Tournament Time Poses Different Challenges for Coaches

For basketball players, coaches and fans, March is the best time of the year.

From regular season championships being clinched to conference championships being won, there is really no better time for basketball fans.

It is truly March Madness.

For us coaches who have been fortunate enough to get our teams to the postseason, we know that it is a special time and depending upon how your team is built may have significant impact on your success in “one and done” elimination formats.

I was fortunate to take my program at Penn State Beaver to four straight USCAA National Championships where we competed against teams from all over the country, all of whom were scholarship programs while ours was not.

Our national tournament post season success was a process. We had mostly freshmen our first season and but went deeper every year and finally reached the national championship game and finished as National Runner’s Up  in the 2011-12 season.

One of the big reasons why we reached the championship game is that we started three seniors and a junior, and had two more seniors come off the bench. These players had been though a multitude of experiences and won 99 games in their four-year career. Needless to say we were talented.

However, in saying that, I believe that not only did individual and team improvement play a factor in our tournament success, but our success also was due  to the approach of our coaching staff.

One of the challenges that playing three or four games in consecutive days, is that it really for force coaches to manage time well.

In different surroundings, one thing I strived to do was make my players feel comfortable. I wanted to get into a routine as much as possible. This can be a challenge, especially because when it comes to tournament time nothing is really the same. Everything is heightened.

Therefore, to do so, I leaned on my past experiences, the relationships I had with our captains and my coaching staff to get through the tournament grind.

Regarding past experiences, we would take them from the current team but also former teams and programs. We would always get a shootaround in, but depending on the opponent and time of the game, it could be more or less shooting intensive. There were times that we even just went to the mall to walk the team around. It kept the ladies interested (we had some shoppers) but also kept them from being too stagnant in their hotel rooms.

In addition, I wanted to be honest with them regarding film. It was not the long haul of the season and we had done enough film to gain their trust throughout the season so we could “keep it real” in film sessions. Thorough, concise and accurate scouts during tournament time was our aim.

As the Head Coach it was my job to try to stay a step ahead of how the group was doing.

To gauge this, I always stayed in close contact with my captains. They had a beat on the energy level, excitement level, tired level, attentiveness level, etc. of the group and the coaching staff always took their opinions into strong consideration. Coaches that do not do this and have to go to shootaround, watch exactly one hour of film, or eat at exactly the same time are making a huge mistake. LISTEN TO YOUR TEAM. They are communicating with you all the time. Be willing and able to adjust.

Of course, my group earned my trust and because they worked hard in practices and performed on game day, we would allow them certain exceptions when the time and place called for it. It was certainly a give and take.

Even more important were my assistants who played a crucial part in our success. From making food runs, to watching film, making copies, scouting opponents while we got the players back to rest (or vice versa), Coach Moore and Papa Coach (my dad!) were instrumental in our success.

Lastly, we found success and stuck to it. Some may call it superstition (yes, we would only buy red Gatorade for some of our players or certain energy drinks), but if it works and the players are comfortable then you have a winning combination.

There is no need to out-think yourself or reinvent the wheel. Find something that works for you while relying on past experiences, strong relationships with captains, and the help of your coaching staff.

And good luck keeping the “Madness” out when you are trying to prepare for March.

Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo

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