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Game Time Tips

Read these 17 Game Time Tips tips to make your life smarter, better, faster and wiser. Each tip is approved by our Editors and created by expert writers so great we call them Gurus. LifeTips is the place to go when you need to know about Basketball tips and hundreds of other topics.

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The Free Throw Blockout-- a Possession Strategy

The free throw lane (also known as the "key") is divided by a number of hash marks that indicate where players are allowed to stand. The mark closest to the basket is a larger rectangle called the "block."

Free throw rebounding rules vary according to level. Some levels allow the first rebounder to be above the block, some allow the rebounder to be on the block, while some levels require the rebounder to be below the block. The team not shooting must fill the first position and the teams are allowed to alternate, every other player, until the number of rebounders allowed per level of play is reached. The trend is to limit the number of players and move them up the lane to minimize the physical play on rebounds.

Different levels designate when the rebounders are to enter the lane--some when the ball leaves the shooter's hand and others when the ball hits the rim. It is imperative to be aware of the specific rules at your level of play. In any case, there are certain strategies that can be employed to allow your team to secure the rebound, regardless of whether your team is shooting or not.


Save Time on Offense

When you're behind late in the contest, you need to be thinking of ways to extend the game. To do that, use strategies to create more possessions. You may need to play a little faster than usual. This does not mean that you should play out of control, but rather with a greater sense of urgency. Every second that you save may be the crucial second that you need to make that last-second shot. You should pass or dribble up the court quickly, rather than walk the basketball up the floor. It is not always necessary to take quick perimeter shots. Instead, drive to the basket and make the opponent defend. Their coach has probably been telling them not to foul. You may get quick and easy scores and if they do foul, you can put points on the board while the clock is stopped.

After made baskets by the opponent, get the ball back inbounds quickly. On throw-ins when the clock is stopped, if there is no defense, let the ball roll up the court (since the clock does not start until the ball is touched). The more often that you can stop the clock, the better. Score and call time out. Substitute after your free throws to set your defense. When the opponent is taking his time getting the ball in, coaches can use time-outs after made baskets to stop the clock.


Avenues of Learning

Talk to the substitutes about why events are happening so that they can learn by observing. Berating players will not necessarily stop them from committing the same mistake again and again. Encourage them and reward positive behavior and they'll try to achieve that more often. Once you establish that they realize what happened was incorrect, then provide a solution. If they recognize the mistake on their own, then there is really no need for the coach to pile on, so skip pointing out the mistake and go straight to instruction. If the situation arises again and they show progress, acknowledge it with positive feedback. Allow your players to make decisions and they'll learn by doing. If you over-coach every action, they won't develop their "game sense." Facilitate this with questions and opportunities to improve. Stay active throughout the game, regardless of the score, and always remember that you are coaching a game--provide a positive and fun learning environment!


Special Situation Preparation

Close games become a way of life for coaches and teams of every level. Successful teams are prepared for end-of-the-game situations. It is often the five or ten minutes a day spent on end-of-the-game situations that makes the difference between a district title, a berth in the state tournament, or a disappointing trip home. It's very important not to assume that your players know what to do. Try to work on special situations every day. Then, when those "special situations" come up in a game, they won't be so special, but will feel more routine.

Here are some questions that all coaches should ask themselves. The answers will vary according to personal philosophy and your team's strengths. Players need to know what the coach wants in each situation (and if they do, then you may not need to use one of those precious time-outs to get it done).

  • Do you push the ball and play, or call a timeout to set up the last shot?
  • Do you have a hurry-up offense designed to get you quality shots in less time?
  • Do you save your timeouts or do you use them early to keep your kids in the game?
  • How do you intentionally miss a free throw?
  • With a three-point lead, do you want to foul before a three-point shot is taken?
  • Do your players know when to foul?
  • Do you have a sign or call so that your players know to foul without alerting the other team?
  • When do you start taking 3's in order to catch up?
  • Do you have your list of special situation plays on the bench with you so you can refer to them in high-pressure situations?
  • Do you have last-second plays for each time and score?
  • Do players know all positions in case they need to play another position because of foul trouble?


