Why have a Substitution Strategy

A Substitution Strategy is a blueprint for how a coach would like to rotate players on and off the court. A substitution strategy is a tactic that for many coaches helps manage often high-pressure situations and keeps the team’s engine ticking over. All too often, the rotations needed to get the maximum out of a team come second to short-term scenarios that play out in a game. This is especially true in games where a team is down and trailing.


A substitution strategy helps a team in a number of ways. One advantage gained from having a substitution strategy is that it ensures all the abilities of your team are taken into account from the point of view of everyone having a role. For example, you might have a player that is solid in defence, but is limited in capacity for offense. This player might be fantastic as a player on the court in the middle of a quarter, so your more proficient scorers can be rested to then make a strong run into the break or end of game.


Another reason a substitution strategy can be of help is during a game there are many things which sometimes can rob a coach of his or her focus around timing of players moving in or out of the game. By having a substitution strategy a coach can focus on more pressing matters and allow for the flow of players to be a secondary concern.


An often under-utilised Asset; the players on the team's bench (Source: Jeff Kramer)
An often under-utilised Asset; the players on the team’s bench (Source: Jeff Kramer)

When implementing a substitution strategy a Head Coach can look to map this out with their support staff. Then an Assistant Coach can be responsible for the management of this aspect. Each time the situation arises for a substitution to be made, the Assistant can first check with the coach and then action the strategy as determined earlier.


Another possible argument on how a substitution strategy can be of use is when it is blended together with specific game tactics. One example of this might be that during pre-determined times during a game a coach will look to apply additional pressure by using a press or trapping tactic. Players with specific skill sets might be rotated into the game to help fulfil this tactical strategy. For example when using a full court pressure or trapping defence a team might rotate additional guards onto the floor to give greater mobility and speed in using this tactic.


As a coach if you have access to additional statistical information or analytics then groups of players can be identified that give a higher chance of tactical success in specific situations. For example in a must have defensive situation the best group of five defenders statistically can be identified and substituted into the game for this specific purpose.


When trailing in a game it is important to be aware that not every point needs to be scored right away. Careful consideration needs to be taken to ensure that once the lead is eroded that there is a still enough in the fuel tank for key players to be able to win the game.


Most players are not capable of playing a full game at a high intensity or with a high level of proficiency maintained throughout their performance. Having a substitution strategy will allow for your players to be rested during periods of the game that allow the tactical focus to be changed or altered to allow for this rotation. This will overall help your team maximise their effort when it counts, not just in the first quarter of a game.

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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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