February 12, 2013
Ever wonder what goes on in a locker room during the halftime of a basketball game?
The 10-minute break between the second and third quarter provides more than a short relief for the players in the game. It allows coaches an opportunity to evaluate their game plan and make any necessary adjustments we hope will impact the competition in the second half.
My routine was probably similar to most other coaches. I allowed the players to have the first five minutes to themselves while I leaned against a wall in the hallway outside the locker room and surveyed our statistics. My mood depended on the score and if we were behind, our statisticians would gingerly approach me with the evidence. We coaches keep reams of statistics that tell a story we already know. However, I was always particularly interested in one stat, rebounding. I believed I could tell a lot about a game by viewing that item. It not only provided evidence about how hard my team was playing, it also gave me insight into what players in the game were gaining possession of the basketball, a concept I valued above all others when evaluating an athlete’s playing time. Some competitors just seem to have a knack for being around and securing the basketball.
I’ll give you an example. Almost every player I coached could leap and secure the rebound when it was directly over their head, and athletes who were blessed with serious hops could make that feat look pretty impressive. But the great players were the ones who could not only get the rebounds directly over their heads but also those caroms that were within a wide wingspan of their position. They anticipated the direction of the rebound or acted instinctively to move and create the space they needed to get control of the ball. More often than not they were also the players who enjoyed the physical side of the game and if the basketball was on the floor they were invariably the first ones to secure its possession. Players like that are worth their weight in gold.
The other stat I paid a lot of attention to at halftime was the shot chart of any opposing player who scored a lot of points in the first half. Often, that chart would reveal a pattern we would then focus on disrupting. When addressing this challenge, we were more concerned about our “help” defense than the player who was actually guarding the high scoring opponent.
The period of time the coach is in the hallway and the team is by themselves in the locker room is very critical. You hope to have leaders in the locker room and in those moments they often rise to the occasion. I was blessed to have some terrific leaders over my coaching career and would often enter the locker room and tell by the looks in our players eyes that some of my concerns had already been addressed by my seniors.
I remember entering the ONU locker room many years ago at the halftime of a big district tournament game and finding a senior who had backed an underclassman up against a wall and was reading him the riot act for his passive play in the first half. I arrived in time to quiet the storm but did enjoy the fact the player being admonished was dominant in the second half and helped lead us to a district championship.
I usually entered the locker room with about four or five minutes remaining on the clock.
My goal was to try to focus on one or two issues at most. One of the things I learned in my coaching career was that athletes who are confused about their role are usually ineffective. Because of that issue, we seldom made dramatic changes at halftime, choosing instead to focus on execution and effort.
An issue that every coach has been forced to address at halftime several times a year is the lack of passion their team played with in the first half. It happens. Over a schedule of 22 games, teams are simply going to have nights when they play with less energy and urgency. If the opposing team was suffering from the same affliction, you were just forced to endure a pretty boring struggle. But if your opponent is energized and you are not, you have a serious problem on your hands. Even when confronted with a team with less talent, if your opponents are playing with passion and your team is passive, the gap in talent is erased. As the saying goes, “Hard work will beat talent when talent fails to work hard.”
Anyone who played for me will tell you I firmly believed and preached that the first three minutes of the third quarter were just as, if not more, important than the closing minutes of a basketball game. I witnessed huge swings in momentum in those valuable minutes and that shift was often the result of our halftime adjustments and discussions.
What happens at halftime in the locker room is often the deciding factor in winning or losing a basketball game.
(To contact Bob Seggerson, email to firstname.lastname@example.org)