Playing in front of a hostile crowd at a Tournament or just a regular road game, can be intimidating for the best of teams. Most “upsets” happen to you on the road or a neutral court, so a wise coach will pay particular attention to what his team’s mental state is during these encounters. Here are some tips I have found useful during my many years of coaching both high school and college teams.
Coaching Tips for Tournaments
Tip #1 Losing the opening game of a three day Holiday Tournament can be a real “downer” for a team and coach. You might go from a large crowd in prime time, to an early afternoon game the next day in front of only the scorekeeper and a janitor. No chance for a “championship,” no exciting matchups, and nothing much to look forward to the next couple of days.
But wait! It’s not the end. It’s a beginning. The beginning of a chance to start a new run of wins. Your next opponent lost too. They are down about their situation as much as you are. But you both still have a chance to win the next two games and finish with a tie for the second best record of the weekend. Who is going to step up for the next game and pull out the win? And maybe the day after that too? Even if you lose the first game of a tournament, at the end of the season, you could still be looking at two wins and only one loss in that particular weekend. That’s much better than 0-3 or 1-2 because your team wasn’t mentally ready to play.
For a coach, getting your team back up after a tough loss is often hard to do. Especially when you play the very next day and have little time to regroup, workout the rough edges, or even rest. A coach who is a good motivator can have a positive effect in these situations, and his ability to do so should not be overlooked. A team can sometimes “steal” a win from a more talented opponent in these situations, if they are more motivated and ready than the “supposed” stronger team.
Tip #2 Three games in three days can be quite taxing. Don’t expect your Starting 5 to play major minutes every night. Getting up early to go to school on Friday is tough, especially after a late Thursday night game. If you use the first unit most of the game on the first day of a tournament, plan some rest for them Friday. But when possible, use the bench in the first half of all games as much as feasible. Your third day effort will be much better than opponents who have tired players. There can be some pretty ugly basketball played on the final day of a holiday tournament, but your team can avoid that if they stay mentally and physically prepared. As a coach, you control it.
Coaching Tips for Road Games
Tip #1 Being on the road in a strange gym can be intimidating. One of the first things I tell players to do as they walk in the door is to find something they like about the opponent’s gym. Getting a positive image in their mind will help alleviate any negative thoughts that can occur. Maybe the facility reminds them of a favorite gym. Or the floor is shiny with great traction. Maybe the rims are “forgiving” and “soft” to shoot on. Or the gym lighting is exceptional. Have them find something, anything, that will put them into a positive frame of mind before the game begins.
Tip #2 When the team arrives at the gym, on the road or at home, have them sit together during the preceding game, whether it involves a tournament opponent or the opponent’s JV team. It is time to start bonding and mentally preparing. Sitting with a girlfriend, other friends, or parents is not a great way to “get down to business.” Players can be watching the present game and using it as a scouting effort, either because it is a future opponent during a tournament or a JV team that runs the same system as the varsity coming up. Discussion among the players about basketball is what you are looking for in this situation.
Tip #3 Get up more shots, especially starters and key scorers, during pre game warmups on the road. Maybe cut out or cut down on time used for your normal pre game warmup activities. High school teams get anywhere from 10-15 minutes for pre game warmups, so use that time wisely and get the shooters use to the environment on the road. At home, this extra shooting time is not as important and you can stick to a normal warmup routine.
Tip #4 Be polite to the opponent’s score table officials and go out of your way to see what they require for players checking into the game, when they want you to report your lineup, how to pronounce your players’ names, and whatever else they need from you. These home officials will always look with more favor upon their home team, but may remember your thoughtfulness later and be a little more accommodating to you.
Tip $5 It is difficult to win on the road when it seems the whole crowd is against you. But when you do, it is a sweet victory. Be sure to leave the court humbly and save the big celebration for the locker room. Be a classy winner and the same if you do lose.