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How to Peak for the Playoffs

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It is about that time of the year where many of us are constantly thinking about one thing. This one thing seems to stay in our thoughts no matter what we do throughout the day or night. Of course, this one thing is playoff preparation!

Whether you are a struggling team fighting to make your conference tournament or an advanced team looking to make a playoff run, your future will obviously be determined by how you prepare in the proceeding weeks.

Going into every season ALL coaches should have two goals. Interestingly enough, both of these goals have nothing to do with the wins or loses your team acquires but rather with individual and team improvement.

First, you should constantly strive for steady improvement; improvement from practice to practice, week to week, and game to game. Second, you want your team playing its best basketball come playoff time. This is often called peaking for the playoffs.

So what does peaking for the playoffs exactly mean? It means that you and your athletes are prepared to be physically, mentally and tactically your very best when the playoffs begin. For many high schools this time is around the end of February while the playoffs for college programs start in March.

To help get your team playing its best when it matters the most I have outlined 4 simple things that you might want to consider!

1. Focus on the Parts

During the first weeks and months of the season coaches are really crunched for time to get in all of their offenses, defenses, presses, out of bounds plays, and special situation plays. Because so much attention is spent on cramming everything in before games start, some coaches will neglect working on the specific parts of the offense/defense. During the last few weeks of conference play leading up to playoffs, break your offense and defense into subsections. Working specifically on improving these subsections will make the overall set much more effective!

2. Shoot Everyday

At the end of the season when every game is a big one, would you rather have 5 more plays or 5 improved shooters on your team? Experienced coaches probably answered shooters. While sets might win you games early in the season, its players that bring the playoff trophies home. Spending as little as 10 extra minutes a day shooting in practice will help your entire team improve their shooting stroke which will surely lead to higher shooting percentages and more points on the score board.

3. Watch Film

Watching film is often underutilized by many programs across the country. When watching film you can point out to your players both individually and collectively what they are doing both right and wrong. Being able to see their mistakes on the big screen will help players fix them on the court while watching skills executed properly is bound to help escalate everyone's confidence level. In a day and age when everyone is inundated with video games, the Internet, YouTube, etc, many young people are visual learners. Take advantage of that fact by sitting your team down in front of a screen or monitor and show them what you have been trying to tell them. A screen shot is worth a thousand words!

4. Have a Conditioning Plan

Many young coaches have a tendency to think playoff time means they must stop conditioning their team. After all, one of the main goals is to be peaked physically come playoffs right? However there is a HUGE difference between playing in the half court and playing in the full court. You must keep your athletes in shape during the final weeks, especially if your playoffs are in a tournament format where you may have to play three or four days in a row. For example, you might limit your line drills at the end of practice but you can still incorporate full court scrimmages into your practices. This way you cut down on the extra running while still keeping your players in championship shape. If you are concerned about any extra wear and tear involved with conditioning, try using stationary bikes or elliptical machines instead of running. These machines can still keep your players in great cardiovascular condition while saving their legs at the same time.

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