Handling Various Basketball Game Situations -- 15 Dos And Don'ts For Game Time
1. DO establish game time expectations and stick to them. For example, if a player is late and you've established that a late player doesn't play in the first half, then don't let them play in the first half -- even if they're your star player.

2. Don't yell at the referees. This gives your players permission to yell at them and it sets a bad example. Everyone, including referees, make mistakes. They're doing their best. If you disagree with a call, talk to the referee the way you would expect to be talked to if you made a mistake.

3. Do bench players for inappropriate behavior during a game. Inappropriate behavior on my team would be pushing a player, yelling at a referee, yelling at the crowd.

4. Don't let players get away with not doing their best. If your players are not giving 100% of themselves, then bench them until they're ready.

5. Do keep yourself in check and remember that you're dealing with youngsters. Yelling at them isn't going to get the results that you desire.

6. Do establish a time-out ritual. This means that your players know exactly what to do and expect during a time out. One suggestion is to have benched players make room for players coming off the court. This way they can towel off and grab a drink while they're listening to the coach.

7. Do call time outs to rest your players without making a substitution.

8. Do call time outs to correct problems with execution.

9. Do call time outs to call a special play for end of period or end of game situations.

10. Do call a time out to restore order if chaos is reigning on the court.

11. Do use halftime to focus on what the team is doing right and what they need to do in the second half.

12. Don't use half time to focus on the negatives. This only deflates the players. Be positive!

13. Do win with class and lose with dignity! Win or lose like you want the opposing team to win or lose.

14. Don't discuss tactics immediately after a game, save it for the next practice.

15. Do keep all conversations before, during and after the game positive regardless of the outcome!

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Ken Starkey says:
11/15/2007 at 11:20:49 AM

PLAYING TIME FOR YOUTH - I am starting my 3rd year of youth coaching. The best advise I received came from a coach who was just finishing a very successful four year stint as I was just starting. He recommended scripting your playing time for each game prior to each game. My assistant coach can then get the kids ready for substitutions without me worrying about it. I am an equal playing time advocate, so this also allows me to make sure that happens. The kids love it because they know when they are going in, instead of worrying about it. The parents love it because they are not worried about playing time for their child. I love it because it allows me to coach the kids on the floor instead of worrying about substitutions.


balesw says:
12/25/2007 at 11:46:28 AM

I am going into my 5th season coaching 10-13 year olds. what I read from a very wise youth coach when I first started & has worked like a charm every year is leave it up to the kids when substituting. I script the subs before the game, then I tell the kids after the game has started, when the clock is at 3 minutes(we have 6 minute quarters) you come and tell me & I'll send you in. Believe me, when that game clock is at 3:30 left in the quarter, they are reminding me. This lets me coach the players on the floor until it's time to sub.


Frank says:
10/14/2008 at 10:46:18 PM

Somtimes when a timeout is called,the kids are expecting some great things for me to tell them.When I tell them some basic things some kids listen while others don't.I have two questions for timeouts and pregame talks.During a timeout should I have a lot of plays to run or should I just try to tell them to either be more agressive or hustle back on defense?Second what do you like to tell kids before they go onto the court to get them "pumped up "a bit?My personality as a coach is that I am soft spoken but have knowledge.I don't ramble on and on but maybe I end up not telling them enough.


Joe Haefner says:
10/15/2008 at 7:45:37 AM

Hi Frank,

These are just my thoughts..

1. Plays - If you feel it is an opportune time to run a play, you could run one out of your playbook. I like to have a card or playbook with me to remember the play. You could go through the play step-by-step on a clipboard. Remember, make sure to only use plays that you have practiced before. Otherwise, your success rate will be much lower. I would avoid covering multiple plays. It probably would just create more confusion.

2. If you try to get your players fired up and it feels unnatural, the kids will usually see through it and it won't work. I would just advise to stay calm and assertive. Usually, kids are fired up enough.

3. You say that you may not tell them enough. Sometimes, I feel that when you tell them a bunch of things, it confuses them and they don't take in anything. I like to pick one thing and focus on that during the timeout.

As a player, I liked the calm and assertive coaches anyways.


