Do You Sub To Keep Your Players Fresh And Out Of Foul Trouble?

By Ken Sartini
Subbing players is a very important part of game time coaching strategy. It's important because...
  • NOT having the proper personnel on the floor in crunch time can result in lost games.
  • Subbing properly can boost your players moral and confidence.
  • Subbing keeps key players fresh and out of foul trouble when you really need them.
  • Subbing can change the momentum and pace of the game.

Keeping players fresh and out of foul trouble.

Keeping players fresh usually keeps them out of foul trouble. Why? TIRED players tend to foul more because they don't move their feet as well and rely on reaching. Subbing gets more players in the game and that keeps them happy and the morale of the team up. You will also have your best players (in the game) on the floor when it counts in crunch time.

There are times when this can be a very difficult decision. The big question is.. Can I keep this game close with my best player(s) on the bench (can my subs keep the intensity level up)? Or do I have to play my best players and hope they don't foul out?

The bigger the game the tougher the decision is going to be.... but IF you have formed a philosophy regarding when you sub and at what time you are willing to put them back in the game, the decision becomes easier.

I will give you two different examples of using subs.
  1. In one game I had only one player that could really score and he was in foul trouble from the first quarter to the fourth. I subbed for him in each quarter to try and save him for the last part of the game (he probably sat 70% of this game).

    We went into the 4th quarter down four points... they were in a zone and my best player was on the bench... we held the ball for 4 minutes and I put him back in the game... he ended up hitting four three's in the last 4 minutes to give us the W. This time it worked out.

  2. Another game we had a transfer student from Yugoslavia who was foul prone.... so I never started him until we got to the Regional championship game. I felt that IF we were going to have our best chance of winning he would have to start.. and of course he got in foul trouble. I subbed for him and the sub did a decent job.. no baskets but NO turnovers which I was happy about. When I got the player back into the game with 4 minutes on the clock we were ahead (amazing considering the size of the other team and our lack of it). We ended up down two with less than a minute to go... we got the last shot but it didn't go in. It would have been a great upset. That team ended up going downstate and did pretty well.
The use of subs correctly comes with experience. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. We do what we think is the right thing at the time we do it according to our own philosophy.

The pros to subbing are keeping your players fresh - getting more players into the game thus making them happy (great for team spirit) - it makes everyone feel like they are an integral part of the team. THIS allows you to pressure the other team and do more things if the subs are prepared to play that maybe you can't do if they are tired towards the end of the game. It also ensures that your best players are on the floor at the end of the game when you need them.

Pace of the Game

One of the best ways to change the pace of the game is to know your personnel and sub based on what's happening.

For example, let's say your team is looking slow on both ends of the court. They are hesitant on offense and the defense is slow to the ball. This could be a great time to put in a couple high energy defensive guys to get the team moving. Sometimes you need a defensive leader or two on the floor. The energy and hustle can be contagious. A couple turnovers and fast break baskets can really change things. Let your best players watch for a few minutes. Let the energy pick up. Then put your good players back in to join the energy. You may want to keep at least one of your hustle players in there to keep things going. In any case, this is an example of how you can change the pace of the game by knowing your players and subbing at the right time.

Allowing Players to Get a Rhythm

There's a fine line between keeping your players fresh and allowing them to develop a rhythm. Sometimes it takes a few shots and a little time for players to get a rhythm and feel for the game. Nothing is more frustrating for a player when they get pulled from the game just when they started to "feel it". This bothers some players more than others. I think players with limited confidence are affected most by this. The really confident and mentally tough players don't care when and where they shoot. They always think it will go in.

One of the best ways to overcome that issue is to develop a consistent rotation. This allows players to get comfortable playing at certain times of the game and they know what to expect. If you KNOW you're coming out of the game and will get your 8 minutes every night, then it's not as frustrating when you get pulled. Knowing a head of time certainly helps.

On the other hand, some coaches like to change things up constantly and make changes based on the opposition, pace of them game, and gut feel. There are pros and cons to both methods.

