Controlling the Tempo of a Game: Principles of Play

Controlling the Tempo of a game can be very challenging for any team. A few mistakes in a row and things can feel as though they are reaching a point where anything else going wrong could result in the whole game going down the tubes. To help minimise this type of stress teams must train under this pressure from time to time, but there are also some simple steps a coach can take which help to prevent these situations from happening or minimising their chances of happening in the first place.


Controlling the tempo helps a team's offense perform better by developing a more consistent rhythm (Photo Source: Jeff Egnaczyk)
Controlling the tempo helps a team’s offense perform better by developing a more consistent rhythm (Photo Source: Jeff Egnaczyk)

The Principles of Play in regards to tempo revolve around a team’s style of play. These “principles” refer to the blend of technical and tactical skills a team chooses to focus on as being their points of emphasis. For example, a team that likes to play an up-tempo style of play may focus more on the Fast Break and Primary Transition Phases of their offense. As opposed to a team that prefers a more controlled and methodical style of play may choose to focus on the team’s Half Court and Terminal Offense Phases. In both examples, there will be aspects which a coach will want to focus upon to ensure a greater chance of success within this style of play.


There are a number of different principles of play that will assist a team in trying to control the tempo of a game for the betterment of the outcome.


Spacing is the first principle of play that will help with controlling the tempo of the game. Have you ever noticed that teams who are struggling with the games tempo or the pressure of the game in general start to shorten the distance between players? This is often done with the best of intentions by players, as they hope by shortening the distance between each other the chance of a turnover will be reduced. What this does in reality is condense the defence into a smaller area that actually makes execution of the offense all the more difficult. This forces players to make passes they otherwise would not normally take and because of the poor spacing more passes need to be made in these conditions.


The next principle of play that will help players control the tempo of the game is to Square up to the Basket. Players who find themselves under pressure often try to rid themselves of the ball quickly and without fully exhausting all the possible offensive options available. By squaring up to the basket a player will not only see more of the floor, but they will also hold onto the ball for that few moments longer which assist them in slowing the pace of the offense.


Another principle of play focused on the individual is having players utilise the Pass and Shot Fake. Both of the these techniques once again help a player to slow the progression of the ball and means the individual holds onto the ball for longer and this will in turn slow the state of play. If each player utilises this very basic fundamental skill, then the team’s offense will slow, be better executed and more controlled.


The final way to improve a team’s tempo with regards to principles of play is to have complete Long Cuts to Basket. All too often, when players are rushing they tend to shallow cut through the keyway in an attempt to speed up the offense and look for the next opportunity. To help execute the offense and make all cuts to the basket as purposeful as possible players should only start to exit the keyway once they have reached the basket. This small technical change adds time to a players cut and will make the tempo slow.


It is obvious that the theme throughout the principles of play listed above all focus on slowing the team’s offense. This is no coincidence as by controlling some of these basic points a team will be able to make better choices and present better options. All of which leads to a better outcome, more often.

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Coach Riches has been working within the sport, business and education industries for many years. During this time he has built an extensive number of formal and informal qualifications. A firm believer in training and development designed to help people reach their full potential, relevant o their needs and functional to their industry environment.

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