Mike says:
11/15/2008 at 6:00:26 AM


Its always frustrating to call time out, go thru some key point and then see the exact situation come up when the game starts again but not have the kids execute what you went over. It is often at a time in the game that might make a difference as well.

I advise practicing time outs. Near the end of practice when all are a little tired, call time out. Show the kids where you want them to sit, stand, water, towel etc... Then call a play- inbounds plays are pretty easy, you probably have a couple different ones. Send them out on the floor and watch. If they do it, great, praise them and repeat. If not do it again. You can call time outs until they execute properly 5 in a row, or run a lap with an error or what ever you feel will motivate them to come to a central focus, listen, then execute. It will be time well spent.

As a coach it always feels very rewarding to insert some strategy at a time out and then see it pay off.


bryan cox says:
12/6/2008 at 4:59:25 PM

At the 7th grade middle school program, do you believe the goal of the program should be developing players for high school or only about winning? If you have 8-9 players of comparative ability should you pick the best five and only play them in the close games or develop a substitution pattern where they all play?


Joe Haefner says:
12/7/2008 at 12:21:26 PM

Hi Bryan,

This is my personal philosophy. I say play everybody in different situations. I am competitive and do want to win, but it's far more important to play everybody at this age.

Who knows who is going to be a late bloomer. Who knows who is going to quit the team. Who knows who is going to work their butts off in the offseason.


SportNut says:
12/24/2008 at 9:59:11 PM

I absolutely agree with point #14 and #15. Don't talk tactics after the game and keep everything positive.

So many coaches want to immediately after the game analyze it for their players. Trust me, the players don't care, they just want to get on with their next activity.

I personally found that the best approach for my team was to highlight 1 or 2 positive aspects of the game (especially if they executed a skill we worked on in a recent practice) and then hop on the bus back to school.

At the next practice, I will pull the team together into a circle, have them mention 2 or 3 opportunities for improvement and 2 or 3 aspects of excellence from the last game.

Guess what, I already new what the 2 or 3 opportunities for improvement were, but by having the players articulate them, they became motivated to work hard on them during this practice.



John says:
2/27/2009 at 8:47:06 AM

Hi. I really appreciate all of your input. I'm a teen and am trying to make a team in my school. Would you have any particular conditioning program suitable?

Thanks. Keep up the work - everyone needs it.


Joe Haefner says:
2/28/2009 at 8:56:40 AM

Hi John,

I believe you can condition while working on your basketball skills. Organize your drills, so you are pushing yourself and improving your basketball endurance. Remember, basketball is short quick bursts (5 to 30 seconds) usually with a slight break that amount of time. So set up your drills where you go hard for 5 to 30 seconds. Take a break and shoot a few free throws.

You don't have to do this the entire practice session. Maybe, the first half of practice, you are working on skills. While the second half, you are working on the skills at game-speed and pushing yourself.

Otherwise, if you want to condition separately I've seen people work up to being able to run 16 yo yo's in 16 minutes. You start each yo yo and every minute. So if it takes, you 20 seconds to run the first one, you rest for 40 seconds. If it takes you 25 seconds to run the second one, you rest 35 seconds.

You may want to gradually work yourself up to running 16 yo yos over a few months.

  1 person liked this. 1 reply  

Matt says:
4/10/2016 at 7:30:05 AM

Hi Jeff,

I think you are spot on recommending working on conditioning and basketball skills together. We use to spend 10 minutes or so each practice having the boys run sprints, suicides/guts/lines, etc. I coach at the youth level, and can say, not a single one of my players enjoyed the conditioning portion of practice. As soon as we would say “line-up”, you could see in the player’s body language the trepidation. Frankly, I don’t blame them.

So we eliminated conditioning drills in favor of drills that worked on both conditioning and basketball fundamentals. Instead of running sprints, we run a 3-on-2 2-on-1 Fast Break drill, as mentioned here https://www.breakthroughbasketball.com/drills/3on2on1-stevenash.html. The players love this drill! They get an excellent opportunity to work on fundamentals AND condition at the same time. In fact, they would do this drill forever if we would let them.

