Preparation strategies for the game’s final minutes
As a young coach, I had the pleasure of hearing Hall of Fame coach Hubie Brown speak at a clinic. During his talk, he stressed the importance of the game’s closing minutes, identifying your closer, and recognizing the closer from the opposing team.
I thought a lot about what Brown said throughout the course of my career. Games are often decided during “closing time,” which I consider to be the last five minutes of regulation. Coaches must not only identify their key closers, but they also must prepare their teams for other aspects of these critical minutes.
During practice, coaches can simulate the last five minutes in scrimmages. The timer and score can be set appropriately, the team can be divided, and coaches can be split between the teams. If feasible, one coach can act as an official. Each team is awarded a set number of timeouts.
The reason it’s helpful to plan for closing time in this way is because it prepares players in a less stressful environment. They can also better recognize things like properly using timeouts, identifying who to foul, and how to deal with calls that go against them. Furthermore, they become better acclimated to shooting free throws under pressure, running end-of-game/special situation plays, and coming together as a team.
The film room
A film session during game week can be instrumental in preparing your team for closing time. This session can be used to help players better identify:
- Specific plays used by the opposition. Do they run isolation plays for specific players? Do they run the same plays throughout the game? Does the team look to attack certain players based on fouls?
- Personnel/substitution patterns. Based on the film, players can identify the personnel used at the end of a game. Do opponents bring in players who are great free-throw or 3-point shooters? Will they use quick substitution patterns depending on the situation?
- Delay game. Do they have a delay game? If so, who is the primary ball handler? Do they screen for this player? Can traps be run against this system.
Coaches also can use film sessions to help players identify how identifying who prepare based on past performances. This can be done by looking at film and identifying:
- What system works best. Are they better at running their usual system, or do they need to implement a delay game? Having the players answer this can give them stake in the game plan. The coach may choose to adapt strategy based on player input.
- Rebounding skills. Players can self-assess how they performed at the boards. Did they limit second-chance opportunities? If not, how can they improve?
- Getting the ball to the best player in any given situation. Players need to assess how they’re doing this. Are they making good passes? Do they need to dribble to get the ball where it needs to go?
Pregame: locker room
It’s during this time when crucial parts of the scouting report can be reviewed. Specifically, knowing which players are the best shooters from the floor and the free-throw line. Also, identify their favorite plays.
Make sure players are briefed on things like:
- Who is the opponent’s best scorer?
- Who is their best free-throw shooter?
- What plays do they run best at the end of the game? Players can even be asked to break it down on the whiteboard.
Going over these details can build confidence for the players in knowing what they have to do to succeed. It also enables the coaching staff to know if more details must be reviewed.
During the game
It’s important that coaches emphasize:
- The number of remaining timeouts.
- The number of fouls by both teams.
- The score. This dictates strategy. If you’re ahead, you can use clock. If you’re behind, you may need to push the ball up the floor and look to make a 3-pointer.
Emotions run high during the game and players can get away from the details. That’s why it’s critical to review this information to help improve recognition and concentration. Proper preparation undoubtedly improves execution.
Kevin Weigand is the assistant girls basketball coach at Cape Coral High School in Florida.