How To Read & Interpret Play Diagrams

Basketball's Universal Language

Basketball play diagrams are the universal language of basketball coaches throughout the world. In fact, you can find basketball graffiti (play diagrams) on clipboards, whiteboards, napkins, gym floors, pieces of scratch paper, or just about anything coaches can write on.


A typical HoopTactics Diagram

Base Cross Offense

To some, play diagrams may look like hieroglyphics or may be difficult to comprehend. However, by using a few basic symbols and color, HoopTactics makes it easy for even a novice to understand even the most complex play action.

A Guide To The Symbols Used In The Diagrams


Offensive Players
Offensive Players

Offensive players are represented by circles containing numbers corresponding to the basic five player positions.

1 = Point Guard
2 = Shooting or Off Guard
3 = Small Forward
4 = Power Forward
5 = Post or Center


Player with Ball
Player With Ball

The symbol of a basketball indicates the player who starts out with ball possession.


Defensive Players
Defensive Players

Defensive players are represented by "X's" with sub or superscript numbers corresponding to the basic five player positions.

X1 = Point Guard
X2 = Shooting or Off Guard
X3 = Small Forward
X4 = Power Forward
X5 = Post or Center


Player Dribbling
Player Dribbling

Zig Zag lines represent the path of the player that is dribbling the basketball. The arrow head indicates the direction of movement.


Player Passing

A dashed orange line is used to signify a pass. The arrow head shows its direction, while the number of  hash marks indicate the sequential order when multiple passes are involved.


Player Shooting
Player Shooting

A shot or field goal attempt at the basket is indicated by an orange dotted line with an arrow head.


Player Movement
Player Movement

Both offensively and defensively, player movement is indicated by solid lines. The arrow head indicates the direction of movement.


Player Screen

A short perpendicular line at the end of a player's movement line represents a screen or pick.


Play Action Emphasis

The color Red is used to emphasize and point out a specific action within a play diagram.

Once you learn the various symbols used in the diagrams you'll be able to instantly form mental images of the play action as if it were actually taking place on the court.

CAUTION: If you are going to draw play diagrams during timeouts, make sure that all players know how to understand them and that they are clearly drawn. Do NOT take it for granted that they have been taught how to interpret and understand play diagrams.

Continue and learn about the various types of basketball offenses

Lean About the Various Types of Basketball Offenses
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