Twelve Game Day Routines Worth Exploring

There was a game this year in which we did not film because I was not prepared. The night before I had downloaded a new version of HUDL on my iPad. It was all in the name of making sure I had enough memory to film the entire game. Ten minutes before the game I realized that I needed WIFI to log back into HUDL. I did not have WIFI and was not going to go on a wild goose chase to find it. Fortunately, the opposing coach gave me his film, but it made me appreciate game day routines. Here are twelve more game day routines that you might find useful.

#1. Know Who Will Film for You in Advance

Have a plan in place the day before the game for who will be filming the game. In the past, I have paid a friend of the players ten dollars per game. More recently, I have asked a JV player to film. In either event, I typically forget to verify who that person is until ten or fifteen minutes beforehand. When I paid someone there were times where she did not show and one of the players was supposed to tell me. There is no need to wait this long. Next season, I am going to send out a schedule which will mirror our concession stand schedule for home games. If a JV parent is in charge of the concessions that night, their daughter is in charge of film. For road games, I will also lay out who will be filming in advance.

#2. Shoot for 9 Hours of Sleep

Next, plan on maximizing sleep time. That means avoiding screen time at least a half-hour before bed and resisting temptations that are non-essential tasks. Changing habits like getting to bed earlier is not easier for players or coaches. This quote from Tony Robbins book Awaken the Giant Within helps me when it comes to these wholesale changes. “If we link massive pain to any behavior or emotional pattern, we will avoid indulging in it at all costs.” The pain of not sleeping is lashing out on a player or losing patience with a referee. Build up your reserves on patience and have positive energy.

#3. Make Comparisons to Unknowns

Third, in the scouting reports compare the other team’s players that your team has not seen yet to players they have seen in the recent past. Describing a player as fast is better than nothing, but comparing their quickness to the point guard they just faced helps set expectations. If you are facing a zone defense, compare it to a team that you already played zone against. As much as you can control it, you want to avoid the team being surprised.

#4. Write the names in the Scorebook in Advance

I write the names and numbers in the book before the JV game at home and on the bus for road games. I always enter the names and numbers one game in advance in case I forget. It is a superstition at this point.

Three times in my career I have had the wrong number written in the book. Twice I have taken a technical foul for it. The only time I did not get a technical I realized ten seconds into a player coming on the court that she had a different number. I quickly blew a timeout, took her out, and never put her back in. She happened to be a swing player, so it was not a huge deal, but she did not know the consequences of changing her number at the last moment. Our JV and varsity uniform numbers overlap which makes it problematic for swing players.

Another time, a pair of sisters played on the team. One sister could not go and was sick. The sister in attendance wore the jersey of the sister not in attendance. Going through this I haven’t seen it all, but I’ve seen a lot. The lesson is simple. Once the numbers are in the book, double check with players that they are wearing the correct uniform. You just never know.

#5. Take Advantage of JV Halftime

Fifth, during the six to eight minutes at halftime, get the varsity players to do an up-tempo shooting drill. Alan Hibino stole one from one of the better programs in the state that he shared with me.  If the JV players leave the locker room or bench early and want to get up shots, they should jump right in with the varsity program in the same drill.

At halftime of the JV game does your team have any structure in what they do? There is not anything flashy about this drill. My team made more catch and shoot 3-pointers than off the dribble 3-pointers. And this drill checks off that box. It is better than telling the players to “go get shots up.”

The drill above has the same benefits as the first one. Players can shot fake and take a dribble or catch and shoot. What makes this one slightly different is two components. First, you simulate a corner or slot pass to the top. Second, you also have an opportunity for the rebounder (the 3 in the diagram) to outlet.

#6. Have Players Only Meetings

Sixth, get varsity players in the locker room with four minutes to go in the third quarter of the JV game. Some coaches might be more comfortable with right after halftime and others might do it at the start of the fourth quarter. The timing is not important. What Coach Hibino and I agree on is that the players need their own time with each other before the game. I have no idea what takes place during this time, but it is good for players to flush out watching a JV game and get in the mindset of being ready to play their game.

#7. Address the Team Quickly

Seventh, come to the locker room to review keys from the scouting report. Depending on the situation, you might use a motivational speech. Research indicates that motivational speeches work best when the challenge is greatest (and the players are aware of the challenge). Think of games in which you are playing the first-place team or a team which beat you earlier in the season. Try not to speak for too long because there is diminishing returns the longer you talk.

#8. Warm Up with Precision 

Coach Hibino told me that his team know exactly how long each segment of their warm up routine is supposed to be. Along the journey in their state tournament run, different venues allocate different amounts of time to warm up. Even regular season road games are inconsistent with the time allocated to warm up.

When the time was reduced from 15 minutes to 12 minutes for example, Andover knew exactly what to keep and what to cut from the routine. It took very little planning because they already prepared for such a circumstance when they originally put in their warm up routine.

#9. Keep a Blood Uniform Nearby

I will never forget scouting a game seven years ago that went to overtime. The best player for one of the team’s got a cut and got blood on the uniform. The referees were required to follow the rule of getting her out of the game even after the bandage covered her cut. The coach reacted quickly by calling on one of the JV players in the stands to change out of her uniform under the bleachers and give it to the player with a bloody uniform. It is unlikely, but if you coach long enough it will happen to you too. Keep an extra uniform handy.

#10. Carry an Endless Supply of Expo Markers 

My assistant coach got me 24 Expo markers one year for Christmas. I am not sure if it was a joke, but it was very helpful. I put all 24 markers in my bag. Before the game, I quickly test three markers on my board. One year one of my players yelled at me for having a purple marker when we were playing a team wearing purple uniforms. Lesson learned. Make sure markers are neutral to our opponent (you probably don’t have players like me). I keep one and give the other two to the assistant coaches. Inevitably they tell me they already have one. I have a terrible habit of losing writing utensils and often they end up in their hands.

#11. Have a Substitution Plan Ready

I gave an index card like this to our assistant coach on a couple of occasions when I had my act together. No substitution plan survives the opening tip, but consider this a sketch. My goal was to play our entire roster in the first half of this game while staggering our best point guards and rebounders. We never wanted a combination of certain players off the floor because we were vulnerable in certain areas of the floor. The column on the right is the uniform numbers of the players on the floor at any given time. Starting with the player on the left, that is who has been on the floor the longest. In that way, we were more likely to take out players as fatigue set in.

We did not follow this exactly as it is laid out here, but in this particular game we did get our entire roster in in the first half. We had just played a game in which I shortened the bench and I thought the players that did not play handled it well that night and in the subsequent practice. I am a big believer in trying to give players a chance to impact a close game for short spurts on occasion. I do not like the idea of a player being put in only for blowout situations.

#12. Meet after the Game.

We always meet as a team after the game. If we lose, I intentionally say very little and try to take an objective view point. Quickly mention what went well and a reason to be motivated at practice. If we win, I typically show some emotion and let them have fun with it. The season is short and meant to be enjoyed, but we try to celebrate in isolation from the opponent (in our locker room at home or on the bus on the road). For really big wins, we go around the room and let everyone share a quick “tweet” of what went well and where we can continue to grow.

North Andover coach Paul Tanglis told me a couple years ago that his team waits to take their shoes off and put their jackets on until they address the outcome as a group. He also wants the players to be in a circle with the coach so that everyone has eye-contact. My team has implemented that rule since and it helps players stay engaged with the speaker.

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