Based on my experience and more importantly, player feedback, I absolutely agree conditioning is best combined with basketball skills during practice.


smitty says:
3/4/2009 at 2:00:48 PM

Id have to agree about developing players for a higher level. Sometimes during the draft i look at more inexperienced players first, Giving myself a chance to feel succesful when i see 3 on the court as starters 5 years later in highschool. BTW i love your site


gametime says:
4/4/2009 at 4:20:05 AM

Equal playing time coaches are terrible... any good coach wants to win regardless.. there is no equal playing time here.. i refused to lose when i played college ball and i refuse to lose as a coach. only the best players should play.. the rest can be managers


Brian says:
9/3/2009 at 6:05:23 PM

Equal playing time is good for the regular season. Everyone should have a chance to play. When you get to the playoffs, play your best players more and let the whole team know that this will be the case before the season starts. Developing people is more important than developing players. Win, Win, Win is a big problem in our society.


Froggy44 says:
10/20/2009 at 11:30:50 AM

Wow!! gametime is a real loser. WIN win win?? HAHA I feel sorry for your kid. Brian is dead on. Equal time until playoffs. Unless the kids miss practice, are late or are not trying then try to go 50/50. If it is a tight game in the regular season, I will put my best 5 in the last 3-4 minutes and try to win it.


tzussu says:
12/28/2009 at 7:36:00 AM

Great site. Just wondering - what is a yo-yo?


robert says:
12/29/2009 at 5:47:06 AM

i think is equal to suicides...
cause you're yo-yoing up and down the court


Joe Haefner says:
12/29/2009 at 11:18:49 AM

Yo-Yo's, suicides, those are a few different names that I have heard.

This is what you do to complete one. Run:
- baseline to free throw line back to baseline
- baseline to half-court back to baseline
- baseline to opposite free throw line back to baseline
- baseline to opposite baseline back to baseline.

You do all of this without rest.


Coach Carper says:
2/25/2010 at 4:24:39 PM

If I can, I like to use a timeout to teach (actually re-teach.) Oftentimes, the kids will listen to each other better than they will listen to me. This season I had a timeout that went something like:
Me: So, are they having a tough time with our pressure?
Kids: Yes.
Me: What do you think their coach is doing right now?
Kids: Figuring out how to break our (man) press.
Me: Yep, probably. So what should WE do? Take the pressure off?
Kids: No...let's change it to a zone for a couple trips.
Me: Great! We're keeping the pressure on, but in a different way--he may have just wasted a timeout.


Kelly plaas says:
8/30/2010 at 7:43:50 AM

I have to say that I am so impressed with all your suggestions and coaching advice. I have a health and physical education degree and have been really frustrated with the number of coaches who refuse to start kids with basic fundamentals. If they only understood what certain ages are capable of both mentally and physically, they would realize their tactics are counterproductive. I have seen coaches run their offense based on a couple of key players, while the others are taught to feed them the ball on a constant basis. These kids are 8 and 9 years old. No child this age should feel they are not capable of contributing to a teams success. I love what you said about fair playing time. I sincerely believe that if you leave a kid on the bench long enough, he or she loses their confidence. If my coach doesn't have faith in me, why should I. The reason I know is it happened to me in high school. I played up since I was a freshman. Played half JV and sat varsity my sophomore and junior year. I quit my senior year. I would have been the starting point guard. I had no confidence left after a couple of years on the bench. I JUST WANTED TO PLAY. I LOVED TO PLAY. My advise is to let these kids play. Don't move them up to sit the bench. The gift I was given from all this was the wisdom to treat kids fairly and have fun while they are young. You never know if you have that Michael Jordan waiting for their chance to shine. Thanks for all your great efforts to make kids basketball a happier experience.


Tom says:
1/8/2011 at 12:22:02 PM

Hi, Is putting in a player for 15 to 45 sec. at a time doing you and your team any good? If one of the players makes a foul should you pull him out right now. This is for 13 year old boys. Thanks and a great site to read.


jdh says:
1/8/2011 at 11:15:29 PM

13 ten year old girls, wanting to know if dressing 7 or 8 different girls per game to allow more playing time for a peticular game better or worse than dressing all and play less minutes.


Jeff Haefner says:
1/9/2011 at 8:26:06 PM

JDH - 13 youth players is way too many for a game. There just isn't enough time to get them all meaningful minutes. I would split it into two teams so all the players can get meaningful playing time. They need to play at least 12 minutes per game to get anything out of it.


