Thursday, August 4, 2011

An Effective Strategy for Equal Playing Time on a Youth Basketball Team

St. Agnes Basketball Player Rotation:
Dear PLC, I'm sure you get all sorts of resources that coaches/league directors use but I thought this one served me very well this past year after hearing some of your thoughts in Play Like A Champion and I'd be thrilled if other coaches found it useful.

As I moved from coaching junior high varsity where I played kids based on a blend of factors to coaching 5th and 6th grade JV where I knew I wanted to play them all equally, I came across a heck of a lot of problems in my first game. Namely at one point to play everyone equally, I had five forwards and centers who needed to play, none wanted to handle the ball, and rightfully so; they weren't prepared to do that and didn't want to be the fall person for the team not functioning well.

In advance of my next game, I created this spreadsheet. The back page lists all my players, their uniform number (for ease of signing in) and the positions they are able to play. Next is a count of minutes (which are checked off as I create the playing schedule) and a total column. The front is a roster for the game, broken down by position, and into boxes which each represent a 2 minute block of the game (in most occasions I try to schedule the same players for four minutes to allow for continuity, but the beginnings and ends of quarters are often 2 minute segments. What I was able to do is make a team policy that everyone plays equally so the kids know that from the start. To show them I was intent on this, I showed them my spreadsheet.

On gameday, all players are required to show up 15 minutes early to keep games on time, and to warm up, stretch, and go over pre-game prep and what we did in practice. As players show up, I circle their names on the roster. At 15 minutes before gametime as players stretch, I create the first quarter roster from all the players on time. If everyone is there on time, the game is split evenly. If players show up late, they forfeit their first quarter minutes and then the 2nd through 4th quarters are split evenly. By the start of the game, I have my rotations filled in so each player knows when they're going in, which teammate they need to be watching before they go in, who they're calling out, if they're moving any players to new positions, and the man to man matchups that they need to pick up or switch around when they sub in. I find this helps the little guys stay focused, pay attention to player assignments, and to communicate with confidence once they step foot onto the court. My assistant coach explains to kids where they're going next, how they run the play from their position, who they'll be guarding or where they'll be in the zone, and what they can do to help the team on the court.

The one downside to this is that it does require preparation right before the game, but I find once I have that done, I can spend all game coaching instead of worrying about playing time and rotations. Also, kids are penalized about 4 minutes of playing time if their parents are late, but once this was in effect, we noticed a lot more students showing up on time and I never once had to deal with parents questioning playing time.

Alas, at the end of the season we got whooped in the championship game (good character coaching on the other side too, they were just way better) but after the game our kids knew the score might have been closer had our best players played all game like they noticed was the case for the other team. That said, one of the most challenging players on my team pointed out that we came in second place as a true team with everyone being a part whereas the other team really was a combination of three players who did all the playing and another 7 who just tried to keep out of the way. They're catching on and top to bottom, I think this will result in a lot of growth in our students.

I hope you find this useful and feel welcome to use it as much as you'd like and share it amongst anyone you believe will find it useful.

PLC Coach