Although you won’t need to create a complex game strategy, as mentioned before, you will need to make tactical decisions in several areas throughout a game. You’ll make decisions about who starts the game and when to enter substitutes, about making slight adjustments to your team’s tactics, and about dealing with players’ performance errors.
Lineup and Substitutions
When considering playing time, make sure that everyone on the team gets to play at least half of each game. This should be your guiding principle as you consider starting and substitution patterns. It is also nice if each player has a chance to start one game during your season. Realize that some players may play better in a starting role than when coming off the bench. We suggest you consider two options in substituting players:
1. Substituting individually. Replace one player with another. This offers you a lot of latitude in deciding who goes in when, and it gives you the greatest combination of players throughout the game. Keeping track of playing time can be difficult, but this task could be made easier by assigning it to an assistant or a parent.
You may want to try substituting players by time left in the quarter, especially when working with younger age groups. For example, you can let a substitute know that she will play the last four minutes of each quarter, or that she will replace a player at the six-minute mark of the quarter. This will let the player know when she can expect to get into the game and will help the player be more prepared for her playing time.
In addition, if a player plays so hard that she asks to be taken out of a game, you should allow her to go back in when she is ready. This will let your players know that they can play hard without worrying that another individual will sub in for them and they will not get back in the game.
2. Substituting by quarters. The advantage of substituting players after each quarter is that you can easily track playing time, and players know how long they will be in before they might be replaced. When substituting by quarters, you should still keep track of the actual number of minutes that each player is on the court.
Time-Outs and Intermissions
At the younger age levels (5 and 6, 7 and 8, or 9 and 10), you probably won’t adjust your team tactics, or plays, too significantly during a game. Rather, you’ll focus on the basic tactics, and during breaks in the game, you’ll emphasize the specific tactics your team needs to work on. However, coaches of 11- to 14-year-olds might have reason to make tactical adjustments to improve their team’s chances of performing well and winning. As games progress, assess your opponents’ style of play and tactics, and make adjustments that are appropriate—that is, those that your players are prepared for. You may want to consider the following examples when adjusting team tactics:
- How does your opponent usually initiate their attack? Do they aim to get around, over, or through your defense? This can help you make defensive adjustments.
- Who are the strongest players on the opposing team? The weakest players? As you identify strong players, you’ll want to assign more skilled players to defend them.
- Are the opponent’s forwards fast and powerful? Do they come to the ball, or do they try to run behind the defense and receive passes? Their mode of attack should influence how you instruct your players to defend them.
- On defense, does your opponent play a high-pressure game, or do they retreat once you’ve gained possession of the ball? Either type of defense could call for a different strategy from you.
- Ask your players, “What does the player you are guarding do well?” Then ask, “Do you think you can stop the player from doing that?” This will help players adjust their game to what the opponent does best.
Knowing the answers to such questions can help you formulate an effective game plan and make proper adjustments during a game. However, don’t stress tactics too much during a game. Doing so can take the fun out of the game for the players. If you don’t trust your memory, carry a pen and pad to note which team tactics and individual skills need attention at the next practice. This is also a good job for your assistant.
Interaction With Opposing Coaches and Officials
You must respect the opponents and officials you encounter in your competitions. Without them, there wouldn’t be a competition. Opponents provide opportunities for your team to test itself, improve, and excel. Officials help provide a fair and safe experience for players and, as appropriate, help them learn the rules of the game.
You and your team should show respect for opponents and officials by giving your best efforts and being civil. Don’t allow your players to “trash talk” or taunt an opponent or an official. Such behavior is disrespectful to the spirit of the competition, and you should immediately remove a player from a game if that player disobeys your team rules in this area.
Remember, too, that officials at this level are quite often teenagers—in many cases not much older than the players themselves—and the level of officiating should be commensurate to the level of play. In other words, don’t expect perfection from officials any more than you do from your own players. Especially at younger levels, the officials won’t make every call, because to do so would stop the game too frequently. You may find that officials at younger levels only call the most flagrant violations—those directly affecting the outcome of the game. As long as the calls are being made consistently on both sides and the violations are being addressed, most of your officiating concerns will be alleviated.
If you yell at or disagree with the officials constantly, you are giving your team an excuse for not playing well or losing the game. Don’t give your players an excuse for losing or playing poorly by blaming the officials.