Joe Haefner says:
1/10/2011 at 7:46:34 PM


I think it depends on the situation. With the 13 year olds I coach, I like to play them 3 to 4 minutes then sub.

If I see a player constantly making the same mistake, I might sub for them after 30 seconds to teach them, but I won't hold them out of the game.


Tom says:
1/11/2011 at 10:55:07 AM

Hi Joe. Thanks for the input. You have a nice web site.


jdh says:
1/11/2011 at 2:56:42 PM

Jeff thanks for the advise. Yes i have 13, if i split and dress 7or 8 per game what about tournament time it will be a three game tournament but will be one and out. do you stick to your rotation or let the girls know up front that tournament time there time might be limited. I realize winning is not everything but if you have half of them that have the abilty to win shouldnt they have the opportunity and sub sparingly. thanks again for any advise.


Jeff Haefner says:
1/11/2011 at 3:44:56 PM

JDH - It's hard to say. I'm pretty big into developing players for the future and don't care too much about winning. I'm more interested in them giving their best effort (whether they win or not) and helping them improve. Then I provide rewards and motivation based on learning and effort, not winning or losing. It also depends on the dynamics of the team, their confidence, and what each particular players needs. It's up to you as the coach to figure that out and determine what's best for them. Based on the situation and dynamics of the team, I'm sure you'll figure out what's best for them. I'd also find tournaments that have a losers bracket (instead of one and done). You just don't see one-and-done with youth much around here. Good luck!


Danielle says:
3/19/2011 at 7:21:58 PM

Hi there! Brand new to coaching - got roped in inadvertedly. I coach a city team that is doing a 'game only' season with 1-2 grade boys. We had our first game today, and we are a brand new team, a couple of the boys are first timers. We played a seasoned team today and our opponents scored consistently in the first half - we caught up in the 2nd and they beat us by a shot. The boys did great - I kept the focus very positive and encouraging. The leagues are matched by wristband and we're doing man to man guarding. I have the boys working on dribbling as homework and plan to work on focusing to shoot or pass quickly and to get their hands big when defending next game.
I was roped in by the director who told me I wouldn't have to worry about "teaching" I am more of a "go to" person and my job is really to ensure each player gets equal playing time. I was humbled by how fast everything moves. I have 8 players and we have 5 kids on the court at a time. I really enjoyed it and the kids played well. with 5 colors and 8 players - what's the best strategy to ensure equal playtime? Thanks for any helpful suggestions for these guys!!!


Jeff Haefner says:
3/21/2011 at 7:40:58 AM

Hi Coach,

Here are a few links that might help:


You can also ask questions on the forum. Hope that helps.


Kelly says:
3/21/2011 at 8:53:06 AM

Equal playing time is tricky, especially as the kids start getting older. My team is 4th grade boys. I have 9 kids on my team. I have a set rotation for the game until the end of the 4th quarter. Depending on the score of the game and player need, I rotate kids in who I feel will contribute the most to the best outcome. I also tell the kids that this playing time is based on their efforts and behavior at practice. If I do take someone out during this time, I first tell them something positive about their playing and then I explain to the child why I needed to take them out. Comments like, "I needed someone bigger down low to guard a certain player". I really feel like if you tell the kids why you do what you do, it helps them feel better about it. This also helps their parents understand it too. Kids generally get the fact that they aren't as quick, tall, or as good as a ball handler as some of their teammates. The kids like to be successful too. If the game is not super close, I stick with my rotation. Communicating with the kids is the most important thing you can do. They are not left wondering if they did something wrong. Finally, taking on too many kids for a team is not a good choice. I struggled with this through the years and finally came to the conclusion that too many is counterproductive. Practice is ok with greater numbers, but valuable game time is lost. I have turned away players and felt bad, but I ultimately put the needs of my child and my core group of kids first. I decided to coach to nurture, teach, and give my son the opportunity to have a good experience. I have found that the extra kids always find a place to play, if they really want to. Explain to parents that with too many, the quantity and quality of time goes down. It is ok to be a bit selfish, when it comes to your child and your team. You stepped up and gave your time and they should respect that.