For the super experienced coach, going with your gut might work well. For the less experienced coach, I think having a consistent rotation is the way to go. It allows you to focus on other aspects of them game and keeps you from getting overwhelmed.

Subbing After Players Do Good Things

One thing I picked up from Coach Danny Miles (876 wins at OIT college) is to sub players after they make a shot or do something good. This helps keep players shooting confidence high. If they come out just after missing, they might dwell on the miss. When it comes to high percentage shooting, nothing is more important than confidence. It's the little things that can make a difference.

What is your philosophy in regards to subbing? Do you sub players that are in foul trouble? Do use a pre-planned rotation?

Please leave your comments below...

Coaching Resources

How To Win at the End - Volume 1 - Over 35 situational end of game plays.

How To Win at the End - Volume 2 - Over 45 situational end of game plays for different situations than Volume 1.

Tempo Control & Delay Sets - Control the game and protect the lead with 12 different sets to choose from.


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Lynn says:
1/5/2019 at 5:02:27 PM

My son is on 7th grade team. When your team is 20 points behind or so and only minutes to play, does it not make since to bring the leads out (since they lost the game anyway) and put subs in for play time.


Dennis says:
2/21/2018 at 1:35:50 AM

What is the etiquette in A varsity basketball game to remove the seniors and starters in the last couple minutes of the last game of their season when they are loosing by more than 15 points? Also note it is senior night for these kids. Replaced by putting in JV players?

  1 reply  

Jeff says:
2/21/2018 at 2:35:23 PM

Generally you sub out one senior at a time with a younger players so fans can show appreciation each senior as they come out. But it depends a little on the situation, how many players you need to sub out, if you need to sub a senior in, and how much time is left when the game is clearly out of hand.

Sometimes opposing coaches and/or referees help out by calling timeout, etc so you can sub out the seniors. The refs usually understand and I have even seen refs call a timeout and pretend they are picking something up off the court and then resume play.


a grandma says:
1/24/2017 at 2:42:57 PM

Last night our freshman boys played the freshman from a neighboring team Unfortunately there aren''t enough teams in our area to have a regular freshman rooster so these are specially arranged non conference games. Only freshman played and all got to play. A good thing as there are so many on our JV team playing time is at a premium.
When the freshman games was over the JV played. What did the coach do--he played mostly freshman again leaving sophomores with a minimum of playing time. My grandson has started for JV all year did not start. I don''t know if he was given a reason, but I will ask him when I have a chance to visit with him. The coach put him in shortly after the game started, he did well, making a basket, getting a couple rebounds and doing well--for abut three minutes--then he fouled and was immediately sit on the bench. Later he was put back in--probably less than a minute when he fouled the coach again immediately sit him on the bench. However, the freshman were allowed to keep playing after making one mistake--or more and played for a large part of the game. We lost by about 20 points and that has been the story of our JV team the past two years. There are two freshman who the coach played in nearly all the freshman game, then again in the JV game. I never saw the coach offer any reason or encouragement when he pulled someone out. I see a player who loved the game, is considered a better than average player gradually loosing his confidence and spirit while the coach overlooks him in favorites of his favorites. I know my grandson is not the only one who is discouraged. I think some coaches have no empathy for kids who aren''t his favorites. If we were winning with his chooses that might be different--but were not.


Coach Cater says:
7/12/2014 at 12:56:26 PM

It is important for coaches to communicate with players and parents as to expectations of the team, player, playing time and development. This all depends on what competitive level you are playing. General Advise: Coaches like to win, players like to win. Parents and players make sure you develop your skills to contribute to the team/level you are playing. Ask the coach, what does my son/daughter need to do to EARN more playing time. How can I help them get better. Parents must put team before player when having conversations. Do not over estimate player talent, decide what is the correct level for them to play and enjoy the game. If they struggle under pressure, help them in a positive way, ask coach for advise. The most common mistake I see in youth basketball is the lack of personal development of both players and coaches. Too much importance is put on playing vs. learning and developing skills. Great players are not born they are made through correct skills and development. Find a good trainer, coach that can help.
Your child''s development is more important then playing time. Every time I get asked to coach, I try to make each player better and teach them more about the game. Winning and losing is a product of the work we do in practice. Conditioning, Skills, Personal Development, and Team Strategy.



