Making use of 5 possessions of a game as a teaching tool for your players

IMG_0889The fact of the matter is when we boil things down to the result on the scoreboard it all comes down to about 5 possessions or even less that determines a W or a L. You can take a look as far as you can go back in terms of your coaching or playing career but this generalization bares true no matter the situation. If you are in the top, middle or bottom end of the league you are in; critical games that you play out against opponents of equal strength are usually either won or lost by about 10-12 points more or less (I call any win by a margin of +22 points a blow out solely on the fact that recovering from such a major deficit is at large not possible).

While there are a number of ways that a game can be cut down or broken down for players to review, with regards to helping our clients and from what we have experienced with the coaches and executives we work with lasering down to around 5 possessions and showing the players the decision making process of how these possessions makes things a lot more effective to the point that getting a W or a L.

The 5 possessions in question can be:

  • 5 defensive plays
  • 5 field goal attempts
  • 5 turnovers
  • 5 fouls
  • 5 combination of the above

The overall mentality here is to laser in on the 5 game altering plays that made the game. Again the key being laser focused. Another point to mention is that these 5 possessions can easily change from game to game. Especially if you consider that players usually try not to make the same mistakes after being warned time and time again.

When I review game footage either prior to consulting or briefing clients I always keep it simple in terms of this topic. Are there really situations that the team could have avoided that got them the loss or were there better possessions that they could have played out to get a better win margin. When you think of it once again, the most critical plays especially in terms of errors don’t ever make the box-score therefore won’t be really visible in terms of numerical problems. To an extent the fact that I have played and experienced top level basketball myself and have an innate understanding of how to assist or rather pinpoint plays to others comes from my background.

At almost any level, the avoidable mistakes are usually the most simplest ones that are made:

  • 5 second inbound violations
  • attempting to save the ball under the rim and fumbling a pass to an opponent
  • unnecessary fouling late in the game without a real threat from the opposition
  • late fouls with seconds to go on the shot-clock while most of the possession was defended well

Many others will surely come to mind but overall they are those pesky one off calls that can be avoided, largely if communication is well and the five players on court manage to be in sync with each other.

In terms of the winning end of things;

  • deflections that lead to the steal (credited to a player)
  • diving for a loose ball or held ball creating an alternate possession
  • a secondary assist
  • the help and recover

All the above and many examples that seem intangible plays, mainly occur given that good communication and eye contact between teammates and smart basketball players end up getting.

Highlighting the notion of “5 Possessions” also means keeping it as a separate element from the mundane evaluation – post game processing or pre-opponent scouting. Ideally getting your assistant coach to create such a list or having the players discuss this list out first than focusing on it during a video session is the best way to handle it.

If you have the budget for it, making use of a video editing service such as VidSwap or MyPlay can help out in terms of spending less time on things. In any case making sure you have a process where you record possessional information will be of major help and a useful tool again always is that of Pivot Sports Analytics. Here is an added article written by Pivot Sport Analytics about the importance of possession based basketball play.

Overall this notion of “5 possessions” is always rewarding; again, it can change from game to game and from team to team yet it never goes amiss to keep an extra focus on it as it will be a so called life saver when it becomes a routine element of your process.


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