The Playoffs are a destination that every coach and player wishes to reach at the conclusion of the regular season. Once you get to this point, no matter how good your team is, they will only go as far as their bodies and minds will take them. Athletes, especially at the high school level are extremely fragile. They are constantly worrying about their grades, post high school plans, girlfriends/boyfriends, after school jobs. and countless other items. Now as you move into the post-season, an added pressure of “must win” situations comes into play. Here a few tips to help you and your players achieve the most success in the Playoffs.
Staying energetic and maintaining legs at the end of the season will determine the kind of run you will be able to make. By this point in the season, your practices should never be going longer than 1.5 hours. Additionally, only 30 minutes of this time should be full contact. There must be a balance between maintaining conditioning and physicality and beating up your players.
Student-athletes don’t always make the best food choices. However, continue to emphasize the putting the right fuels in the body and getting plenty of sleep every night. The right foods and getting the proper amount of rest at night will give your players an advantage on gameday.
In addition to the 30 minutes of full contact suggested above, 15-20 minutes each day should be utilized on various forms of player development within your offense. Make sure your players are getting reps and shots that they normally will see in the game. I recommend splitting your players into two groups and work on different skills at each end, switching halfway; this will maximize their time and number of repetitions.
Scouting is crucial come Playoff time. If you are good enough to advance a few rounds into the post-season, you will more than likely be facing an unfamiliar foe. Remember when I commented above about the fragility of players, especially in high school? As an adolescent did you ever attend a school dance, and not know how to dance? Well that is what it is like going into a playoff game without a gameplan. A well-organized scouting report will give your players more confidence heading into the game. Even gaining an advantage by knowing only their personnel tendencies can give you the edge.
KISS- Keep It Simple & Strategic
If you have game planned and prepared a particular way all season long, don’t change it now and start giving your players more information than they need or can handle. Players perform better when their minds are “free” of clutter and information overload. Furthermore, if you have not given your players a scouting report all season, don’t start now. Players are creatures of habit, why would you change their habits during the most important time of the season? Early in my career I made this mistake, and it did not end well.
Keep it Fun (and Competitive)
By the time you’ve reached the post-season, the window of opportunity to teach new habits or change players has more than likely closed. If a player was not a great rebounder in November, it is rare that they will become one now. Focus on the skills that your players excel in and have fun. Every practice should end with a fun competition amongst your team. I have found that shooting or free-throw games really get guys and girls having fun. In addition, they want bragging rights heading into the locker room so the level of competition and communication increases. Want to make it really fun? Incorporate your coaches into the competition!
We hope this helps your team re-focus and perform at their highest level when you reach the Playoffs!