My personal philosophy on coaching has been to teach and enable players, as much as possible, to be in charge of their own destiny, that is, to develop a “player’s game” rather than a “coach’s game”. During practice we will create last minute situations when one team will be assumed to have a three points lead, or last five minute situations when one team has say a five points lead, or other variations.
The teams are told that all time outs in the simulated game situation have been used and players must make their own decision on what strategy to use. After the simulated game situation has been played we will review what has taken place, make appropriate corrections and repeat the exercise several times. These drills help create leadership skills as well as prepare players for a range of different game situations which will be valuable in regular games.
While I have a strong preference for empowering players to make their own decisions there are many situations when the coach must make decisions which may have a profound impact on the game, not the least of these will be substitutions. Players may be substituted at certain times during a game which includes during a time out, prior to a free throw attempt, after a foul and during dead ball situations for the team which has possession of the ball. Substitutions should not be made at random, but for a specific reason which players understand.
They may be:
- To rest a player – to maintain a quick tempo by using reserve strength
- to instruct a player
- to key a change in tactics offensively or defensively
- to match up against an opposing substitute
- to protect a player who has accumulated fouls.
It is also important to take into consideration the scores in the game and the time to play. If the team has developed momentum and is opening up a lead, then it is desirable to the leave the players in the game. Sometimes a substitute can spark a revival or develop momentum and the coach must use good judgement about when to use the substitute and how long to leave him in the game.
One of the more difficult decisions for the coach occurs when a player gets into foul trouble early in the match, especially if the player is one of the key members. When only five fouls are permitted before a player must be replaced then the difficult decision for the coach to make will be when the player gets two fouls early in the match. The most common decision will be to substitute the player, unless he is so important to the team that further risk might be taken by leaving him in the game. It becomes virtually imperative to substitute the player if he has accumulated three fouls in the first half and then, subject to other factors, bring him back to start the second half. When a player picks up a couple of fouls the coach may decide to leave him in the game and change the defence to a zone, or change the man to man assignment to protect him from picking up another quick foul. In most cases the opposing coach will try to run a special play to add pressure to the player at risk and unless you are prepared to deal with this situation then the problems can become more complicated.
The coach should never rest a starter (key player) on four fouls for too long; so long as he is prepared to play aggressive defence then he should be returned to the game. Too often in tight games a starter is left on the bench until the game is out of reach. However if he is playing over cautiously and not playing defence aggressively, he should be replaced.
The coach should always be prepared to substitute for a special situation. Perhaps the tempo of the game is too slow, or too fast and a substitute may be brought into the game to make the adjustment. A player may be sent into the game with the special assignment of defending an opponent aggressively without worrying about fouls for a brief period. Or when the opposition has a poor defensive player allowing a substitute the task of exploiting one on one options for a brief period.