How to Minimize Game Slippage -- 8 Ways to Minimize Game Slippage

What is "game slippage"?

That's when you practice something (like offense) and it looks great in practice -- but when you play in a game everything goes out the window!!

Players forget everything they practiced. And they don't execute in games anything like they do in practice.

First of all, game slippage can NOT be cured. It will always be there -- that's just how it is. But it can be dramatically minimized!

Based on sheer volume of comments and questions we receive via email... game slippage seems to be a huge problem for a lot of coaches.

After some reflection, it occurred to me that our teams don't have much game slippage. We of course have some -- but it's not really an issue for us. Why is that???

Lots of coaching experience certainly helps. But I think there are a few other reasons...

Here are 8 things YOU can do to reduce your game slippage and get kids playing the way you want them to!

1) Limit Your 5v0, 4v0, 3v0 work

Based on observing other practices, I think many coaches spend too much time on 5v0, 4v0, etc. I question whether you are getting any benefit from that?

An example of 5v0...

You go through your inbounds plays with 5 offensive players and no defenders. The play is called and players execute the play.

Don't get me wrong. We use 5v0 drills. You probably should too. But we usually use them for one or two practices to introduce the play or concept. Then almost never again. After that, it's always with defenders or in a scrimmage type of situation. After the kids know the basics, I think it's almost useless to run through plays and offensive concepts without defenders.

2) Utilize Game Based Drills

Along the same lines, you should use lots of game based drills. Again, these drills include defenders. The drills can range from 1v1 to 5v5. The closer you get to 5v5 the more game like it will be.

As you know, once you introduce defenders... everything changes!! Kids now have to think about other things and MAKE DECISIONS like:

  • Is the defender close and should I protect the ball?
  • Should I pass, dribble, shoot, or hold the ball?
  • Should I cut or stay spaced?
  • Where is the defender that I'm supposed to screen? Did I create a good angle for my screen?

Game based drills do exactly what the name implies... they simulate the "game". And they help reduce game slippage.

3) Use the Bench to Improve Focus

I don't know about you but we like to demand effort and focus.

I tell kids... "I don't care if you miss a shot. I know you're trying to make it. I don't care if you dribble off your foot when attacking the basket. I know you didn't try to dribble off your foot. But if you don't listen and put in the effort, we have a problem. It does not require skill for you to stay down in defensive stance, listen to me when I'm talking, sprint in transition defense, focus during practice, and so on."

So if kids are not listening in practice and focused (effort) I might sit them out of practice. They can sit and watch. If in a game, they're not in a defensive stance or sprinting the court in transition, I sit them on the bench and explain why.

As Bobby Knight said, "I've always had an a$$-to-the-brain theory. When a player's a$$ gets put on the bench, a message goes straight to the brain saying, get me off of here".

We emphasize effort constantly. And the bench can be a powerful motivator IF you use it properly.

4) Have Non-Negotiables

Another way to get players focused and listening are to be consistent in what you demand. To help with that, we have non-negotiables that are required for players to get into the game:

  • Whenever coach is talking during practice, eyes on coach and listen carefully
  • Sprint and communicate in transition offense and defense every time
  • Stay in athletic stance on defense
  • Sprint as fast as possible to defensive spots on every pass
  • Go after and fight for every rebound and loose ball
  • Box out on every shot when on defense

These are things players must do if they want to play for our team. This does not require skill. It only requires effort. For you, the list might need to be shorter, especially at first. But for us, these are non-negotiable requirements for players.

5) Emphasize Effort and Focus/Listening

As you probably can tell, we emphasize listening, effort, and focus. Mistakes don't bother me at all. I never yell at a kid for missing a shot and try to not take them out of a game after missing a shot. But I do want them giving best effort.

That is important to us and players pick up on it because we emphasize it constantly in our words and actions -- in every practice, game, and just about anything you can think of.

6) Scrimmage and Use the Word "Freeze"

Every coach should do this at least a little bit. If you want to avoid game slippage, you need to scrimmage. Make the scrimmage like a game. Keep score, put time on the clock if you'd like (although we never do that), and call violations.

Treat it like a game with one exception....

Use the word "freeze". This is a powerful coaching tool.