Ken says:
2/10/2013 at 7:11:13 PM

This is a great post Chief! There is no reason to yell at little kids... that will get you nowhere!

The game is made up of mistakes.... your coaches needs to get over it. Coach / teach them the fundamentals of the game and then let them have FUN....

You need to have a little talk with this boy and let him know that you want him to shoot when he is open..... and NO ONE expects him to make them all. Look up some Michael Jordon quotes....

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
- Michael Jordan

He needs to see this for sure!!


thechief says:
2/10/2013 at 6:56:59 PM

I think the coach forgets the power and influence he/she has in the lives of the kids we coach. Some of the comments above really bear that out. In Australia the highest level of junior basketball is representative, where you play for your local association against other associations in the metropolitan region. As a coach at that level now into my third year, where there is massive expectation from the associations, the kids, and the parents, and coaching 12 and 13 yr old boys, I have seen some unbelievable behavior from coaches. Belittling, humiliating, screaming at what really are just little boys. I have seen good kids, with skills, try something on court, fail, and run back up the court with their head hung low while the coach berates them. So what did that kid just learn? Back himself, trust his ability, try something to build his confidence? No, he learned that if you mess up, you're an idiot, and you let your team down. Infuriates me to see this happen. Yes, at some levels, winning is important. And while sport is about fun, there is no doubt it is more fun to win that get smacked every week, but you can win, while making mistakes, and helping kids find their inner belief. I have one boy in my current team who is a great little baller. But he refuses to take outside shots because of the fear of failure. And what is saddest of all, is that this fear of failure has been coached into him - and he's only 11. Pretty sad. Coaches, encourage, don't belittle.


Eric says:
2/6/2013 at 4:30:48 PM

The coach must always explain to players (Starters and Subs) how and why he allocates different people in the game, especially to Subs why he seldom places him/her in the game. All players have right to know and harm the team spirits.


Ken Sartini says:
1/9/2013 at 3:58:08 PM

Coach -

This is what I have seen around here at that age group. 5 players start the game and another 5 players play the 2nd quarter. There might be 13 players on the team ( give or take )

The second half anybody can play, depending on who is playing well that day, it could be a sub.

This seems to work around here - you playing everyone at least 8 minutes sounds good to me with your age group.


Coach says:
1/9/2013 at 1:26:27 PM

I am a coach of 7th and 8th grade boys travel team and was reading these comments to try to help me figure out how to sub a 10 person squad in 8 min. quarters. There are a lot of interesting ideas and they all seem to make sense depending on the situation. I would have to disagree with playing all players the same times at my level anyway. Half of the kids on my team will be in high school next year and I think the coaching staff has a pretty good idea about the talent level from our #1 kid to our #10 kid. However, we will always make sure even the #10 kid gets at least 8 minutes in a game and if we have a comfortable lead he will get more. The only time this may change is in playoff implications. When people say it isn't about winning but developing players I think there is a fine line. I firmly believe all the kids want to win and the starters may resent the fact that they are given equal time when they know the team has a better chance of winning if they are in more. I believe most of the "bench" players would also agree. This is just my take on the situation.


Jeff Haefner says:
11/29/2011 at 7:57:35 AM

As a parent there might not be anything you can do. You can try talking with the coach but the odds of that doing any good are pretty low. Start the conversation positive. Ask the coach for advice about keeping your daughters confidence high, versus accusing the coach of hurting her confidence. Coaches like to give advice, hence their ego. Just explain some situations. The best thing is if it ends up being the coaches idea not to sub in that fashion, versus it being your idea.

Maybe talk to the head varsity coach too.

Beyond that you could reinforce that it's ok to make mistakes.


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