Four Ways to think about Substitutions Strategically

Part of running a team in basketball is to a good rotation amongst your players through strategic Substitutions. Getting your substitutions right can often mean the difference between creating an advantage, or having your team taken advantage of. Having a good vision about what you want to achieve as part of your substitutions strategy in basketball will assist with making good decisions in pressure situations.


A substitution strategy will help you choose times, specific scenarios and situations that you need to be aware of when it is time to make your team’s substitutions.


Foul trouble happens and substitutions need to be made with haste if a player is in trouble (Photo Source: I'll Never Grow Up)
Foul trouble happens and substitutions need to be made with haste if a player haste too high a count (Photo Source: I’ll Never Grow Up)

Player in Foul Trouble: This is probably one of the more common areas coaches need to be aware of. For a coach there are few problems as confronting as when you have a player in foul trouble early on in a game. As a guide players should not have any more personal fouls in a game, then what quarter the game is in. For example a player in the third quarter should look to have a maximum of three fouls as an individual.


For junior players this will be a hard and fast rule, but for senior players more discretion can be called upon. An important point to consider is that not all games are the same, and for the benefit of individuals they will need to practice playing with a high foul count to understand how to minimise this issue on future occurrences. Players who have played with a high foul count in the past are more likely to be able to play with an increased foul count in the future without being fouled out later in a game and putting the team at risk. As a coach you need to balance this risk for reward situation well to master the scenarios that could lie ahead.


Run of Baskets by Opposition: Because basketball is a multiple score sport and as a result many games will have times when a number of consecutive baskets are scored by one team or the other (run). During these times coaches have a number of options. Many coaches will choose to call a time-out, but this might not necessarily solve the issue. The focus for the coach should be on finding the underlying reason why this situation is happening. Is it because the opposition is too quick for your team in the full court? If so, maybe a strategic substitution or series of substitutions is needed of forwards for guards to resolve the issue.


Resting Key Players: All teams have players who are pivotal for the offense, defence and organisation of the team. Being able to create the right type of situation for substitutions can be a difficult task if you are not paying attention to the general flow of the game. One strategy is to substitute players out for one or two minutes prior to end of each quarter. This will result in your players gaining these minutes as well as the quarter breaks time to rest and recover. As an example if you were to rest your Point Guard in the last two minutes of the first quarter and the quarter time break is also two minutes. Your player has the potential to have four continuous minutes to rest.


Be mindful thought opposition teams will look to exploit certain rotations during the course of the game. So always be prepared for this possible set of circumstances.


Changing Tactical Focus: Another option to be on the look for is during the game you might be able to exploit a weakness in your opposition by changing the tempo of the game or targeting a tactical volubility in your opposition’s style of play. For example your opposition might only have one player in the “bigs” category. Rotating substitutions during times when this player is on the floor can result in constant fresh legs attacking this player and as a consequence wearing the player down. Alternatively, when this player left the floor for a rest, you might rotate an extra Power Forward or Centre into the game to exploit the undersized remainder of the team.


The flow of a game and how the many different situations on the court develop the momentum of a team can result in some positive and negative outcomes. When substituting players with a game plan in mind, avoid being too rigid to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves or being too inflexible, to minimise potential issues early for the sake of a plan going bad.

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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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