”The 6-0 defence does not exist.

As soon as one defender comes out to a back, it’s a 5: 1 defence.”

Juan de Dios Román Seco (during one lunch on the Mediterranean coast)

Today, in senior handball, “school zone formations” are played less and less, and combined defences are played increasingly more. In tactical departures from traditional play, coaches most often use different forms of 5:1 defence.

5:1 is a defence we teach when young players master the basics of 3:2:1 defence because of the many similarities in their basics.

These two defences can be so similar that the observer can confuse them. My team used to play 5:1, and the rival coach would say to me after the game: “You have a good 3:2:1 defence”. In addition, we used to play 3:2:1 defence and people would talk to me after the game: “It’s easy for you to play 5: 1 when you have such a good front centre.”

However similar they may be, there differ significantly.

If our team has mastered the 3:2:1 defence well, for a good 5:1 defence, the key difference is the player who is able to play well the front centre position. This defence depends most on his abilities and his cooperation with the centre half.

“The greatest shortcoming of the human race

is our inability to understand the exponential function.”

– Albert A. Bartlett –


Responsibilities of the front centre:

  1. CB must not score a goal
  1. The ball must never go behind his back
  1. All events in the centre field need to be resolved
  1. Slow down the flow of the ball among the backs by active playing

At first glance, we see similarities with the responsibilities that the front centre has in 3:2:1, and a significant difference is that in 5:1 we expect him to constantly play aggressively towards the ball. The goal is to teach Emil to bring the backs to situations where they can’t be comfortable all the time to pass, i.e. to prevent the rapid flow of the ball. This gives the centre half enough time to get to a position where he can easily help the halves stop LB and RB.

If Emil slows down the flow of the ball enough, the rivals solve most of the attacks by playing 1on1 or in a better case 2on2 from a static position, i.e. “on a slow ball” or from the lead. The idea that many coaches use to try to solve the problems created by the front centre is to play with 2 line players without a centre back, because in that situation Emil “does not have his man”, i.e. he does not guard anyone and the result is a numerical superiority of players on some part of the field.

“It’s easier to fool people

than to convince them that they have been fooled”

– Mark Twain –

If Emil plays well, i.e. if he slows down the flow of the ball enough, very quickly the backs start playing the rope and instead of attacking the goal, they engage in outplaying with him.

Only the best back players are able to successfully attack a goal at the same time by playing 1on1 (against the half) or 2on2 (with a line player, and against the half and centre half) and outplay the front centre.

Some become passive due to concentrating on outplaying Emil, and some no longer see the other side of the attack.

We, the coaches, often think that a player who cuts a couple of passes per game is good for playing the front center position.

Such a player has indeed the potential to play well.

However, this is only the case if he successfully fulfils the first 3 responsibilities.

If in the desire to cut the ball Emil does not fulfil the basic responsibilities, the damage he creates with such a game is greater than the benefit he brings by cutting the pass.

Regardless of how spectacular that cutting looks.

”Creativity is intelligence having fun.”

– George Scialabba –


Centre half has the same responsibilities in the game as when we play 3:2:1 defence.

The centre half should always be in front of the ball, solve all the problems in his vicinity and guide the rest of the defence.

  1. Always be “in front of the ball”
  2. Prevent the back player from scoring at the 6 m line if he gets through the front line
  3. Guard the line player if the ball is in his field or next to it
  4. Permanently inform the front line defenders about the position of the line player

The centre half is a defence player who has to process the most information and has the most movement in a 3:2:1 defence because he has to be able to cover the biggest space.

That is why the players who usually play this position are simultaneously the most intelligent and the most agile players in the team. If a player is strong enough to stop the line player and tall enough to block shots by back players, then he is the ideal centre half.

What is different in his game in 5:1 defence is compared to 3:2:1 is a much larger amount of alignment with Emil because due to the nature of his responsibilities the front centre has more freedom of decision in 5:1.

In 3:2:1 defence the centre half is the player leading the defence, and in 5:1 he acts equally, but should be able to read and effectively resolve situations in which Emil reacted independently.

This leads us to have centre half and Emil in some situations create game models that deviate from our ideal and we allow them to do so if they are effective.

We want to create personal game models

and we are focused on fulfilling responsibilities in the game.

We are convinced that individual differences from the idealised way of playing are good if the player fulfils all the responsibilities because over time it becomes an additional player’s quality.

History teaches us that what made the best players best was the fact they improved the game with a personal approach that went beyond the game of that time, and experience shows us that the same principle applies to lower levels of competition.


The responsibilities of the halves are the same as in the 3:2:1 defence.

They have to prevent back players from scoring a goal 

and passing the ball diagonally to the line player. 

If the defence players understand both of these responsibilities, the consequence will be the precise movement envisaged by the creator of the 5:1 defence.

If we split these responsibilities based on positions, the halfs  (LH/ RH) has the following responsibilities:

  1. ”his back player” cannot score a goal
  2. he has to guard the line player when the ball is on the other side of the attack until the centre half (CH) takes over
  3. he has to help the front half (FH) and the outers (OL/ OR)  if they need help