Coming from Behind Late in the Game

There comes a time in a game when you look up at the scoreboard and realize that the score has gotten so out of hand that you need to do something different to close the gap. How drastic a team must alter their style of play when trailing late in the game is determined by a number of factors, including the deficit, your rate of scoring, whether there is a shot clock, and time left on the clock, among others. A general rule of thumb is, when the deficit is three times the number of minutes left in the game, it might be time to alter your strategy. Example: Two minutes to go, down by six points, three minutes and down nine, et cetera. It is important to play good basketball rather than to simply play faster and take quick, bad shots. Regardless of the above circumstances, the single most important aspect is to PLAY DEFENSE to try to get stops!

Comebacks are fueled by getting stops on defense. It's tough to narrow the score when you simply trade baskets. All of these methods need to be practiced, along with any special last minute plays, so that the players will be prepared for the situation. This preparation will also give the players the confidence that they have the ability to come back, even against the lowest of odds.


When You Are Shooting Free Throws

1) Be as far UP in your individual rebounding lane as is allowed so that you are as CLOSE to the next rebounder as possible.

2) Start with your feet very close together and your knees bent. This will allow you to take the farthest step possible into the lane.

3) Start with your hands down and raise them as the shooter shoots in order to be consistent with the rule: "Shot goes up, hands go up."

4) Step with the foot closest to the shooter directly toward the midpoint of the free throw line. Create some space between you and the basket and make and maintain contact with the opponent that you are assigned to block out. Too many players step straight in and end up with a bad rebounding angle. Keep your hands up with your upper arms parallel to the floor. This will make you big, wide, and hard to get around.

5) Make sure that you account for the free throw shooter and block him or her out as well.

6) If a player in the third spot up the lane does not have anyone to block out, he should then move DOWN the rebounding lane and be as CLOSE as possible to the opposing player below him. When the shot goes up, that player can then "pinch down" along with his underneath teammate who is blocking out the offensive rebounder.


Mismatch Etiquette

Coaches should try to schedule games against teams that will present somewhat of a challenge. While padding the schedule with wins may seem attractive, playing teams of inferior talent will actually hinder a team's development. Many times in preseason tournaments, obvious mismatches between two teams occur. The tough thing for the coach in this situation is figuring out a way for his team to get everything out of the game that it can without humiliating the opponent.

At the more competitive levels, coaches tend to encourage players to "do their thing and play their game" in the first half. If the lead starts to get really big, your regulars may not be benefiting anyway, so this is a good time to play your substitutes a little more. Mix up some lineups and play a couple of subs with the starters or try a player at a different position. You may just find a diamond in the rough or get a pleasant surprise. At the developmental level, or if the mismatch is recognized ahead of time, this might even start early in the game.

If the team you're playing against is not as talented, it's still important to play your best. Do not drop your level of play simply to defeat the opponent. Consider playing players in different positions than they are used to. This gives athletes the opportunity to continue to give their best effort, even though they may just be less likely to be as good they are in another position.

Encourage your team to constantly compete against their personal best every time out on the court. In the second half of the game (or at least the fourth quarter), play everyone and don't press. What kind of work are you really getting against that type of inferior competition?

Don't get steals and shoot uncontested layups. Do that in layup lines. Pull it out and work on some sort of continuity that will help you run out the last possession of a game when you have a one-point lead. Or better yet, imagine that it's tied with thirty-five seconds to go and you want to take the last shot.

Play a tight zone as if you need to stop some big post player or a team that can't shoot outside. Don't deny passes and get steals in the half-court either. Play a tight defense, demand a block out, and rebound--then WALK IT UP!

It's great to win by fifteen to twenty. That's a safe enough lead not to blow it in the last couple of minutes and big enough to get all subs in the game. It does not demoralize the opponent and lets you work on the parts of the game that you need to improve on to beat the good teams. Who cares what you do against the bad ones, you'll beat them anyway! Practice what you need to do to beat the best.