So when you start playing and you see a kid do something blatantly wrong, you blow the whistle and/or yell freeze. Then quickly explain what they are supposed to do and resume play.

Here's an example. A player passes the ball and then stands there. In our offense, players are supposed to cut or screen after every pass. And this is a rule we're emphasizing and/or deliberate about enforcing. So the whistle is blown and I ask... "What are you supposed to do after you pass the ball?" The player responds with the answer and I say.. "Ok. You gotta do that every time. Now play!"

Using the "freeze" concept is a bit of an art and a science. You don't want to get too carried away with stopping play every 2 seconds. But at the same time, you want them doing certain things the right way. In some cases, it's best to avoid blowing the whistle until the kid makes the same mistake twice in a row. Then you stop them and correct it. Or you make the correction at the next break. Sometimes you don't want to stop play, especially if it only pertains to one player.

We scrimmage in most practices and we do a lot of teaching. I can't imagine how much game slippage we'd have if we did not.

Teach Them "How to Freeze"

As a side note. You need to teach kids how to freeze immediately. At first, they'll take 10 steps after you yell freeze and keep moving. They need to stop right where they are at so you can recreate what happened when needed. So at first, you need to teach kids "how to freeze". Takes a couple practices for them to get the hang of it.

7) Choose Tournaments that Give You Enough Stoppages

It can be frustrating when tournaments give you two 16 minute running clocks, a two minute half time, and two 30-second timeouts.

That's just not enough time to teach and get kids doing things the right way. You feel you need to save your one timeout for the end and you might end up playing terrible the first 16 minutes until you finally get to half time.

Ok, I get that tournament directors want to keep things moving quickly. But, as a coach, you want to teach these kids and you do NOT want them playing like crap for 16 minutes straight until you finally get to half time.

So I try to find games that give me enough timeouts and ideally use quarters instead of two halves, especially at the beginning of the season.

It's rare to find this but my ideal format is:

  • 8 minute quarters. Continuous clock until the last 2 minutes of the 4th quarter.
  • 4 quarters, 1 minute between quarters.
  • 4 minute halftime.
  • 3 - 1 minute time outs per game.

This format gives us the right amount of stoppages so we can teach the players, develop them, and get them playing the right way.

Using Hockey Subs and Teaching on Sideline

When you're in a tournament with few stoppages, you can maximize teaching opportunities by using hockey subs so that you can coach each group of five with immediate feedback while the other team is playing.

Conversely, when you yell at a kid during the action of a game, it is very ineffective. So we sub out often, teach players on the bench. Then sub back in. That is an effective way to teach. The problem is, you (the coach) have to miss part of the game, which I'm ok with as long as our kids are improving.

8) Plan Out Your Season Strategically - Don't Bite Off Too Much

Experience has taught us how much can be implemented and when. If you try to do too much, then yes you'll have game slippage. Lots of it!

So at the beginning of the season, you create a list of everything you want players to learn. Then prioritize the list. The first 4 practices might get you through the first 10 things on the list.

So if boxing out is 16 on the list and we haven't gotten to that yet, I just live with the fact the kid isn't boxing out. It's not their fault. We haven't implemented it yet. I just let it go. But the first 10 things... I want to make sure the players are doing those things right. Then when ready, we add more.

You can only teach so much. So it's important to plan your season out strategically and implement in chunks. If you try to teach too much and expect players to do everything... you will be disappointed and you'll have lots of game slippage.

Learning the balance of how fast you can go and how hard you can push takes experience. But if you're new to coaching, common sense and trial/error will get you most of the way there.

Teaching Progressions

To summarize a few of the ideas mentioned above, we often have a teaching progression. It usually goes something like this:

Step 1 - 5v0, 4v0, 3v0, and/or 2v0 to introduce the concept

Step 2 - Small sided games with various constraints to practice the concept

Step 3 - 5v5 scrimmage and the "freeze" concept to refine the concept

Step 4 - Play in real games and utilize time outs to polish the concept

Hopefully, this gives you a few ideas on how you can potentially reduce some game slippage. If you have any suggestions or questions about the topic, submit your comment below.


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Kevin Williams says:
5/2/2017 at 12:20:09 PM

Totally agree with listening effort and focus. Great article.


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