Jake Hancock says:
6/20/2011 at 4:27:09 PM

Always ask your coaching staff if you dont think your option is right try to find a correct plays


BBALL V says:
1/18/2012 at 12:50:15 PM

I am coaching a 2nd grade girls team and the girls are doing great. THe problem is that there is a big discrepancy between the kids. Some can dribble with both hands, crossover and get around anyone. Others have a hard time dribbling with one hand. Despite that they all want to dribble the ball up the court. All get equal playing time and when we are easily beating a team they all bring the ball up yet when we play tougher teams only one or two bring it up as the others get it stolen at half court everytime. I am at a loss of what to do. I don't want to deny the kids the opportunity yet I feel they are not prepared and I am putting them in a bad situation. The kids that do well are the same that practice at home while the others spend no extra time at basketball. Any advise would be great.


BBALL V says:
1/18/2012 at 1:14:21 PM

I can help on the equal playing time and how to keep track. At the beginning of the season I make a spread sheet with each kids name listed in a row on the left side of the paper. Then I have 7-8 columns across the paper (one column for each game). I keep track by quarters (1-4) but if you rotate mid quarter you would have (1-8) as there are 8 different rotations throughout the game. Then I just mark by each kids name which quarter they played. It is easy and since I have each game side by side I can see which kids started last game and make the switch. I can also see if one kid has played more in one game because of an odd number of children. The best is that I have proof so if there is ever a complaint from a parent I have it all documented. Hope that helps.


Ken says:
1/18/2012 at 2:36:40 PM

Bbbal V

At this age you should try to get them as close to equal playing time as possible. This age group is more about teaching fundamentals and having FUN.

Its tough when its Susies turn on the floor and she is turning it over but that way you will know what to work on the next day.

It gets to be more about winning as they get older, 7-8th grade level... and even then every player needs to get in the game. There is a middle school around here that in their league... every one plays at least one quarter.

Gametime.... I don't know if you are a player or a coach... but if you are a coach, you should seriously think of a new calling. IF all you want to do is win... then move to the high school level, varsity or maybe a college. JMO

I didn't see you saying anything about teaching fundamentals first ?? Winning is a by product of a fundamentally sound team


Rex says:
3/21/2013 at 3:57:21 PM

Wow! Great site and great tips, seen some that I've been doing and some I need to begin to work on, Thanks


New Coach .. boys 12-13 says:
10/14/2013 at 9:28:01 PM

I'm a new coach and want to give the boys a great experience this season which means..fun, learning, building confidence, fun, team-work, fitness, and learning how to win and handle losing. I can tell that most of you all share the same approach. Any tips on how to stay calm and remember all of this during the excitement of the game ??


Ken Sartini says:
10/15/2013 at 9:26:29 AM

Welcome to the greatest gig in the world.... I wish you a lot of luck.

As for this question .... Any tips on how to stay calm and remember all of this during the excitement of the game ??


Serioulsy, try to stay focused on your goals and game plan.... remember that you are a teacher/coach.... in practice and during games.

I had my moments from time to time but most of the time it was planned... did it ever backfire, sure .... I was all over this senior during one game because I wanted him to get mad at me and play harder, just to show me. Next thing I know, he has tears in his eyes.... I smoothed out his jersey and said.... " let me put that another way" we both started laughing.

Be careful what you say and who you say it to.... every kid is different. Try to stay focused on the game so you can tell your kids how to deal with certain situations...... are you going stay calm all the time.... only if you are in a Coma or have great teams like Johnny Wooden... you rarely saw him get excited.

Good luck and if we can help you with anything,. let us know.


Mark says:
6/27/2014 at 2:25:14 AM

With u13 boys, how do I get players to drive more to the basket? I guess some just do not have the confidence yet, but when they DO drive the results are obvious - points / free throws - I emphasise that but it is still rare


Ken Sartini says:
6/27/2014 at 7:25:04 AM

Mark -
These are young boys, it is going to take time and practice to get them to do this. I had to convince varsity boys that IF there shot was off that night... take the ball to the basket so you can get to the free throw liine.

Maybe you can take a 10-15 minute segment in practice that they HAVE to DRIVE to the basket to get a shot.

