Basketball can be compared to so many things. I love T-shirt slogans like "Basketball IS Life". When trying to make a point to players it is helpful to offer a fresh perspectives. One player may reached from a different angle than another. Plus, it helps to be a little entertaining over the course of a season and perhaps introduce some cultural aspects. Basketball is like Shakespeare, "To be, or not to be..." applies to hopeful teams vying for state competition. Get the drift? Anyway, this section is just for fun. Hope you like it.
Basketball is Like War
The earliest game is simply mock fighting to develop survival skills. Animals, tame or wild, play the game. Humans developed sports as a means of enjoying competition without killing (and eating?) their opponents. Hence, we have the rules to protect the players and preserve the structure of the game. Teams may defend their territory, invade the opponent's territory, steal the opponent's possession, etc. all within prescribed rules designed to promote safety and fair play. So, as the coach of a team consisting of 10 year old girls, or as the coach of a 40+ over men's basketball team, you are the general of your troops and you have a very specific mission - to win the basketball game (within the rules). Learn the rules by reading the rule book, watching basketball and talking to people who are involved in the game.
Paying attention to basic military strategies can be beneficial. For example, from the Ancient Art of War, Sun Tzu view the text on the internet... There are many parallels in that document, but let's just pick one.
"The contour of the land is an aid to an army; sizing up opponents to determine victory, assessing dangers and distances, is the proper course of action for military leaders. Those who do battle knowing these will win, those who do battle without knowing these will lose."
The contour of our land is the basketball court. While there are regulations governing court dimensions, you may play on anything from a wide open, full size court to a crackerbox, elementary school gym with a stage at one end and a balcony hovering over one edge and ropes dangling from the ceiling on the other side. Size of the court is important. Small courts favor big, slow teams. Fast teams that are well conditioned will rule the large courts if their opponent are out of shape.
Sizing up opponents is also a key strategy. If you are playing young players that cannot pass the ball very far, why spread your defense over the full court? Position the defense within the passing range. If your opponents are fast but don't shoot well from outside, protect your basket and make them shoot long (even unopposed in some cases) and concentrate on rebounds. Are opposing players not ambidextrous? Grossly over play their strong hand (do not allow a right handed dribbler to move to his right). It is amazing how quickly an otherwise effective player can become a liability.
After a few practices, a team's strength's should become apparent. Dangers and distances can be assessed. Some teams cannot shoot effectively if they are not near the basket. Teams that do shoot well from outside still have their limits and should understand them. Players must make decisions with both their strengths and limitations in mind. How often have you seen the biggest kid on the team command the ball at the top of the key and try to play as a point guard? Suddenly everyone is shifted into a less than optimum role. The danger of failure is higher in such circumstances. Another example is players that do not heed their defensive responsibilities and are out of position. They misjudge both danger and distance and allow the opponent to score easy baskets.
Defensively, players must judge how far they can extend their defensive influence. This distance is determined by the player's ability to move and the player's distance from the ball. The further the ball, the more time available to react to the movement of the ball.
For inexperienced teams, we have just covered fundamental points that will play heavily in a game's outcome, and not even mentioned common fundamentals like how to dribble. The point is to consider the obvious strategies first.
More Basketball Tips from the Ancient Art of War
Analogies to basketball from surprising sources. Here are more quotes from the Art of War:
The Ancient Art of War, Sun Tzu is quite thought provoking. Many businesses recommend it to their management for competitive strategic thinking.
Basketball is like Chess
Defensives ploys, like a full court press, are an illusion of advantage. Black is ignoring White's first move advantage and aggressively attacking the ball or an area on the court. Black leaves the King (basket) vulnerable in its gamble to obtain the ball. Black is hoping White will take the bait. A good press herds the ballhandler into a trap, not by force, but by the illusion of safety. The ballhandler is shown an easy way down the court, and usually follows the path of least resistance, or perhaps a path that promises an easy reward. The path, however, leads straight into a trap. The function of the trap is to minimize the ball handler's options even further. In desperation, the ballhandler may try to dribble through (split the defenders), a move that usually costs a possession. Or, in panic, will choose the few possible passes. The defense again leaves help visible, but defendable.
What has happened is that the White team has forfeited its basic advantage. It started with several options as to how it could get the ball down the floor. The defense was in a totally reactive state, unable to predict anything. By allowing Black to force its movement, White options were decreased until its actions were very predictable. Once White's actions were known, all Black had to do was step in and take the ball.
White should remember that Black has seriously weakened its defense by spreading itself all over the floor. Their "king" is relatively unguarded. White should position its players in the many gaps on the floor. By moving the ball with passes, not dribbles, White has the advantage of knowing where its going (while black must guess) AND can advance the ball faster than black can adjust. With patience, and wisdom (not dribbling into traps!), White should be able to consistently dissect a press and get easy baskets.
Another parallel in chess is that the movements of the pieces are defined. The strongest possible team is one that is balanced and has players that can specialize in needed skills. Players find their roles once they join a team. Perhaps their best contribution is grabbing rebounds or maybe breaking a press. A team loaded with shooters that do not rebound or handle the ball well will find the number of shots available to them severely curtailed. A coach that overplays and depends too much upon the "queen" will be distinctly disadvantaged if that piece is removed from the game. This analogy best serves the offense. Offense always has the power as long as it has the ball because what the offense does dictates the defensive reaction, thereby rendering one team's actions predictable.
Basketball is like Money
The game plan is similar to preparing a budget where expenses and income are planned, only in basketball the idea is to accumulate points instead of dollars. Lets assume a free throw is worth $1, a field goal $2 and a three point basket $3, and we get paid every time we make a shot. Lets also pick a standard to strive for, like we want to make $1 every time we have the ball. Is that possible? Sure. In an average high school game, each team has the ball about 80 times. Each team will take about 60 shots (remember to account for turnovers and offensive rebounds). If we hit 33% of the threes, 60% of the twos and about 75% of the free throws, we'll end up with about 80 points, or a buck a possession. Here's a sample table to demonstrate the factors.
Now we can calculate values for many of the things players do to help their team win. Just grabbed a defensive rebound? That's like a dollar in the bank we can go invest in a shot attempt. Knowing that possession has a value, are we going to waste it on a high risk shot or a lazy pass?
Got fouled and going to the line for two shots? Expected value is $1.50 (two chances at a dollar x 75% probability). If you need to foul the other team at the end of the game, these values are very important because each time you foul them, they get points. They might miss a 1:1 the first time but make both shots the next time. In the long run they will get their 75 cents per free throw. That means that if you must overcome a 6 point lead, you better start fouling early because each possession you are exchanging 75cents for them on the free throws for a dollar at your end (assuming you're making at least 50% of your twos and 33% of your threes!). As the game winds down, the situation is much more desperate. The losing team is soon into a situation where they must make all their remaining shots and the winning team must miss most of their free throws in order for the trailing team to prevail. Its like a gambler who is losing at roulette finally placing all his remaining money on his favorite number and hoping he hits the long shot, then turning around and doing it again just to get even. Its possible he'll luck out, but not likely.
It is important for the players to feel that possession of the basketball has a value. The player with the ball is the caretaker and has a special responsibility to the team. Everyone on the team is let down if the ball is carelessly turned over to the opponent. Everyone on the team has made an investment in that possession by working hard on defense, getting a rebound, making a steal.