We coach basketball for lots of reasons. Hopefully you are coaching the game because you love the game, love working with players, and have a passion to teach the game the right way. If you don’t like to teach then you really shouldn’t be coaching. However, one can’t deny that a great coach also has to have the will to win. Basketball is supposed to be fun and if you are playing great, team basketball while winning at the same time, then there is nothing more fun than that! I am going to try to give you some tips that could give your team a “winning edge” and make a difference in close games.
Practice Situations: Most coaches probably read this and say, “Yeah so what? I practice situations every day!” While I agree that your team probably practices some situations, like late game offense or pressure defense when turnover is needed. My question is are you are practicing more specific, yet important situations? For example, playing while in foul trouble is a huge situation that you can practice. Assign someone four fouls. Tell the team that if he fouls then we are all running! This will work better than saying, “Stay out of foul trouble.” You can do the same thing as a team. If you are one foul away from giving the other team the bonus, you don’t want to foul! Run for any team foul and this will send the message that you have to play smart defense when close to the bonus in a tight game.
Another situation that I have seen under practiced is late game. Sure you might have a play you like to run. But what if that play is already been used and the defense now stops it? Do you have a counter? I would recommend spending time on working on that. Also make sure your team can understand a possible new play that you might have to draw up. Call a timeout and draw up a play. Teach them how to be engaged in 30 seconds or a minute. That time can fly by as we all know! If they can practice executing under pressure then they will be better prepared when the game comes.
Great BLOBs and SLOBs: Most coaches know that a good way to “steal” a few baskets a game is by having great baseline out of bounds and sideline out of bounds plays. However, I see a ton of coaches not take the time to actually put in some plays that will actually work and get them an easy bucket. Just because you have always ran a play doesn’t mean it should be kept in. There are tons of resources for great BLOBs and SLOBs. Youtube has so many guys showing clips of awesome plays. Find some and pick a couple that your team can execute. Then, save a couple late game plays that your team might need for situations like, “need a three.”
Have a Plan: Of course you have a game plan. This goes deeper into what sets/defenses you plan to run. Does your team know the expectations when they are in a tight game? Do they know if you want to start using more of the clock late in the game? Do you want to play your normal style? They have to know and also practice this! I would recommend some type of offense where you can at least get some time off. Some coaches like to play their normal system throughout. Whatever your plan is, make sure your players also know it and again, practice it!
Be in Great Shape: Obviously this is something you’d want to do as a coach. However, the way you get there does not have to be traditional line running. You can get in great shape by having your players run up in down in practice while still playing the game! You can practice so much in a random, game-like environment while still getting in great physical shape. Have your team run your fast break/secondary break offense after they block out and rebound. Have your team go try and finish a lay in or other fast break opportunity if they get a steal in a defensive drill. The players will love this and it will completely benefit the team! Remember, your bench will ultimately shrink in closer games. Your guys have to be able to play tired and remain focused! Have them do things when they are tired to work on this skill, such as shooting free throws or listening to you in the huddle and trying to run a new set.
Chart the Game: A lot of coaches are starting to do this but I see tons of high school benches with not a whole lot going on. If your assistants can chart the game for you, it can lead to a huge advantage. Is that play working? What are the results from it? What defense is getting the most turnovers or stops? All of these questions do not need to be answered by gut feelings or in the film room later. You can do this in the game. If your opponent is not doing it then you just gave yourself a huge advantage. There are game charts online you can find and use or tweak. Here is an previous article with a link to chart you can use.
These are five ways that you can gain a winning edge in a tight game. If you use all five I would bet that you will see your team start having more success in close games. These are good practices for all games also so your team should get better if you can implement these!
Have any other ways to gain a winning edge? Leave them in the comments below.