You can also run a "situation" at the end of practice where team A is down 1 point, 15 seconds on the clock and you are in the bonus. That would be telling you in the game to take the ball to the basket. JMO


Michael says:
1/25/2015 at 6:02:41 PM

I have coached 6th grade boys for the past three years. This year, I moved to 8th grade girls.

The new varsity girl's coach is really concentrating on reestablishing our feeder system.

It was outstanding when she played. My wife played during that time as well. We've gotten away from it the past ten years or so and it shows.

With that in mind, I play everyone. Time is not equal by any means. I stress quality over quantity.

Our seventh grade coach scripts his time. I thought about doing so, but my team is just comprised differently.

It's doesn't work for me. Two of my four subs did not play last year and it shows. So, I need to get them in at the right time and situation.

It's to protect them and help with their success, as much as it is to help win.

Our numbers are down at the HS level...22 kids between Varsity, JV and C team. Some of the kids not in my main rotation (or the other middle school's rotation) may make the HS team.

They need to learn the system now, too. and they learn by playing.

Not talking tactics or negatives immediately after is a wise choice.

Our second game of the year, we were playing a 9-1 team and we are coming off a blowout loss back on the first game.

We hadn't played for a month, to the day, due to Christmas break and some cancellations. Our practice time had been spotty, as well.

Up by 4 with ten seconds to go and we had the ball in our front court.

I had a girl pull up and take a 15 footer. The ball got kicked around, we got called for a foul.

They hit the first FT, missed the second intentionally and kicked it out for a three at the buzzer. We lost in OT.

I saw she was going to shoot it, but was out of TOs. I' was yelling no shot, but she obviously didn't hear me.

I didn't mention the play until the next day, instead, concentrating on the good play that got us there,

I pulled her aside at practice and got about 4 words out, before she said "I know...."

She knew what she did wrong. It also gave me a chance to explain that I pulled her aside. because I didn't want to look like I was blaming her for the loss.

We missed three layups in the first. We committed a foul on the rebound. We didn't rebound the free throw, even though we knew a miss was coming. We didn't take care of the ball in OT after that same girl, my PG, fouled out.

Any one of those things could have locked up the win.

By waiting and doing it privately, you earn a lot of respect from players. Players who respect you, want to play for you and believe me....kids who want to play for you will win games against better teams, who don't feel the same about their coach.

  1 person liked this. 1 reply  

Joe Haefner says:
1/26/2015 at 8:46:42 AM

Thanks for sharing that story with us, Michael! That's an example that all coaches should follow.

Better to make these mistakes in 7th grade and learn from it.

It reminds me of this story:



B3vn4 says:
4/10/2019 at 4:31:42 PM

I'm somewhat of a beginner in coaching. I have a team 13U boys thats kind of on the slow side but, they do have the endurance to run and play in games. Offensively we run a basic motion. But defense we I try to stay with man to man although we get beat and I eventually go zone 3-2, 2-3 or 2-1-2. In a tight close game situation I want to pressure the ball. Although I just stayed in the zone and told them to play it higher than usual. What would recommend or have any suggestions???

  1 reply  

Jeff Haefner says:
4/11/2019 at 11:16:13 AM

I could give you my philosophy (which is focusing the majority of time on skill development, man defense, motion offense concepts, and a couple BLOBs). We have man defense philosophies that we stick to.

That works for me and allows me to feel like our players are developing for the next level. There are so many to go about things and the key is doing something you believe in and get really good at it.

  1 person liked this.  

Coach S says:
4/13/2019 at 5:01:01 PM

Here is my issue with "equal" playing time with any youth sport. If you are lucky enough to have a team where every kid try's their heart out at every practice ,at every game and on their own time I am ALL for equal playing time! Regardless of skill!

However when I have a kid that lets just say is naturally talented but messes around at practice because they don't feel like they need to take this "easy" drill serious or have a bad attitude because one of their teammates turned the ball over or missed a shot. Or any other negative actions that are not in the best interest of the TEAM. Those kids earn extra time on the bench.

I teach you get what you give.
When a child comes to practice and says check this out coach, I worked every day after school and I can do that thing you showed me. That kid now receives the game time that entitled self proclaimed superstar child gave away.
If you give your all to the team the team will give everything it has to offer to you. You give nothing you get nothing.


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