Zone defense is a type of defense used in sports which is the alternative to man-to-man defense; instead of each player guarding a corresponding player on the other team, each defensive player is given an area, or a "zone", to cover.
A zone defense can be used in virtually all sports where a defending team is present.
Zone defense correspond to the number of players on the front of the zone working its way to the back of the zone. For example, a 2-3 zone is a zone defense in which two defenders are covering areas in the top of the zone (near the top of the key) while three defenders are covering areas near the base line.
Other types of zone defense include:
When a team plays a zone, the defenders must keep their hands up and in passing lanes and quickly adjust their positions as the ball and the offensive players move around. Teams that successfully play zone defenses are very vocal and effectively communicate where they, the ball, and their opponents are or will be.
Teams playing a zone occasionally try to trap the ball handler, an aggressive strategy designed to double-team the player with the ball. While this tactic may cause a turnover, it leaves one or more players on the offense undefended.
Zone defenses were prohibited in the National Basketball Association prior to the 2001-2002 season. The NBA currently permits the use of zones; however, teams generally do not use them as a primary defensive strategy. Zone defenses are more common in international, college, and youth competition.
There are several reasons for a team to use a zone defense. Some are listed below.
Playing a zone entails some risks. Some are listed below.
While strategies for countering zone defenses vary and often depend on the strengths and weaknesses of both the offensive and defensive teams, there are some general principles that are typically used by offensive teams when facing a zone.
The zone defense tactic, borrowed from basketball, was introduced into Australian Football in the late 1980s by Robert Walls and revolutionized the game. It was used most effectively by legendary Essendon Football Club coach Kevin Sheedy.
The tactic is used from the full-back kick in after a behind is scored. The side in opposition to the player kicking in places their forward players, including their full-forward and center half forward, in evenly spaced zones in the back 50-meter arc. This makes it easier for them to block leading players and forces the kick in to be more precise, in effect increasing the margin for error which can cause a turnover and another shot at goal. As a result, the best ways to break the zone are for the full-back to bomb it long (over 50 meters), often requiring a low percentage torpedo punt, or to play a short chipping game out of defense and then to switch play as opposition players break the zone. The latter has negated the effectiveness of the tactic since the 1990s.
Another kick-in technique is the cluster or huddle, often used before the zone, which involves all of the players from the opposition team to the player is kicking in huddling together and then breaking in different directions. The kicker typically aims in whichever direction that the designated target (typically the ruckman) runs in.
Zone defense is a defense in art of war, mainly preferred if the invader is stronger than the defender and the defender is highly motivated for the duty. It is the replacing strategy for former line defense, which states that the army should barricade the invader troops aiming to reach a target. Per line defense approach, if the defending army loses ground, it should withdraw until a certain place where all the friendly units can came together and secure themselves. Zone defense strategy offers that the defender should hold the ground at whatever cost unless otherwise is directly ordered. It also forces that if an unit is ordered to withdraw, it should step back until the first safest zone, assuming that an army can fight everywhere if it is committed to the war. The first example of zone of defense is Battle of Sakarya, where the Turkish Army has defended its homeland against Greek invaders. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, commander-in-chief of Turkish Army summarized his doctrine as:
There is no line defense, there is only zone defense. This zone is the whole homeland. Unless every single piece of the homeland is flooded with its citizen's blood, it cannot be abandoned to the enemy. Therefore, either small or big, every unit can be driven from its position. However, either small or big, every unit starts fighting again with the enemy at the first location it could stop. Any unit should not withdraw even if the friendly units are doing so. They have to insist and resist at their position until their end.
During preparations for World War II, the French army built the Maginot Line, which was meant to stop the Nazi army in front of the lines. However, the Nazi army found its way around this barricade by invading Belgium and Netherlands. Although the Maginot Line was prepared for a heavy assault, it was never used, hence France fell into Nazi hands during the Battle of France with less resistance.
Viet Cong practiced zone defense in Vietnam War, resulting that the superior American Army had to stop inside Vietnam jungles. Later, Viet Cong army prepared a Counterattack against American Army, which lead them to victory.