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5 Ways to Prepare for the End of the Game

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Nearly every coach that I know is most comfortable when he or she is in control of what is happening on the court. They will spend days trying to determine who should start the game and weeks deciding which is the best offense and defense to use with their personnel.

Many put rules and guidelines in place so their players know who should shoot, when they should shoot and precisely where they should shoot.

These same players are taught how to defend their opponents by taking away specific team and individual strengths right from the opening tip. However, it's this same desire to control their surroundings that often drives coaches crazy in late game situations when there are so many surprises and unexpected variables involved.

While many things are indeed uncontrollable (officials, sickness, injury, etc.) here are 5 ways to improve your team's preparation for those crucial end of the game situations.

1. Mix up the teams

If your starters are constantly practicing together, what happens when one of them fouls out, is injured, or is just having a horrible game? Make sure a back-up post, wing, and point guard are systematically worked in with your normal starting five. Chances are at least one of those guys is going to be in the game if it's close in the last minute.

2. Use the clock

A lot of players have no idea how long (or short) 5 or 10 seconds can be and what can and can't be accomplished in that time. I've seen some coaches verbally count down the final seconds when they work on end of game situations but that's not realistic or game like. Crowd noise, gym size, and the coach's own game time emotions can make a verbal count unreliable or difficult to hear. Your school has a clock so use it!

3. Practice timeouts

There's nothing more frustrating than trying to set up a game winning play and discovering one of your star players is standing over by the water cooler getting a drink. Assign specific seats on the bench, who gets the water, and who watches for any substitutions by your opponent. Practice sprinting over to the bench and getting in the right seat. Real timeouts are one minute long so don't take 5 minutes setting up your end game offense or defense in practice. Practicing timeouts and last minute situations is as much for the coach's preparation as it is for the players.

4. Teach team foul scenarios

There will be times when your team will have a foul to give and using it wisely will force your opponent to inbound the ball again and reset their offense. There will be other times when you might want to use a "Hack a Shaq" strategy. Don't expect your players to naturally know how to do these things already. Teach them exactly what to do and then practice them several times before it really counts.

5. Simulate end of the game scenarios

There are several ways to do this and all can be beneficial in their own way. You can put up a predetermined score up on the board and two minutes on the clock and see what develops. You can also work on a few specific scenarios every day - things like down 2 and need to go the length of the court in 6 seconds; you are up 1 and your opponent has the ball out underneath their own basket with 2 seconds left; you are down 3 and shooting 2 free throws with 3 seconds left, etc. A third way is to put 67 points for each team on the board and 2 minutes on the clock. Start scrimmaging and as soon as one team reaches 70 points start the clock. Do any (or all) of these two or three times a week and you'll eventually find your team prepared for almost anything.

Don't spend all your time preparing for the first few minutes of the game and neglect the last few minutes. There will undoubtedly always be some surprises and some things out of your control but if you use the five ideas mentioned above you can keep those surprises down to a minimum.

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