Why Do We Play So Many Games?

So we have all heard of the term, “Keeping up with the Joneses.” In other words, we have to do something because “they” are doing something.

We call it the march of the lemmings. A lemming is a rodent that is found in the arctic. They have a tendency of following each other. So when one lemming jumps off of a cliff, usually an entire group jumps off of the cliff. You will discover lemming carnage at the bottom of the cliff.

Unfortunately, coaches can be like lemmings. When Syracuse University won the Championship in 2003, the next year we noticed more high school teams playing a 2-3 zone. When the Bulls and Lakers won Championships with Phil Jackson, we would see more teams playing the triangle the next season.

Coaches are often times more worried about their competition and what they are doing than focused on what’s good for their team. In the summer it has become fashionable to play games. When we say games we mean a lot of games. There are some summer high school programs that will play 75+ games and play in countless showcases, tournaments and leagues.

So what is the fascination to play in so many games in a short amount of time? It comes down to keeping up with the Joneses. I have heard coaches say, “We have to do it because everyone else is doing it.” Like my 87 year old mother would say, “So if they jumped off of a bridge does that mean that you have to jump off a bridge?” Of course not.

Only in the United States do we believe in the notion of “To get better you have to play, play, and play.” The rest of the world’s coaches look at American basketball coaches and say, “Those crazy fools. That doesn’t make sense.”

Recently we came across a video on YouTube where Coach Stan Van Gundy says, “We are not developing skills here (United States). One of the reasons is we are much more interested in playing games and winning and losing than we are in skill development.”

Coach Van Gundy is dead on here. You can’t get better by playing game after game without fundamentals and skill development. I have actually heard coaches say, “We don’t have time to work on shooting or skills this summer. We have to play games.” This makes no sense at all.

Think about a normal high school game. Thirty two minutes which means most teams have the ball for 16 minutes each. The point guard usually controls it for six of those minutes or more. If you run an eight man rotation it generally means your players are touching the ball for about a minute to a minute and a half per game. If you play three games in a day, your players (outside of the point guard) will touch the ball for about five minutes total. THAT’S IT!!!

Skill development is about instruction, technique and “touches”. If you don’t have constant touches, (shots, dribbles, moves etc.) you can’t improve in your skills. That makes sense. If you play countless games, your players will not have touches and you will see little improvement in each player and probably as the team as a whole.

Too many games over the summer leads to injuries and burnout as well from players and parents. Lastly, if you play and rarely practice, how can you improve on your noticeable decencies? I see teams that can’t throw the basketball into Lake Michigan if they were standing next to it, and they don’t get better because they don’t practice shooting. Playing game after game does not help a team in their weaknesses.

Each State is different in their rules and contact time that coaches can have with players over the summer. In California you basically have no rules. In Wisconsin you can be with your players for five days, Ohio it is 10 days and in Massachusetts you are not allowed to be with your players at all (just a terrible rule).

You have to figure out what best works for your program in regards to practice and games. If I was coaching in California we would play 10-15 games and train our butts off in skill work. If I was coaching in Wisconsin, I would run a week-long of double sessions of skill development with a scrimmage here and there. In Ohio, I would focus on playing one tournament and one league, but practicing in the mornings.

As a coach, you don’t have to keep up with the Joneses. Let me ask you this: Did all those games last summer really help? Or would you have been better off to reduce the games, get on the practice hardwood and get your players quality touches in skill development? Playing endless games probably won’t help you making free throws, hitting the open jump shot, or make a layup.