Building Depth in Your Rotation

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From Coach Battenberg’s latest book: “You Can Run With Anyone”

A coach might have the perfect Starting Five that he wants to keep on the floor as much as possible.  But a smart coach will work to find at least two subs who can fill in as needed.  Earlier, I mentioned that I started my coaching career by using a system that called for a 10 player rotation.  That pretty much stayed with me for the rest of my  career – play 10 the first half, shorten the rotation for tighter games in the second half.  I found that to be a comfortable approach for me because playing 10 early, led to experienced reserves whom I could call on anytime later in the season.

Even if you have a very experienced, well-conditioned, starting five, those players will need a rest now and then.  Especially when playing Fast Break Basketball.  This is also  true at the beginning of a season when players are not use to the excitement and anxiety of a “real” game yet.  I have seen players whom I thought were in supreme condition, ask to come out of a game after two minutes of action.  But in a very short time, they were relaxed and ready to go right back in again.

Developing depth, where players are not afraid to go in and fill a role, is an important coaching skill.  This is more easily accomplished if addressed early in the season during practices and games. 

Suggestions for Building Depth

  1.  Hold everyone to the same standards in practice.  Don’t allow some players to cruise while others play at near full effort, like they are suppose to do.  Sub the “cruisers” out and let them watch.  That’s what will happen in a game.

2.  Don’t keep the same five together every practice.  Give everyone a chance to play with other teammates, especially in early season workouts.

3.  Allow one or two subs each practice to mix in with the first unit during 5 on 5 drills and scrimmage situations.  If you have 12 players, you can put six on a team and rotate the sub with the other five.  This helps create multi-position players.  Change who the sixth man is each day to create competition and promote enthusiasm.

4.  Pick your top six and put three of each on two teams.  Then mix the other players to balance the squads for great competition.

5.  Game day, decide who your initial substitutes will be.  If you want a 10 man rotation, plan a sub for each starter.  Otherwise, decide who will be the first front court sub and the first perimeter player sub.  But also be sure to get all of your key reserves into the game during the first half.

6.  Right from the beginning, sub anyone out who is not giving a best effort.  Do not allow poor transition to either the defensive or offensive end of the court.  If a player is too tired to go hard, he should ask to come out for a rest.  Otherwise, the coach needs to take him out and find out why he is not going hard.

If you want to play a Speed Game, I have found you will need at least an eight man rotation.  You may only use six or seven in the second half of some key games, but any less than that might wear your team down.  Being fresh down the stretch of a game is key to playing well when it counts most.  And “freshness” is key for a successful playoff run at the end of a season too.

For more on Coach Battenberg’s Fast Break Philosophy, check out his book below:


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