Coaches should regard the game as a constructive experience, whether that be:

  • reinforcing positive aspects so that the players will repeat them;
  • on the other hand, observing what goes wrong and what can realistically be improved, in order to work on it in later practice sessions.

Games are not the appropriate environment for correcting serious mistakes - that is what practice is for. Nor are games the time to introduce new strategies and concepts - again that is what practice is for.

The coach’s focus in a game must be that the important thing is not what has already happened and cannot be changed, but what is happening right now or what could happen during the rest of the game.

For example: what is important is not that the opposing team has scored several baskets using fast-breaks, but what the team can do to stop that happening in the future. Too many coaches focus on diagnosing the problem instead of focusing on the “treatment” – what the team needs to do.

Selecting Strategy

First, coaches should specify the goals and plans for the game, obviously bearing in mind their teams’ characteristics and general objectives for the season.

Secondly, coaches should anticipate the most likely problems to arise during the game (for example, a mini-basketball coach could anticipate that their players will lose the ball when the opposing team pressures them).

Thirdly, coaches should decide what they would do to offset these problems. This includes specific instructions, which repeat or relate to teaching points used in practice. For example, if the coach anticipates that the team may have the ball stolen from them, they can emphasise the importance of pivoting, protecting the ball and leading to the ball.

To help offset problems the coach should also remain positive (in the previous case, for example, tell the players not to worry and encourage them even when they lose the ball).

By anticipating possible problems, the coach is preparing a simple strategy for the game:

In presenting information to the team before the game, the coach does not have to detail everything that they have thought about or considered. For example, the coach shouldn’t go into detail as to why they think the opposition may steal the ball. Instead, they can set the positive goals of what the team need to do (pivot, protect the ball, lead for the ball).

It can also be useful to set goals that divide the game into time periods, possibly even smaller than the quarters or halves that the game is played in. For example, where a coach anticipates that the opposition is a better team they may set a goal of being within 5 points every 5 minutes. This enables the coach to “reset” the player’s focus each five minutes.

In a 40 minute game, if a team was outscored by their opponent by 4 points every 5 minutes, they would lose by 32 points, which players may find disheartening.

However, the likelihood is that there will be 5 minute periods where the team did better than others and setting these “mini goals” can help the team perceive their success. Providing information to the Team Coaches must be careful with their own behaviour because the players and parents will often imitate what the coach does. If the coach is nervous about the result, the players are also likely to be nervous.

Some general principles to follow are:

  • maintain a balanced attitude around the players with respect to the games. Whilst we strive to win, winning is not everything;
  • it is not a good idea to talk too much about the game beforehand, nor refer to the possible score, especially using stressful comments such as, “We ́ve got to win next Saturday”;
  • the coach should remind the players that the important thing is for them to enjoy themselves and do the best they can;
  • the coach needs to give the players factors by which to judge their success other than the final score line. This should relate to what has been worked on at practice. This places focus on continuing to improve;
  • At this time it is important for the coach to strengthen the players’ perception of control. To do this, they should avoid referring to aspects that players cannot directly control (e.g. the final score) and concentrate on controllable aspects (e.g., the player’s own behaviours).

Thus, the team's goals before a game should be performance goals, and the coach's instructions and comments should focus solely on the players’ behaviour. Also, right before a game, the coach should keep in mind that the players tend to be nervous, and that under these conditions their attentional capacity is quite reduced.

Accordingly, the coach must avoid trying to transmit too much information or very complex information. Pre-game goals should refer to three or four key aspects of the game, drawing upon teaching points or goals used in practice sessions.