11 Ways to Avoid Upsets

court stormEvery time I hear a coach say, “We weren’t ready to play,” after his team has been upset, I really hear these words instead, “I didn’t get my team ready to play.”

Now, granted all so-called upsets aren’t caused by insufficient preparation of one kind or another. Lesser teams sometimes just outplay or outshoot a better opponent on a given night. We all know that making shots can cover a lot of sins in a win and that a team can play well and lose because it just didn’t make enough shots or it missed shots at the end.

What I’d like to address today is the inadequate game prep caused by a coach who, for whatever reason, sends the wrong signals through content, voice inflection and body language to his team about the next opponent as early as the post game locker room wrap-up in the previous game.

How does that happen? The reasons are many and varied; some examples follow:
1. It may be as simple as a coach, having recently faced a series of tough games and preps, sees an opportunity for some relief in the schedule, and relaxes himself and sets a relaxing tone for his players.
2. A coach might violate his own dictum of “Fear no one; respect everyone,” and send disrespectful signals about the next opponent to his players.
3. A coach looks ahead and while he might not disrespect the next opponent, he sets sights on a future game.
4. A coach gets distracted in his personal or in his non-coaching professional life. Players pick up on everything. We also know that players are perfectly capable themselves of underestimating or overlooking lesser opponents without help from their coach. Even an experienced coach lets down his guard occasionally and messes up in this regard. Like anything else, the more systematic and routine one is in this regard, the better. The following checklist might be helpful to develop consistency from one game to the next:
5. Post game comments about the next opponent probably should be brief and reserved to reduce the odds of something inadvertent being said.
6. Scouting reports and the methods for reviewing them shouldn’t vary much game to game. (We’re not advocating hyping a weaker opponent; we just don’t want to give them short shrift.) The minute a coach reduces the amount of time and attention to a report, dubious signals are sent. I’ve always believed that one has to “market” every scouting report to accurately reflect the next opponent.
7. Some coaches create a unique game plan feature for each lesser team just like they would do for a “red-letter” game.
8. Some coaches are more demanding than usual and get after it more preceding games in which they might be perceived as the favorites.
9. Very often head coaches assign scouting responsibilities for different teams to different assistants. In these cases, assistants bring an extra level of attention to “their” games and take great ownership. Sometimes players tune out reports when the presenter isn’t in to it himself.
10. Pre-game comments on game night about the opponent should reflect the approach utilized all week and should be consistent with the level of attention one gives to all teams.
11. Last, if early in-game signals indicate that the team isn’t quite ready to play, some veteran coaches without any sense of panic, adjust sooner rather than later and “shake things up” so to speak with significant personnel and/or technical changes. This prevents the game from “settling in” as it began.

Have any other ways to avoid an upset?  Add them in the comment section at the bottom of the page.


  1. I’ve always preached “Team, we’re close but, we haven’t played our best game yet .. Let’s work and get that perfect execution this game” ..It’s worked to take the focus away from a perceived lesser team ..I also during the lead up to the game(s) remind them anyone can be beat.

  2. Over the years I came to the realization that controlling the locker room is essential to avoiding upsets. I have had several teams in which the alpha male is really a special player. And is often the case, they have a tendency to regard their opponent in a different light than their less-talented teammates. These special players often talked down the upcoming opponent in an effort to raise his personal expectations as to how he should perform in the next game. These talented athletes are often been heard saying such things as the upcoming opponent “is sorry, that they cannot shoot, guard, etc.” The problem here is that the less talented players will listen to the alpha male & lower their personal levels of readiness, &/or lose the needed sense of urgency required for them to play well. I have found that the solution to this problem is by addressing to the dominant players as to how their comments impact their teammates. It is a fine balance and one you should address with most every upcoming opponent.

Leave a Reply