When you become aware of your players' strengths, you can look to make sure that you have a balanced group on the court at all times. You can have a good mix of players who can secure possessions (defenders and/or rebounders) and a player who can get the ball down the floor safely (a ball-handler and/or scorer). Leaving less-skilled players on the floor with nobody to help them will not help your team or those players that you have in the game.

Give players feedback before and after subbing. Again, use the sandwich technique; a constructive criticism wrapped between two positive feedback statements, is good for this (as an example: "Nice effort, Danielle, try and work on keeping your head up, because you can see your teammates and where the defense is coming from, and that makes it easier to pass. When you did that, you threw some great passes! Well done, have a rest and a drink now").

A player who gets that kind of treatment from the head coach or assistant upon coming to the bench will be excited about getting back in and giving his best effort.


Create More Possessions on Offense

In order to create more possessions, there are a few strategies to employ. Crash the offensive boards. Turn up the heat defensively. Force them to play at a quicker pace with your defense. Depending upon the point differential, you may need to just get a few stops or you may need to create some turnovers and gamble for some steals. Either way, remember that it is usually the defense that triggers a comeback.


Practice to Play

Make sure that there is a clear link between practice and the game. Ensure that you have meaningful drills that work to simulate game situations, rather than complicated drills that may look good but are hard for players to translate into the game, so that the players are prepared. Identify what you have been working on in practice prior to the start of the game and reinforce the "why of the how" so that, if and when that situation arises in the game, it may cue the correct reaction (as an example: "Remember, at practice, we worked on protecting the ball, so if they're playing that pressure defense and trying to get the ball from you, keep one foot still, pivot, and look for a new passing angle").


Calling Plays

Basketball is not rocket science, but as coaches, we need to take the teaching of our chosen subject matter much more seriously if we expect the game to continue to grow. Instead, due to the "willy nilly" approach that many take, there are players running around with no respect for the basketball, turning the ball over and taking bad shots that lead to the ineffective type of offensive performances that are seen all to often in basketball today. Clearly, no one in education (which all coaches are) can argue with the fact that a play that has some organization will be easier to remember than a play that has no rhyme or reason. Hence all of the memorization strategies that teachers use to help their students learn in a variety of subjects. Acronyms, rhymes, word association, mnemonic devices, et cetera are all methods to help with memorization.

Coaches should develop a consistent method for calling offensive plays and defensive attacks. Use colors, numbers, hand signals, or names, but always make them make sense to the player. Random mascots, colleges, or animals are difficult to remember and differentiate one play from another. Whether you choose names, colors, or numbers to signal in plays, you should attempt to make them consistent and meaningful. Choose names that are descriptive or symbolic of the play, such as "split" for a play that splits the post, "4 Out" for a play that has four players out on the perimeter, or "Red" for a stall offense that slows you down or stops early shots. Come up with a system that helps the player remember, rather than one that they have to remember.

As players get older and become more serious about being the best that they can be, it becomes necessary to follow other sports' lead. Football and baseball have taken a pretty scientific approach to strategy and basketball is too far behind. Basketball needs to take the same approach with respect to fundamentals, techniques, spacing, passing angles, defensive coverage, scouting, and play calls if it is expected to thrive in the twenty-first century.


When Your Team Is Shooting

1) Be as far UP in your rebounding lane as is allowed so that you are as far AWAY from the player blocking you out as possible.

2) If the player blocking you out steps straight in, try to ride him under the basket without fouling.

3) If the player steps at an angle or into you, fake middle and swim to the outside, going behind the opponent and trying to get beside the block out.

4) The two offensive rebounders can also try to employ a "crossing action." This may allow them to avoid a good block out and create some confusion or congestion that makes blocking out difficult. That slight edge may enable the offensive rebounder to get possession, or at least get a hand on the ball.

5) With the relatively recent change to only allowing two offensive rebounders, don't waste your other two players by having them simply stand back, uninvolved. Instead, involve them in a possession strategy of some sort. Have them on the three-point line on either side of the free throw shooter. If an opponent stands by one player, then that player rotates deep and the other player stays on the three-point line. If the rebounders cannot secure an offensive rebound, they can try to tip it to their teammate at the three point line for a shot or a regained possession.


