Ever notice how some teams always perform well at netball tournaments?
Or how some teams that might be towards the bottom of the ladder in their regular competition seem to be able to ‘bring it’ as soon as they turn up to a tournament?
Getting teams to play well at tournaments can be something of an art form for netball coaches, and often requires a different approach to how you might prepare for your weekly game.
Here’s some food for thought to help you bring out the best in your players at their next big day.
SHORT, SHARP WARM-UPS
You’ve got a long day ahead of you, and even for young, flexible bodies, the start-stop nature of tournaments will probably cause players to become stiff, sore and lethargic at times throughout the day.
Therefore a warm-up before each game is important, to ensure the players are ready to go.
However, you’ll often see some teams warming up for 15 minutes or more before every single game, which is just far too much.
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I always advocate a proper warm-up at the start of the day, though usually shorter than what we would do on a game night. Around 15-20 minutes should be plenty.
For the remainder of the day, ensure your players do a quick five-minute warm-up – a quick jog, a stretch and a two-minute ball drill – before each subsequent game. Firstly, it gets their legs moving again, and it also gets their brains back into game mode, as they’ve likely switched off between games, or spent most of the break on their phones!
As a rough guide, start your warm-up just as the last half/quarter of the preceding game starts. Then you’ll have enough time for the warm-up, the walk to your court, a potential toilet stop and a quick pre-game chat.
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START EACH QUARTER WITH A GO-TO PLAY
Depending on the tournament, you’ll likely be playing two halves of between six and 10 minutes each.
That makes a good start critical. Fall three or four goals behind within the first few minutes and you can usually write that game off. It’s just too hard to come back in such a short space of time, and particularly when the other team has the early momentum.
Therefore at tournaments my teams – from 13/U right through to Open – always uses the same go-to play for the first centre pass of every half – one that we know works well and almost always allows us to get an early goal on the board, putting the pressure back on the other team.
I’ll even spill the secret – it’s the “Overload” setup, and at a guess I’d say that over the years we’ve scored from it more than 90% of the time. It doesn’t guarantee an overall win, of course, but momentum can be everything at tournaments, and being the first team out of the blocks is often the difference.
BE CLEAR ON YOUR TEAM’S AIM
Your team’s priorities at the tournament will probably be determined by a number of factors, and it pays to make sure you’re clear on them – particularly with the players and parents in the lead-up.
Are you playing to win, playing to simply enjoy the day, playing to give everyone equal court time, or playing with other specific aims?
Whatever the team’s focus, make sure it’s clearly communicated from your club to the playing group and parents prior to the day. If everyone is arriving with certain expectations around court time and how the day will play out, but the reality turns out to be wildly different, you’ll have issues.
Communicating well and managing everyone’s expectations in the lead-up to the tournament will go a long way to avoiding angry emails or phone calls the next day.
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BE STRATEGIC WITH ROTATIONS
When it comes to the crunch, most teams do hope to make finals when they enter a tournament.
And yes, there’s the fun element and the chance for development throughout the day, but when finals roll around, who doesn’t want to win?
The challenge that always presents is how to keep your court time relatively equal – if that’s your team or club’s philosophy – while also putting your best team out there when it counts.
Often it’s a matter of being a little strategic throughout the day. Once a couple of rounds have been played and you can start to establish who the stronger and weaker opposition teams are, work out which games might be opportune times to sit your best players off for a full game in order boost everyone else’s court time. As well as avoiding running your better players into the ground, it will likely buy you some freedom to give them more court time throughout finals.
GIVE EACH PLAYER ONE FOCUS
Depending on the tournament, your players could be playing 10 games in one day, and if you load them up with different instructions and feedback before and after each game, by the end of the day they’ll be so confused there’s no way they’ll be able to perform at their best.
So give each player ONE main focus area at the start of the day, so they have something clear to work on throughout the tournament, and something that’s easy for them to assess or ask questions about.
It’ll also make it easier for you to assess each player’s tournament and provide specific feedback, rather than trying to cover everything they’ve done throughout the day.
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KEEP THE FEEDBACK SIMPLE AND POSITIVE
One of the most challenging aspects of tournament play for your team is backing up after playing a poor game.
Often you’ll only have 20-30 minutes before the next game, so the priority needs to be less about critiquing what they’ve done badly, and more about making sure they’re in a good headspace when they next take the court.
They’ll know within themselves that they’ve played a bad one, so keep the feedback positive and focus on what they did well, or what they’ve done well in previous games. It’s OK to point out a couple of things that weren’t so good, but veil it with a positive message. For example: “Our best one-on-one defence has been as good as anyone’s here today, but we just let it slip a little there, so if we can make a couple of little adjustments in the next game, we’ll do it easy”.
FUEL FOR A LONG DAY
If you want your team to fade out late in the day, make sure they eat plenty of junk every time they step off court.
Players love bringing and sharing snacks at tournaments, and that’s fine, but encourage them to be sensible and also put fuel in that will sustain them throughout the day.
If they’re hoping to be playing just as well at 3pm as they were at 8am, things like fruit, sandwiches and nuts are going to keep them going far better than chips and lollies.
All too often you see good teams fall in a heap in the afternoon, so encourage a few good food habits and find out how good your team can be!