Get kids off the bench and into games


I went to a grade 7 boys’ basketball game last week and noticed a few of the players didn’t get into the game. Now I don’t know if these boys were being disciplined for something they did or if they were injured and couldn’t play, but often when kids don’t get into a game it’s usually because of one of three things; a coach loses confidence in a player and doesn’t trust them on the court, a coach get so into a game they forget about players on the bench or a coach doesn’t feel a player is good enough to play.

To me, there is no real good reason why every kid is not getting a chance to play at that age. I can understand to a degree why this would happen with college, university or pro teams. These athletes are older and hopefully more mature, and probably know why they aren’t playing. But how does a 12 year-old handle sitting on a bench for an entire game while watching their friends play. At the younger ages (under 14) the game should be about development not winning championships.

Quick, can you tell me who won the grade 6 championships in your region ten years ago? Unless you were in the finals you probably don’t remember, because winning a grade 3 or 4 championship is not that important in the grand scheme of things. That’s one of the reasons why winning at all costs can’t trump development. And part of a young players’ development happens in real, live game situations, not sitting at the end of a bench.

Another reason why it’s not right to sit a young player is because they didn’t pick themselves on the team. You, the coach, picked them. So to me you’re obligated to develop them. Maybe, as a coach, you’re right. The player isn’t good enough. But then why did you pick them? I know the answer. They had a great tryout or we needed 12 players to fill out the roster or they were friends with some supreme talent you wanted and they came as a package deal. Whatever the reason think deeply about what you’re doing to that child when you pick them on your team and never play them in games.

If the reason you’re not playing a kid is because you have lost faith in them, I think it’s imperative that you find opportunities to regain that trust and give the player the confidence they need to succeed. As coaches we can’t be afraid to let players fail. Some of the best learnings come from those experiences. Part of your job as a coach is to identify a player’s weaknesses and find ways to turn them into strengths to reduce the risk of failure.

And if your forgetting to play kids because our too caught up in the game, you need to get an assistant coach whose job it is to monitor minutes on the bench. The happier and more engaged the players on your team are the more success they will find.

The measure of success for youth teams shouldn’t be wins and losses. Success should be measured on improvement. If you can say that your team is improving each time you finish a practice or game, over time, you’re going to have a pretty good team.

I would love to hear what you think at

The Timeout


One of the things I am often criticized for, as a coach, is my use of timeouts –or more specifically my lack of use of timeouts. I have gone many games in a row without calling a timeout. Over the course of this past season our coaching staff at Sheridan College probably called less than 20 timeouts in 40 games.

I often see coaches call timeouts after the opposing team has thrown down a big dunk or made an incredible play. I guess the idea is to stop the other teams momentum, but I teach my players to get the ball in quickly and score on the other end while the opposing team is still celebrating. I think that is just as a good a momentum killer as a timeout.

I understand the traditional reasons to call a timeout – to stop momentum, to change strategy, to fire up your team, to give your players a rest or to draw up a specific play. These strategies are well documented in a blog post by Coach Mac a few years ago entitled, “The Five Moments You Must Call A Timeout.”

One of the reasons why our coaching staff doesn’t call that many timeouts is because we try to prepare our players to play through difficult situations in games. This is because we play by FIBA rules where players can’t call timeouts on the floor and coaches can only call timeouts on dead ball situations.

Another reason is that often times we are not sure if we have anything worth saying. Calling a timeout to say play harder or to tear a strip off a player doesn’t feel like an efficient use of a timeout.

The times when we have used timeouts the most is to draw up a play – usually in an attempt to tie or win a game. And these are almost always plays we have practiced. We just want to remind the players where they’re supposed to be before we execute the play or run the play for someone who is having a good game.

Our coaching staff rarely calls a timeout after a made basket against us when we are tied or down one. We encourage our team to get the ball up the court as fast as possible and get quickly into one of our sets. The intention is to catch the other team off guard. This strategy only works if you practice these scenarios regularly so your players aren’t doing it for the first time in a game.

This past season we have won a game after a timeout.

And we have won a game without calling a timeout.

