Clock Management: To What Extent Are You Prepared For the Endgame?

shinola watchI might have mentioned in past articles how often I’ve discovered coaching nuggets over the years reading Sports Illustrated articles-very often on non-basketball topics and most of them by surprise in articles that are anything but technical in nature.  Most of these nuggets come in the form of observations by coaches, players, officials, writers and others.  They are often uttered about situations and people in ways that I’ve never heard such thoughts before.  Before I move on to the subject of today’s Hoop Coach article, I would simply recommend reading Sports Illustrated articles on two levels-one for the pure enjoyment and two for the wealth of subtle coaching knowledge and wisdom found in many articles, regardless of sport being discussed.

In an old Sports Illustrated NFL preview issue there was an article entitled Second Nature by Michael McKnight which focused on NFL clock management and many of the thoughts therein are also applicable to hoops game management.  It’s best to read the entire article for one’s self but several key summary bullet points follow:

  • A good portion of the article speaks of the late Homer Smith, former head coach at West Point and assistant at USC, Alabama and Arizona and author of THE COMPLETE HANDBOOK of CLOCK MANAGEMENT.  Generally considered a clock management genius, Smith analyzed the ends of countless football games.
  • The number of close games in any sport and in any season is significant and those games define a season.
  • There are infinite scenarios presented by the clock, the score and the game situation
  • Because there is so much unpredictability, one can’t expect to master clock management but one can be as well versed as possible with regular preparation.
  • One can mess up clock management and have a good outcome.  In post-game evaluation, one has to be honest in assessing one’s actions and admit errors even when the result was favorable.
  • One can also make the right decision and have the result be negative.
  • Constant practice is required; otherwise nerves and indecision can surface.  Without constant practice, a coach can be wavering and irresolute.
  • One would be well served to record the end of close games to study other’s decisions-good or bad.
  • Clock management might be a good way to start practice.  At the end of practice, it might not get the required attention.

How do you teach clock management to your teams?  Share with other coaches in the comments section at the bottom of the page.


  1. In 18 years coaching it has become apparent that each year will present a handful of games in which I am pretty certain that time management will probably win or lose a game for us. It is good for us to identify those games early on and with that knowledge a staff can make decisions Earlier in the contest to put our team in the best position to win possible as the clock winds down. For example if we figure it to be a close game we might run particular offense to isolate and attack their better Free Throw shooters in an effort to foul them out. If we know they are a perimeter team we might press more early and try to increase the tempo to take the legs from their shooters. On the flipside if they are poor FT shooters we might want to get them into the bonus earlier to be able to get possession back AND use the time lining up as an extra time out. Speaking of timeouts we will tell our players early in the contest that this game will probably be close so we want to save our timeouts so we need immediate and focused attention on the bench on all dead ball and FT scenarios to get word to players without the loss of a TO. Sometimes late game time management occurs much earlier in the contest. Every second counts!

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