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Teaching Tempo - a simple and effective tool for any level

By Bill Winfrey


An excellent shot 2 minutes INTO a game, may well be a terrible one with 2 minutes LEFT in a game.

Getting players to understand and respond to the tempo you want in a tight situation is a challenging task. The great teams do it very well.

Here's a simple system that coaches at any level can utilize.

Football teams utilize the clock much better than basketball teams l

In any sport where the clock determines the game’s end, it’s essential to learn to play accordingly. Football players do a much better job of controlling tempo than basketball players. What would be considered ludicrous in football seems common practice in basketball.

In football, if you’re ahead late with the ball in your hands… it’d be absurd to play without concern for the clock. You plug away at first downs instead of going for broke and risking a turnover. You attack but you make sure you work time off the clock by altering your offense a bit.

Yet basketball players often play as if they’ve read the scoreboard backwards.

Maybe the difference between the two sports has something to do with football coaches being involved with calling each play, while basketball is a continuous game with more player decision making. No matter the reason, if the clock determines the end… learning to play to the clock is crucial.

Our Idea… is a simple color that indicates distinctly different tempos. This alone will not develop the poise but we’ve found it very helpful in conveying a quick and clear message that everyone understands.

The system is:

“Green” = Attack. The message is: make something happen. It doesn’t mean force a bad shot. This is our default mode and we use it unless they hear differently.

“Yellow” = Reverse & Attack. The message is: Unless you’ve got a layup now, let’s move the defense by reversing the ball at least once and see what opens up from the other side.

“Orange” = Reverse & Spread (at least 3 times). The message is: unless you’ve got a layup, step out a bit, shift the tempo, be deliberate, make the defense really work.

“Red” = Hold for last shot. The message is: hold it until about 12 sec… get a shot around 6 sec.

An Unexpected benefit…

This was first used this with younger players for late game situations. If we were up 8 with 2 minutes left I wanted to convey that we don’t want the first 3 that comes open. It helped a lot in those situations.

An Unexpected Gain

By surprise, I found it extremely handy in other situations too. Like, at any time in the game where we’ve gotten out of control. If our last few possessions too quick or individually focused, running ‘Orange’ one time did a lot to get players thinking more together than they had been.

Complements Any Continuous Offense…

This color system blends very easily with any continuous offense. Say you have a 5 Offense that can be run continuous… you can call a 5 Yellow or a 5 Orange, or 5 Red. They all indicate the same offense but with a different tempo.


Practice this in the middle of games

In the middle of the game… change tempo. Don’t just wait to use this only in late game situations and hope they respond. Middle game experience with this concept will help them see the value of playing together… and prepare them for adjusting tempo in late situations when the pressure is amped up and more is on the line. It's a great thing to practice when you're blowing out a team and shots are coming to easy.


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