Late Game "Foul Mode"

If the other team has a poor free throw shooter, think about fouling to force them to shoot from the line in hopes that they miss. Even if they make both, you are in the same boat as if they had scored, but you have at least saved the time of the whole possession. This stage should not be entered too soon, but at some point, you will recognize that the opponent is taking too much time during their possessions to allow you enough time to come back.

Once you're in this "foul mode" and you are going to foul anyway, don't wait for too much time to run off of the clock. If you score, you might give your pressure defense a chance to steal a pass or two and then foul. Once it gets really late in the game and every second matters, then your team should foul immediately upon the in-bounds pass. At this stage in the game, when your team misses a shot, they should go for every offensive rebound with the intent to get the rebound at all costs. If the referee happens to call a foul, you were going to do that anyway, and you'll stop the clock immediately. You'll be surprised at how many offensive rebounds the team gets where the official does not call the foul!



Be aware of how your team responds to time-outs. Many players look at it as a time to panic if the coach calls a quick time-out as soon as something goes wrong. Then they begin to search for things to go wrong. In some situations, it's better to let players work things out on the court on their own and learn to self-correct some of the problems. Also, it's nice to have a couple of those time-outs left at the end of a close game in case you need them.

Establish a routine during time-outs so that players know exactly how to act when a time-out is called. Make sure that routine allows them to have a drink, recover, and get organized so that you have their undivided attention. When you're talking, maintain eye contact with the athletes. If you're addressing one in particular, make sure you regain everyone's attention before you talk to the group again. Limit your time-outs to one or two major points (more than that may be too much for the players to remember) and be clear and concise. Finally, try to provide solutions, rather than simply telling players what might be going wrong. Players are already aware of problems, so give them the means to avoid making the same mistakes!


Court Time

Playing time is a common point of contention between coaches, players, and parents. To create the most positive team culture possible, every effort should be made to play as many players as is reasonably possible. Good coaches can find spots to get kids in games. In order to allow a deeper substitution rotation, you can try to encourage players to play so hard that they will need to rest pretty quickly.

At the developmental level, coaches should make a point to mix it up and have different players start and sit so that particular players don't get categorized early on as non-starters or subs. Players who are not competing should have duties and activities on the bench to keep them engaged and feeling like an important part of the team. Have a sitting player watch the teammate that plays his position or the opponent he might guard or have him keep track of things statistically.

At the very youngest levels, since they all pay the same amount of money and train for the same amount of time, they all get the same court time! It's about development anyway. Players notice everything, so rotate the starting five from game to game. Give different players a chance in the jump ball (for some reason this is important to them!), carrying the basketballs, in-bounding, et cetera. Rotate the five that finish games.

That being said, it is important to note that some players also earn playing time with exceptional effort and commitment. It is a great lesson for those players to be rewarded for that and to be encouraged to continue (a positive side effect of this is that others might strive to get "rewarded" too). Not all of the life lessons learned in sports are rainbows and butterflies, however, so players could also lose playing time as a result of a lack of effort and/or commitment (within organizational guidelines)


Referees and Scorers' Table

Be aware that many referees, particularly at the lower levels, are just starting out and, not unlike your players, are bound to make mistakes! As a coach, you have to be aware of the bigger picture--taking advantage of beginner referees with intimidation is very unethical, verbal exchanges with them takes your attention away from what you are there to do (to facilitate a fun, educational experience for the players), and openly criticizing them will continue to drive referees away from the game (no referees = no game). Regardless of what level you play at, everybody makes mistakes, including players, coaches, and officials. If you have a genuine complaint, address it through the appropriate channels (referee supervisors, administrators, court controllers, committees, et cetera). If not, then concentrate on what you have control over: yourself, your behavior, and the performance of your athletes.

The scorers' bench is often manned by parents, siblings, or other players who, not unlike you, are there to help the players. Treat them with respect and instruct your players to do the same. Ask politely for subs and time-outs. Again, if an error is made, jumping up and down is unlikely to help your cause. Follow the proper protocol and get the error addressed in the appropriate manner.

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Ray Lokar