The season is wrapping up and your team is fighting for the best possible spot in the post-season, or perhaps you’re simply trying to make the post-season. Your players are aware that the stakes are high, just as you are. It’s difficult not to feel the weight of each remaining game. It’s your time to step up as coach and help your players regain their composure. Remind your players to rely on their teammates, remember what they’ve learned in practice, and focus on each game, and you can help your team handle their nerves and finish strong.
Foster a Strong Team Dynamic
Although the end of the season brings with it the possibility of not making the post-season, and an increase in motivation for other teams battling for a chance to compete for the championship, your players are not in it alone. They have the support of the entire team. Now that the playoff picture or tournament rankings are unfolding, team unity is no less a factor.
In games, no player should feel as if the fate of the team depends on them. Make sure that even your veterans know that it is not their task to carry the weight of the team on their shoulders. This message allows players to relax on the court and not take matters into their own hands too often, a tactic that becomes easily exploitable when recognized by opponents.
Teach respect among teammates throughout the entire season and refuse to permit your players to blame themselves or their teammates for losing. When players have learned this perspective all season, they won’t shy away from making critical defensive stops or taking important shots. Even if their attempts don’t work to perfection, they’ll have their team to help them rally back.
Remind Your Players What They Learned in Practice
At the end of the season it is tempting for players to assume they must play at a whole new level to meet the heightened competition of each remaining game. In reality, their play is merely an extension of what they’ve been building upon all year: working together and improving skills and strategy. All the conditioning, the workouts, the exercises, and the basketball drills come together as your team remembers what they’ve learned all season.
Remind your players that they carry with them a lot of experience, the adjustments they made when they fell short, and all the time spent in practice. The knowledge of their experience calms their nerves as they realize they have accumulated the talent and strategy necessary to win. They’ve practiced shots countless times. They’ve posted up for rebounds over and over again. They’ve applied their training repeatedly in games.
In your last practices, emphasize the personal and team growth you have seen throughout the season. When your team takes into their last stretch of games the assuredness that comes with all their practice, they can play the composed style of basketball that allows them to get in the best possible position for the post-season.
If you have a Dr. Dish shooting machine, you can even show your players exactly how many shots they've taken and how that has prepared them for when the moment is the biggest.
Focus One Game at a Time
As the larger picture unfolds and your team sees their position in the standings or rankings, it may be difficult not to think in the long run. For instance, if your team looks like they will be around a 13 seed in the March Madness Tournament, your players may worry about having to play a 3 or ever 2 seeded team if they slip down to a 14 or 15 seed. Those seeds rarely ever pull off the big upsets.
Don't let your team is get ahead of themselves. They can focus on whatever team they are matched up against when the Tournament has begun. For now, it’s time to address the next team on the schedule, because the season’s not over yet. Yes, the outcome of the next game will affect the bracket outcome. The same goes for the playoff picture in the WNBA and the NBA. Still, let your team know that they are also playing to win, just as they always have.
Rankings and post-season considerations aside, the goal of each game is to win. When your team focuses on their next team, the match-ups, the weaknesses of the opposition, and the strategies to prevent the other team from setting the pace, they have the most focus to win. Each game has its own merit and offers its own considerations in improvement, endurance, and teamwork. Only when the last buzzer sounds is it time to move on.
You’re aware that the end of the season brings with it tremendous importance and the prospect of post-season rankings, and so are your players. In the intensity of the end of the season, remember to encourage your players to fall back on their practice, their team, and the mindset of taking it one game at a time, and you will all be set to finish the season strong!
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