is like playing pick-up ball in a 3v3 or 4v4, a shell drill goes far beyond this.

The key to getting the most out of the shell drill is to break the game down to stretch players understanding and effort to make them better. (Learn how to get your to players to play harder.) Depending on the constraints a coach uses one team will have an advantage while the other will have to make up for being at a disadvantage with communication, effort and execution. These constraints will range from basic defensive coverages to complex assignments when things break down.

Basic Offensive Shell Drill Constraints

In the beginning of a season coaches typically want the constraints to be on the offense in order to teach defensive coverages.

  • 5 passes before a shot
  • Offense is stationary and doesn't move
  • No dribbling or limited dribbles
  • Offense must drive to a particular spot (baseline, free throw elbow, into a trap, etc.)

Shell drills should start with positioning segments and then move to situational segments. Don't hold your players back by keeping them in position segments only. #cmdcoachinglab

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Basic Defensive Shell Drill Constraints

As the defense learns proper communication, location, and spacing it's time to put the constraints on the defense and make them start to play at a disadvantage. 

  • Play with one less defender than the offensive team.
  • Make players communicate things such as ball, gap, help (whatever is important in your defense).
  • Defenders start in the paint and have to close out and get to proper position based on the balls position.
  • Start in a double team and have the offense pass out of a trap.
    Defenders Start In The Paint
Start In The Paint Shell Drill

These are just a few ideas a coach could use to teach players how to react when they are at a disadvantage in a game. The more players can control the chaos and a catch up on a missed defensive coverage the better chance they have at getting stops in a real game.

7 Key Coaching Points

No matter what constraints a coach puts on their team there are certain key coaching points a coach needs to be aware of when practicing in the a shell drill.

  1. You can't see everything as a solo coach.
  2. Focus on no more than two areas.
  3. Assign responsibilities of what to watch for to your assistant coaches. 
  4. Offensive actions should mimic actions your team will see in your opponents offense.
  5. Know shell drills are ugly. Measure their effectiveness with communication and effort. (This can be done by downloading a decibel app to your phone to see if players are loud enough).
  6. Make things competitive - 3 stops in a row, no offensive rebounds, 24 seconds with no score, etc.
  7. Know YOUR defensive priorities - no middle, no baseline, no uncontested shots, no straight line drives, etc.

The Biggest Problem With The Shell Drill

There is one big problem most coaches have with the shell drill, and to be brutally honest, it's the coach's fault. Most coaches get stuck in only using the shell drill for positional segments. These are segments where coaches want things to look pretty and organized at all times. Unfortunately the game isn't always nice and neat, it gets ugly with help situations, rotations, switches, and blown assignments.

The goal isn't to make things perfect 100% of the time, it's to be able to adjust when there is a mismatch or a player slips and gets behind. Check out the 5 actions all defenses have trouble guarding to find ideas on how to prepare your team for anything. When your team can adjust to the chaos its presented with that's when playing defense can get fun.

4 on 3 Shell Drill Variation

A great way to get players to give maximum effort and to demonstrate effective, loud communication is to put the defense at a one player disadvantage. With one less player there is no room for slacking off or worrying about a mistake. Players have to be focused and ready to move on from any mistakes to perform when they are down one defender.

The example below shows offensive players staying stationary to teach proper coverage. This can be ramped up by allowing players to cut after they pass, giving each offensive player two dribbles to attack the gaps, or setting ball screens after a pass.

4 on 3 Shell Drill 1 of 4 

Shell Drill 1 of 4

4 on 3 Shell Drill 2 of 4 

Shell Drill 2 of 4

4 on 3 Shell Drill 3 of 4 

Shell Drill 3 of 4

4 on 3 Shell Drill 4 of 4 

Shell Drill 4 of 4

No matter if a team is just learning the fundamentals of a defense or they are an advanced group that is being pushed to new levels the shell drill is an absolute must in a coaches practice plan, especially if they are building a pressure defense with your team. 


About the Author Matt Dennis

Coach Matt Dennis is the current boys basketball coach at Otsego H.S. in Otsego, MI. His goal is to create a winning basketball program from top to bottom. He enjoys working with coaches and helping them find more success in less time just as he's done in his coaching career. You can learn more about Coach and his journey by clicking here .

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