Watch any close game of basketball late in a game and you're sure to find yourself either lauding or second guessing the players or coaches on decisions made. Executing in these late game situations can be the difference between a winning and losing season.
As a coach it is your responsibility to prepare your players for any situation that may arise. With limited practice time and so many possible scenarios it can feel daunting trying to fit in practice on a situation that may only arise once or not even at all in the season. It's my belief that the time spent on these situations is worth it, even if you never come upon that situation during the year.
In our practice's we do at least 2 end game scenarios everyday. Generally I like to throw them in after a drill that included a lot of conditioning to best simulate what it's like in a game. Some of the scenarios go well and some don't but, what it provides is confidence to the team that we are prepared for the situation. It also gives me a chance to let them lead themselves through a scenario and discuss after what other options they may have had. This gives me confidence that I can trust them late in game without having to call a timeout that would allow the other team to set their defense as well.
There are two ways we incorporate the end game scenario into practice.
1.) End game scenario cards (idea stolen from Coach Mike Neighbors) - On a deck of 52 playing cards I wrote a variety of different end of game scenarios. Score could be different, who has ball where, time left, timeouts or none, and fouls. After a drill I'll have a player pick and card and we'll play out that scenario.
2.) Pacers Drill (adapted from a drill shared from the Indiana Pacers)
The Pacers drill is a progressive transition drill going from 2 on 1 to 3 on 2 to 4 on 3 to 5 on 4 then finally 5 on 5. You start with both teams on the baseline. You have one dark team player at the free throw line with two light team players on lane line. Dark team player takes the free throw then defend 2 on 1 back, after shot is put up by light two more darks join in for 3 on 2 the other way so on and so forth until it becomes 5 on 5. We keep track of the points and once it gets to 5 v 5 there is 1 min of game time to be played. The team plays the situation they are in based on points scored during the transition part of drill. This drill does a great job simulating real game situations and forces the teams to adjust on the fly as I don't give them timeouts to work with.
So far on the season we have had 6 games where the game was tied or we were behind in the fourth quarter. So far we are 6-0 in those games. Inevitably, if we continue to be in these positions, we will lose some of these games. But I know that, when in this situation, I can look at my team in the eyes and tell them during a timeout, "We are fine. We have been in this situation before, we practice this situation every day, no team is better prepared to succeed in this position" and have them look back with complete confidence and belief.
What other ways do you incorporate end of game scenarios in your practice?
Last year I was tasked with scouting and coming up with a game plan for our teams game against the number 1 team in the country Whitman. As I watched their games one thing stood out to me, each game there seemed to be small tweaks to the starting lineup. I brushed that off as early season tinkering and thought nothing more of it. When it came game day they once again had a completely different starting lineup than the ones I had seen in previous games. After the game, I asked the coach about why there were so many changes. What he told me changed the way I look at organizing practice.
He said they track hustle stats in practice (tips, steals, deflections, charges, rebounds, and diving on the floor). The individuals who finish with the 5 highest scores at the end of the weeks practice start the game. He said this lead to highly competitive practices and got guys playing at the tempo they wanted all the time.
Back in the head coaches seat this year, I decided to implement this same philosophy. The results have been amazing; practices have been highly competitive and all players, 1-15, are engaged at all times because they know that they have the ability to earn their spot. We are better prepared for games because we practice so hard and its also created a unity among the team to accept that no one person is more important than another. So far we have played 12 games this season, counting preseason games, and each game has had a different starting lineup. To this point we are undefeated but more importantly we have forced more turnovers and rebounded at higher rate than in the previous season.
State championship winning basketball coach, Chris Woodside, shares his journey to becoming a college level coach as well as life lessons learned on + off the court.