Pt. 3 – Let me Play!

3. Let Me Play Coach

There are times that players perform really well in a game and are executing the coach’s plan perfectly. They share the ball, communicate on defense and shoot the ball well. Then, before they know it, they find themselves back on the bench and they don’t know why?

“Coach, I was doing well. Just let me play!”

Coaches are generally cautious when a player is either a newcomer to the team, or someone returning from injury and even if it’s a player that doesn’t usually get a lot of minutes. Coaches want to be careful to help build these players’ confidence and attempt to sub them out after a series of good plays, rather than waiting for a mistake before taking them out of the game. However, in their haste, the substitution may happen pre-maturely and ends up affecting the player’s confidence anyway.

When it comes to substitution patterns in coaching, there is no “right or wrong way to do it”. Each coach is different and their philosophies dictate their styles. Regardless of style, the question that comes up is, “when is the best time to sub out a player who doesn’t usually get much court time?

If the player is left in for too long, they may make a crucial error that swings the game momentum and this may cause them to doubt themselves, “I was playing so well; why did I have to make that pass? Why am I so stupid?

Or perhaps, they’ll get too comfortable and become lackadaisical leaving the coach with no choice but to sub them out on a negative, which will then be on their mind as they sit on the bench, “I always get subbed out after one mistake and the same rules don’t apply to everyone else

However, the flip side is also true. Coaches who substitute a player out too early in the game may affect their players negatively as these players feel like they’re not being given a chance to prove themselves in a game situation.

So, “when is the best time to sub out a player who doesn’t usually get much court time?

Coaches can’t predict the exact sequence of events that are about to unfold and at times like this, they fall back to what has worked for them in the past. Experiences gained become a factor and the best coaches in the game act instinctively, which is another way of saying “from experience“.

These experiences are attained from repeatedly making bad decisions and learning from them, so generally speaking, young and upcoming coaches struggle a lot more with these issues. The players can’t be faulted for not seeing this, but the coach is on a similar journey of development, just like the player is.

Yes, it is sometimes very frustrating for players, especially when they just want someone who knows what they’re doing to help them develop and become a better, more confident, well rounded player. Working with an inexperienced or a coach who is still early in his development phase can take some toil on both player and coach.

In my third season as a basketball coach, I started working with an underage team in Ireland. I was young, ambitious and felt that I was smarter than everyone else. One of the players on this new team was hard-nosed and stubborn. She, like me, thought she knew everything. She would question every single decision that I made and contradict me at times that undermined me as a coach and made me question myself. It was infuriating working with her, but “a calm sea never made a skillful captain!” I learned how to adapt and evolve as a coach. Over the next two years, we were able to build a relationship with that was different to the relationships i had with the others. She was different, so there was no point in treating her in the same way as the other players. In those three years working with, she taught me so much, as she constantly challenged me as coach and a person. She didn’t intend to do that, and I doubt she ever realised that she did that, however, the coach that I have become now took its roots back then. 

The point is, that sometimes, people forget that it’s more than just about the players journey and development. Whilst these coaches are volunteers, the reasons for them being involved may differ. Some of them actually want to learn the ins and outs of coaching and making mistakes is a key part of the learning and developmental model.

Another reason why coaches may not keep a player on the court who is playing well is because of the advantage this presents the opposition with. In my previous post, “My Coach Sucks”, I talked about our starting point guard and how she didn’t play much in the third game of the tournament.

Our starting point guard was small, feisty and loved attacking the basket, she kept the defense honest with her ability to shoot the ball from the perimeter and she was a solid on ball defender. However, she wasn’t a great off ball defender and offensively didn’t move especially well without the ball. As such, these were areas that our opposition were attacking and in an attempt to counter that, we subbed her off and played our back up point guard, who didn’t give us much on ball defense, but was a much better off ball defender, negating the oppositions game plan in the process. 

These intricate details can sometimes be missed by spectators and players. However, it is the coaches job to constantly analyse the game and adjust  in an attempt to put their team in the best possible position to experience success whenever they step on the court.

In line with the last two posts, He won’t Play Me and Why am I out?, coaches should consider spending more time away from the X’s and O’s of the game to connect with their players and help develop their understanding of the game. Building trust between coaches and players takes time and honest, truthful conversations. Sometimes, these conversations are hard and neither player nor coach may want to hear it, but providing that the coach is consistent with his communication, trust and respect will be built which will go a long way in enhancing the team cohesion and achieving success.

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