The Invaluable Sixth Man
The Sixth Man position in basketball is awarded to the player who is often first off the bench and into the on court line-up. This player fills a very valuable role for your team in providing a consistent and sustained effort even when rotations happen throughout the game. The Sixth Man needs to have a number of qualities that help fulfil this role within your team.
The most important quality a sixth man needs is that this player should know your teams systems as well as any starting player within the line. Often players junior, senior or elite if they are not in the starting line-up do not pay attention to the importance of knowing what is going on at all times on the floor. For elite teams this can be especially evident as coaches utilise players from the bench in certain situations so those players often become overly familiar with that role, but then reduce their ability to fill any other role they may be called upon to play.
The sixth man needs to be a positive force on the floor. When the sixth man first rotates into the game they need to energise the other floor players from the starting line-up. The sixth player can be used a catalyst for changing the game if a poor result on the floor is occurring. When substituting into the game in these types of situations or in general the sixth man should bring positive energy to give to the other players. An over emphasis on positive talk and actions can help inspire team mates to change the game. Regardless of the situation, the sixth man should initially when walking onto the floor act like the “biggest fan” of the other players on the floor to instil a positive atmosphere.
The sixth player needs to be an impact player. When the sixth man steps onto the court this player should be looking to change the game. Each player within a team brings something different, as coaches you are probably more aware of this more than most people. But for the sixth man the impact needs to be immediate and in line or above the intensity of the game. This player should be looking to fill the directive provided by the coach to the letter so the game play can continue to evolve and play out as desired. A sixth man who substitutes into a game only to have the player they are guarding score the next three baskets becomes a problem for the team and a weakness that upsets the flow of the team.
The Fitness of the sixth man should be a matter of pride. Though the sixth man will start on the bench often they will be called upon during games to play a greater role then planned for. Playing minimum minutes one game or starting the next game will be the physical demands facing the role of the sixth man. But it is more than just regular fitness such as cardiovascular capability. The sixth man will often play across a range of positions depending on what rotations are made with the other four players on the court to accommodate the substitution. For this reason the sixth man should do the skill and health work of a guard and the weights training of a forward.
Out of all these physiological attributes foot speed will be the most important. Good foot speed will allow the sixth man to guard small players and out play bigger players when called to defend a post player.
The sixth man needs to be able to contain players at the very least defensively. All teams will have their strongest defensive player or their best offensive shooter. If your team’s sixth man fills this role you are blessed with good fortune, but in the majority of cases the sixth man is often a blend of offense and defence. This is usually what makes this what the sixth man so valuable, they can make that open shot in your offense or understand their role in playing a part in the team defensive system. One thing that cannot happen though is the sixth man being a poor defensive asset. The sixth man does not need to be able to be the best defensive player on the floor but they should be able to maintain the pressure demonstrated at least by the player they are replacing.
The sixth player must look to always be trying to break into the starting line-up. A hungry player is a motivated player, and if the sixth man sees an ongoing opportunity to work their way into the starting line-up this will only serve to make training sessions, exhibition games and regular season fixtures all the more focused and challenging for all the players on the team. By showing, acknowledging and performing on the court the sixth man can ramp up the teams intensity like no other player will be able to.
Different teams will have a different mix of players and as a result the requirements for the sixth man will change depending on the individual needs of each team. Good perimeter shooting, valuable offensive screening or defensive rebounding are all just some of the characteristics coaches might emphasis and look for in this key position. Whatever the need is the sixth man must be of the opinion that they can and will rise to the challenge that is asked of them.