Strategies for Playing Teams in a Rematch

Personally, when I play a team for a second time in a season I always think the psychological advantage goes to the team that lost the first time around. If you won, chances are you just want to repeat what you already did the first time. On the flip side, the team that lost might completely reinvent the way they play. Where the winning coach at practice might game-plan for the same offense and defense, they might also be wasting their time. I asked Joe Lowe of Winthrop High School and Alan Hibino of Andover High School their thoughts on the psychology of a rematch and scouting reports in a rematch.

Coach Lowe’s Thoughts on a Rematch

Coach Lowe had different stipulations based on the game result. If they won, Coach Lowe did not want to rock the boat unless the personnel changes. He stressed that he likes to have one adjustment ready. For instance, if he plays a disciplined 2-3 zone in game one, he might show a more aggressive look. Perhaps the forward on the bottom is given the green light to gamble on passing lanes on the reversal a couple times during the game. The same can be done offensively. If offense came from pin-down screens to get a shooter free, perhaps the screener slips in game two.

Coach Lowe had a very specific example of what he would do after losing game one. He lost to my team this year in double overtime in the first matchup. In that game his team switched defenses, but generally played a half-court trap and quarter-court 2-3 zone. My team prepared for the rematch by working against those two defenses in practice. We felt particularly confident in our ability to handle the half-court trap. When we played them in round two, they played man to man almost the entire game. We struggled to score and they wound up winning.

Coach Lowe told me that much of what they discussed going in is that we were too comfortable against their zone shooting the ball. They agreed beforehand to double certain players to get it out of their hands and force other players to make decisions. The strength of his team defensively was the zone, but the weight of the matchup forced his hand to play man. In other words, making us uncomfortable outweighed his own team being uncomfortable. He trusted and implored his players to rise to the occasion and they did.

Coach Hibino’s Thoughts after Winning Game One

Coach Hibino had a similar stance as Coach Lowe. Results of game one were important, but sometimes they lead to misperceptions. Depending on how each team shoots in game one, the result can be completely different in the rematch. If the reason for success in game one is simply good shooting, he believes coaches need to have tweaks prepared in the game plan.

Coach Hibino added that if he was playing a tough team and had time to prepare to show the opponent something they would not expect. In the postseason, there is more time to prepare. If you are playing against a team for the first time, they probably will have seen you play in person or on film multiple times. Andover’s scouting reports go from generic to specific in that second matchup. For example, in the first matchup they might say, “Sprint back in transition because this team loves to score.” The second matchup might change to “If number 34 gets the rebound she will outlet to the right sideline 70% of the time, so we need to sprint and get back to load to that side of the floor.”

It is not always the case, but with his team this year, the players loved the variation in game plans. Coach Hibino stressed playing to their strengths first, but part of the strength of his team was their ability to fluctuate what they did game to game. He used the analogy of how the Patriots will constantly evolve based on their opponents strengths and weaknesses.

My Own Take on Playing Teams Twice

In professional sports, teams are constantly trading blows. Teams in the NFL routinely win their home game and not the road game against divisional opponents. The same can be said of any professional sport or at the college level. I always have an example of our own team from a prior season that I can cite. My overarching message to the team before rematches depends on the outcome of the first game.

If we lost, I frame it in a positive light. All the pressure is on the opponent. They are expected to win again. By the fourth quarter if this game is close, they will get tight. The longer the game stays close, the more freedom we will have to make plays. Tonight might not go our way, but according to the history of the matchup it is not supposed to. If we lose, we will go to practice and fix our mistakes going forward. If we win, that will be huge. We make a statement.

If we won the first time around, I still try to frame it in a positive light while cautioning the team to have humility. I remind them that the other team will be hungry. The other team recognizes our strengths and their weaknesses from last time, so be prepared for things we might not have seen. Be ready for higher effort and intensity from them. If we get to the fourth quarter and the game is close or we are behind, do not fret. All it means is we have a chance to have a fun ending. If they start out this game on a big run, I will call timeout and I am not going to snap unless your effort is to blame. Let’s control what we can control and play smart and with maximum effort.

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