Questions to Ask to Improve your Basketball Game Coaching

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.” – Sun Tzu

The best coaching advice I got to develop my basketball game coaching was to coach in as many games as possible. There is no short cut in this process. To improve your game coaching, you need to coach in games. Game coaching ability does not develop because of chronological age. It develops as a direct result of experience. The only limitation on the number of experiences you can have as a coach is your effort.

That’s why when I was a young coach, I coached as many times as I could in a year. I coached boys and girls high school and club (AAU) teams, with our provincial development programs and I worked at as many summer camps as possible. I didn’t care about the level. I just wanted to experience coaching. The more practices I ran, the more games I coached in, the more experiences I gained, the faster I figured I could develop my coaching. Also, all these experiences allowed me to experiment with different concepts as I used these teams as a laboratory for trial and error.

If you mic’d yourself during a game, what would it sound like?

Watching Seton Hall vs. St John’s reminded me how complex the coaching process is, and how valuable all my early coaching experiences were. Sometimes when I am immersed in actual coaching, I don’t appreciate the myriad of decisions, and non-decisions I have to make as a coach in a game. Watching this video sparked many questions. For example why have I never mic’d myself in a game to evaluate my coaching? I have mic’d myself in practice many times to help improve my coaching but never in a game. 

Other questions about game coaching came up as well. I have presented a number of them below. I purposely don’t give you answers to all the questions. Most of the answers are determined by your philosophy and the specific situation.

I have also missed plenty of possible questions, some that I already covered in 177 Questions to Prepare for Basketball Season, and some that I hope you will share with me in the comments section below, or on social media. I do hope these questions stimulate your thinking. They stimulated my thinking about what I do, or don’t do in games, and they will influence some changes I will work on.

Empowering Others

Do you make all the game decisions? Are you players or assistant coaches allowed to make game decisions? Do you consult your players or assistant coaches?

Basketball Game Coaching: Observation Plan

It is somewhat obvious that you should watch the game, but what specifically are you watching? If no specific plans are defined everyone will watch the ball. Who is watching the defense? Who is watching the offense? What cues are you watching for that would trigger a change or response? Who is watching the opponent’s bench for substitutions or play calls? Who is responsible for watching the clock? Who is watching your bench? Where do you stand as a head coach? Where do your assistants and players sit? Do you have an assistant coach that writes down on the information communicated within the game? There is so much information flying around that I feel there is a benefit to having someone track what, why and when things are being noted.

Basketball Game Coaching: Communication Plan

Is your practice and in game communication plan the same? Do you have cue words that your players understand to communicate plays, adjustments, situations or to cue responses to counter your opponent’s actions? Do you notice success? If players do something correct do you point it out so other players with repeat it? Be specific with your feedback by naming the players. One of the most ineffective feedback techniques is to be general. For example, “We are doing a great job rebounding” or “We are doing a bad job rebounding”. The reason is because most players will think either you are talking about them, or you aren’t talking about them, unless you name the specific players doing a good or bad job rebounding.

A better communication strategy is to be specific and to add valuable content (explain why someone is doing a good or bad job). “Billy and Johnny are doing a great job rebounding because they are boxing out each possession.” Billy and Johnny’s efforts are endorsed. You have noticed their success, and the rest of the players will hopefully aspire to receive the same endorsement, or at the very least know that they are not doing a good enough job rebounding.

Basketball Game Coaching: Players on the Bench

What are your expectations for your players on the bench? How do you keep them on task? How do you make them feel a part of the game, even if they are not playing? One of the least effective things to do is to “yell” at your bench for mistakes on the floor. Coaching your bench as to what they might experience is OK. Giving them crap for what someone did on the floor is just your ego venting for no good reason. We all do it at times, but check yourself and try and limit your communication to players on the bench to preparations for when they might be in the game, or to noticing positive support

Basketball Game Coaching: Players on the Court

What is the mechanism to help players refocus on the court? How do you communicate changes to the players on the court, or to players substituting into the game?

Basketball Game Coaching: Coaching During Live Play vs. Stoppages in Play

Do you guide players or let them play? If you communicate with players during live play, use short cue words they are familiar with from practice and scout as reminders. How are you going to communicate with players during stoppages in play? Remember that every time a player focuses on you during live play they lose some degree of focus on what they are doing during live play. In game coaching also takes your focus away from noticing things that may impact the game.


Do you know what to do, or say, if your team is playing poorly? How do you communicate with a player who had a bad stretch? What do you do when your opponent goes on an 6-point run? A general rule is to coach opposite your player’s emotional state. For example, if your team is engaged and energized on defense than sit down and let them play. If your team is not engaged and energized than stand up and use cue words to encourage and coach them.

Time-Out Strategy

When do you call time-outs? Do you let your players play through bad stretches so they learn how to figure things out and show perseverance? Do you call time-outs to set your defense? How do you organize your time-outs? We have a general rule that the first 15-30 seconds are for the players to drop focus, drink water, etc. The coaches huddle together away from the players. When I step in the time-out, I use a focus cue “OK, listen up.” and that signals it is time to focus on the communications. The time-out ends with “OK, let’s go.” These focus cues are supposed to help the players when they need to focus, and when they don’t, as it is impossible to be 100% focused for a whole game. How many specific interventions can you make during a time-out?

During Game Charting

What do you chart during the game? How do you use this information?


Do you have a set rotation? Do you substitute by feel, time and score, match-ups? Do you substitute to play every player? Do you substitute at specific times to keep your best players fresh? Do you have a bench unit that plays a different style?

Changing Defenses or Offenses

Do you stick with your primary systems or are you willing to change to counter what an opponent’s strategy is? Do you change based on your, or your opponent’s personnel?

Be there before you get there

Whatever your answers are to the questions asked on game coaching, make as many decisions as possible before you even coach a game. Determining your game coaching philosophy, and understanding what to say and how you will say something, or what to do and how you will do something, prior to coaching a game, will make you a more confident and effective coach. Be prepared and confident in meeting whatever game situation may happen.

Basketball Game Coaching: What’s on Your Game Day Card?

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