I would love to hear your thoughts on timeouts. Email me at

Body Language Matters

Body Language Matters

When I was younger I used to wear my emotions on my sleeve. When I was happy you knew. When I was sad you knew. When I was angry or disappointed, you really knew. And growing up I was often upset about one thing or the other. I basically wasn’t the most pleasant person to be around, except when I played sports.

When I played sports I always had a great disposition. I loved team sports so much that I was always in a good place emotionally whenever I played. And I played sports so much it was easy to see why people thought I was the happiest kid in the world.

When I started coaching, one of the first things I would notice in players was their body language. I, rightly or wrongly, assumed that if a players’ body language was poor they didn’t want to play so I wouldn’t play them. I figure if you’re not enjoying something that you are voluntarily doing (for the most part) you should stop doing it.

As I grew in my coaching career I learned that body language is not always a measure of an athletes’ desire to play, commitment to the team or ability to be successful. Sometimes it is just someone’s disposition and, as a coach, I had to stop reading to much into it.

I hear it all the time: “That kid has a bad attitude, look at his body language!” And sometimes that might be true. But I have known many players who are not bad kids, they just struggle to contain their emotions. I think it is our duty as coaches to help those players, who we know deep down are good kids, so that they aren’t mislabelled or misidentified wrongly.

I eventually stopped punishing kids for their perceived body language. Instead, I decided to encourage players to improve their negative body language. The reason why I tell them it has to improve is because of how others read their body language. I tell them that you don’t want someone (a teammate, a parent, another coach) to have a negative perception of them based on their body language, so it’s imperative they work on improving it.

For a players’ own development it is important that they understand how perception can become reality, and that poor body language can have a negative impact on their basketball career. It sometimes doesn’t matter what’s in their heart if someone gets the wrong message by their body language.

Some of the best coaches in the world put a huge premium on body language. Geno Auriemma is one of those coaches. He coaches the incredible University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball team – one of the most successful college basketball programs ever (male or female). Please listen to his thoughts on body language in the embedded video below. It’s well worth the listen.

What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player. – John Wooden

What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player. – John Wooden

The other day I asked a former player of mine, who is now playing college basketball, how things were going this year. He told me that he was doing okay in school but struggling with basketball.

This young man was a key part of a very successful team that I coached, so I found it difficult to see how he could be struggling at the next level. I asked him what he thought the problem was. He said he I don’t think my coach likes me.

I said what makes you say that. He says every time he makes a mistake on the court the coach subs him out. He feels he has an extra short leash compared to some of his other teammates who make mistakes but they don’t get subbed out. All he wants he says is a chance to show the coach what he can do with extended minutes, but he is constantly looking over his shoulder every time he gets on the court.

Most basketball players know how difficult it is to play with the fear of making a mistake. It’s not good. You end up being so worried about making mistakes that you start to play conservative and tight, instead of playing free and loose. You start to become passive and end up making more mistakes. And it’s hard for you to have an impact on the game when you’re worrying about being subbed out.

I asked if he talked with his coach about the situation. He said he had and the coach assured him he would get his chances, but he doesn’t feel he has been given a fair chance. And he repeated to me that he doesn’t think his coach likes him.

I am not at this young man’s practices now, but he never cheated me when he was on my team. He always worked hard and was often rewarded in games with many great performances. But I am concerned with any player who feels their coach doesn’t like them.

So I said to my former player, “your coach doesn’t like you as a person or as a basketball player?” He said, “I think both.”

My advice to him was simple. Keep working hard in practice, be respectful and polite with your coach and teammates and kick ass in the classroom. And last but not least don’t feel sorry for yourself. You can only control what you control.

As long as you feel good about your effort, your attitude and yourself nothing else really matters. It’s up to the coach to recognize what you bring to the table and figure out how to use you in the best way to help the team. If the coach doesn’t see your value, that’s his problem not yours. Keep being the best you you can be.

In the end if your coach doesn’t like you as a basketball player that is one thing, but you need to do your best to make sure your coach sees that you’re a good person. And if you’re coach is only judging you by your basketball talents, then he’s not much of a coach.


Loved to hear your thoughts. Send me an email.