There seems to always be that “One” Big Game on every coach’s schedule. Sometimes, there is more than one as the standings change throughout the league season and you are battling for a championship. But even in the worst of seasons, there is a Big Game that the players really look forward too. It might be a Rival Game or Senior Night, but it will be special for your team.
Big Games at home are distinctly different from those on the road. How you prepare for a road game is often quite different from what you do for one at home. But whether home or away, a coach can make a difference in how his team performs in these high profile situations. While road coaching is the more difficult challenge, you can turn either into a positive experience with good preparation. Below are some thoughts I gathered from my 35 years of coaching in these Big Game situations.
- Scout the opponent well. Do your homework and know your opponent well. Scout a couple of times. View several videos. Know their personnel, sets, defenses, presses, OB’s, and anything else that is possibly unique to this opponent.
- Scout the opposing coach. Know his tendencies. What defenses and when will he use them? What plays and to whom does he go to in tight situations? How does he adjust to your changes? When does he press and at what points in the game?
- Prepare your team. They should know the opponent’s key players by name, #, stats, position, strengths and weaknesses. They need to know the opponent’s offense and defense and changes that may occur. Build an early interest in the future “Big Game.” At the beginning of each week, update the team on the entire league with special interest in the “Big Game Opponent.”
- Know your team. How do they handle these situations? Are they a veteran team or a young team? How many such games have they experienced in the past? Are they familiar with the court and gymnasium where the game will be played? They (players) should already be mentally ready. Is that the case or do they need your help?
- Take the Pressure Off your team. Confidence comes in your preparation. It is a year-long process. Handling pressing defenses, shooting free throws, special late game situations; if these are well covered, let the team know they are ready. In the pre game talk, are the players nervous or too loose? Read the group and re-prepare them as needed.
- Emphasize a Good Start. The key is to play your best defense. Remind the team to be as physical as needed. Crash boards and control both ends. Consider a tip play to score right off. Have your jumper go up early and get it. A quick and easy score can be a tone setter.
- Call an Early Time Out if you do not have a good start. Don’t let your team get too far down early. Keep the spirit and faith high. Make adjustments to overcome the early problems you face. Reassure the team that there is plenty of time left, so stay the course.
- Loosen up the Team. Lighten the mood with a “special” or trick play early in the game. (Backdoor, lob play, set for a dunker, something new) Be positive in huddles, on the sideline, with officials, and in the locker room. Focus, but enjoy the moment.
- Surprise the Opponent. Throw a different defense at them – a press or half court trap to start – do something unexpected. Maybe a zone to shake them up? Making the opponent burn a timeout to adjust could be beneficial later in the game.
- Coaching Late in a Tight Game. At a Time Out, tell your players that the Pressure is really on the opponent. At their place, they are expected to win. It’s their home court and fans. At your place, the fans are on your side and will give you extra energy. Play both ends against the middle. The pressure is always on your opponent and never you. Sometimes your team will need a pep talk to get through a tough moment. At other times you may need to be humorous and have a light moment to break tension. Know your team and keep them loose.
Big Crowds and Big Games are the highlight of a basketball season. Winning the “Big Ones” can be the difference between a winning season and a losing season. It can also be the difference between a “Championship” year and an “Also Ran” season. Your coaching can make a difference. Luck goes to the prepared, so make sure you and your team are always prepared for all games, especially Big Games.