Imagine you are coaching the Los Angeles Lakers and the score is tied with just a few seconds to go and it’s your ball on the sideline. What play are you going to run and who is going to shoot the potential game winning shot?
If you’re like most coaches you are thinking that Kobe Bryant is going to get the last shot and the play you’re going to run is called something like “Give Kobe the ball and everyone get the heck out of his way.” Of course, that would be a good call since that exact same play has won a lot of close games for the Lakers for nearly two decades.
Unfortunately most of us don’t coach a Kobe Bryant type player with the ability to take on all five defenders with the game on the line and so we need to take a different approach.
With that in mind here are some tips for you to consider when planning out your game winning strategy:
1. KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid)
Keep everything as simple as possible. Some coaches like to run very intricate, complicated plays at the end of a game in hopes of fooling or confusing the defense but I don’t think that’s the best approach.
I am much more concerned with whether or not our players know what’s going on than if we’ve confused the defense or not! Because you want to keep things simple it’s almost always a good idea to run a play that your team is already familiar with and has already practiced several times.
Teaching them a brand new play in one minute or less and expecting them to execute it perfectly is not going to end well the majority of times. (I’m willing to bet there’s at least one player on your team who still struggles with your basic offense even though you’ve been practicing it for weeks!)
Another idea when it comes to simplicity – run a play that will get you a good shot in three passes or less knowing that the fewer passes made the better. If you have a few extra seconds then hold the ball before starting the final play sequence. The more people that touch the ball the greater the risk of something going wrong!
2. Have the right players on the floor
Down 3? Then you might as well have as many shooters on the floor as possible. Down 1 or 2? Then you might want three shooters/scorers and your two best offensive rebounders in the game if there is time for a put back or a tip in.
Who is going to take the last shot? Your best player? That’s great if he is cool under pressure and wants the ball in that situation but what if he doesn’t? You have to have an answer for those questions long before your team is ever in that situation.
Even more important is who is going to inbound the ball and who is going to pass it to your scorer? How many times have you seen a potential game winning play break down because a pass was thrown a second too early, a second too late, or just a couple inches off target? I’ve seen dozens!
3. Be a duck
On the surface of the water ducks always look calm and unruffled but under the water and out of everyone’s sight they are paddling and kicking like crazy! You need to be the exact same way because your team is going to reflect your emotion and personality in those final few seconds.
Talk a little slower than usual and make sure everything you say is clear, concise, positive, and brimming with confidence. If you draw your game winner out on a whiteboard make sure it is clear and readable and not just a jumbled mess of scribbles.
You can’t have your players walking out on to the floor confused because there are no “do-overs.” If there is any doubt in anyone’s mind then call another time out and go over everything once again. You’re dealing with kids in a pressure packed situation so do everything you can to remove all doubt and confusion before you ever break your huddle.
I’ve always tried to stress to my teams that the important thing in situations like this is to get a makeable shot and so I put the emphasis on the process and not on the shot itself. This seems to take some pressure off of the shooter and also lets us build on the experience if we happen to miss the shot. You never know how many times a season your team will be in this situation and you don’t want a perceived “failure” to come back and mentally haunt your players the next time.