Maximizing your Game Preparation

Scouting is one of the most important elements of coaching, yet it is rarely discussed. In the NBA, every team has at least one advance scout that’s sole job is to travel about 22 days a month and scout upcoming opponents; recording play calls, frequencies, personnel tendencies, offensive and defensive schemes and everything in between. These reports are then sent to the staff and the assistant responsible for that specific team (or game) takes that information and curates an extensive report based off of the video they have already watched themselves.

Here are a few tips to consider when determining how much film to watch:

  1. Watch at least the last five games prior to your game
  2. Watch the 4th quarter of any games determined by 5 points or less
    • Watch the 4th quarter and overtime (of any overtime games)
  3. Watch your opponent vs any teams that play a similar style as you
  4. If you’re playing the team for a second time, watch the previous game
    • If you played them last season, watch that game as well

The four tips above are common knowledge at the NBA and NCAA level, but that is not going to be the focus of this article. I will save that topic for another day. Today, I want to discuss how high school coaches can maximize game preparation. As a high school coach myself, I know it is unreasonable to expect you to watch that much film. The majority are teachers who work a full 8 hour day; and while technology is increasing, rarely do we have that much access to an opponent’s game film. Additionally, not every coach films their games, thus even further limiting access.

Here is a list of scouting items to consider at the high school level:

  1. Prior to the season, determine which opponent’s need to be scouted and start making a plan
    • Assign an assistant if you’re unable to make the game
    • If you’re going to live scout, BE ON TIME! I start to get a feel for a team during warm-ups and you want to make sure you get the starting line-up
  2. If you’re playing in a holiday tournament, look at the opponent’s schedule and start reaching out to coaches that will play them prior to you and kindly offer a film exchange
    • If we are in a tournament, I try and get film or at least scouting report for the opponent in game one; as well as the next two possible opponents in our bracket.
    • Familiarize yourself with the bracket and try to live scout your next opponent(s)
  3. Identify what and who makes the team go
    • Do they thrive on creating turnovers?
    • Are there particular players that run the team that must be slowed down?
  4. Determine their goal on offense
    • Style of play- Are they trying to score early or work the set for a great shot?
    • Are they a flow team or run a number of sets?
      • How can you disrupt this flow and take them out of their sets early?
    • Identify their top three most frequented plays
    • What do they do after timeouts and at the start of quarters – Any specials?
    • What is the number one aspect you need to stop to increase your chances to win
  5. What is their goal on out-of-bounds plays?
    • Are they trying to score or simply get the ball inbounds
    • Most coaches run some form of a screen the screener play or an action for the inbounder
  6. Determine their philosophy on defense
    • Man-to-Man: How aggressive and where is the ball influenced?
      • How hard are their closeouts – can they be driven?
      • Do they take away passing angles?
    • Zone: What kind and where are the gaps to attack?
      • Find the weak link
    • Full-Court Press: What kind and where do they rotate from when trapping?
    • If you’re a ballscreen team, how do defend various pick & roll situations?
  7. Rebounding
    • Do they send multiple players to the offensive glass?
    • Are they a team that blocks out or relies on athleticism?
  8. Personnel
    • Five starters and the first two (sometimes three) players off the bench
    • Get a feel for their size and athleticism
    • I rarely focus on R/L hand unless a player is extremely dominant and is a game changer in one direction
    • Do they want to guard? Find a weak link in the defense you can attack
    • Any shot blockers?
      • Many coaches encourage shot fakes vs high fliers, I prefer to take it right at their nose and finish high. A 2nd shot blocker is always rotating on shot fakes near the rim.
    • Identify shooters (their is a difference between shooters and high volume shot takers)
  9. MaxPreps is a great resource to use for scouting. While not every coach uploads their stats, most do. Get a feel for their line-up and key players to watch prior to scouting.
    • For example, if a kid is averaging 20 points a game and was held to 8 in a prior game, try to find out what the difference maker was.
    • Additionally, if a kid who you thought wasn’t a great shooter lit it up in person or on film, look at their numbers. A player can have a really good game but still be a 25% shooter on the season.
  10. K.I.S.- Keep It Simple

I am going to spend the rest of this article talking bout item #10. Our job as coaches is to take all of the information we collect and determine what needs to be delivered to our players. I just gave you 40+ items to look for when scouting. That is a load of information and most players, especially in high school, cannot handle it. The last four seasons at the high school level, I have found a negative correlation to our performance based on the amount of scouting data we gave our players.

My philosophy as a coach is to get players to be so trained and confident in what WE do, especially defensively, that no matter what our opponent runs, we will know how to defend it. However, I still think it is important for your players’ to understand tendencies and items to be aware of. For example, if a kid absolutely cannot shoot but is fairly decent driver, your team needs to understand this when they are closing out.

Here is what I recommend giving your players to Keep It Simple:

  1. Identify their top two players and share their main skill (shooting, driving, post-ups)
    • Give match-ups for those two players
        • Our defensive philosophy is to match up in transition to the closest man. However, I do believe certain match-ups should be given on a particular night
    • Give closeout lengths for the remaining three starters – Short (Drivers) vs Long (Shooters)
  2. Offensive Keys
    • The practice prior to the game, work your offense vs the defense(s) that you will see. Many times I prefer not to tell the players, “you’ll see this tomorrow”, so they can practice in the moment.
    • Stress your style of play – What’s important to YOUR team running offensive successfully (i.e.- Ball movement)
  3. Defensive Keys
    • Give your team three goals defensively prior to the game. Typically these are our three:
      1. Sprint to the paint
      2. No middle
      3. Gang rebound
    • Re-inforce how you will be defending pick & roll (if applicable)
    • If you’re going to show them any of your opponents plays, they must be walked through the day before AND the day of the game in terms of how you want to guard. Keep it to three actions or less (I prefer two).
    • The day of the game, walk through their top two primary out-of-bounds plays and how you want to defend
  4. Keys to Win
    • Set three attainable goals that will help solidify a victory. For example:
      1. Out rebound the opponent by 10+
      2. Win the transition game
      3. Win the 2nd chances game (Treasure them on offense – Prevent them on defense)

The most successful teams are those that are determined to consistently improve as a whole throughout an entire season. Your job as a coach is to get your players to perform 1% better each time they step onto the hardwood. Over the course of a three month season, if you focused on that daily 1%, your team will improve by approximately 85% compared to the first day of practice.

To help you as you go into this season, below I have shared a new scouting format that I am implementing this season. In addition to this, I also have a pad of diagrams alongside to keep track of frequent offensive actions.

Download (PDF, 42KB)

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