Win or Go Home

How to Win Single Elimination Tournament Play

It all comes down to this game. All of the off season planning and preparation, the long days and weeks working to get the players ready to play hard and well, the many seasonal challenges faced and won, and now the whole season now boils down to this next game. Win or go home.

It may sound like an oversimplification, but the key for coaches to make the most of single elimination tournament play is to create a basic and solid game plan and work diligently to get a complete buy-in from the players. The primary objective, at this point, is to take all pressure off of the players and put it securely in the lap of the game plan itself (and the coaches that have created it). The goal, at the beginning and throughout the contest, is to have your players in a very committed, confident, concentrated, and composed state of mind and body so that they can play to the best of their current abilities. Ride your game plan to victory.

This is absolutely not the time to begin making significant changes to the line-up, rotations, or adding specific player skill sets. Practice schedules, travel logistics, study halls, meal times and menus should remain as “normal” as possible. The reality at hand — win or go home — is enough pressure for the players. It is counterproductive to add pressure by forcing them to adjust to additional changes.

This is the time of the season to ride the momentum that has brought the team, or individual, to this point and go and “play the game.”

Applying the Four C’s of Execution

Bringing the players to a high level of commitment to the game plan is paramount. In other words, the players must believe the game plan will put them in the best possible position to get a win.

Coaches Keys: Keep the plan as simple as possible. Throughout the period leading up to the game, be sure to fill the airwaves with lots of phrases
like, “We got these guys figured out”, “When we do this/these things we are gonna beat them silly”, “We’ve got their number”, etc.

From the opening whistle to the final buzzer, assuming the opponents are reasonably evenly matched, the player or team that performs with the highest level of confidence usually comes out on top. Work hard to make each member recognize that he has the ability, mentally and physically, to follow the plan that will lead to a win.

Coaches Keys: Do not pile-on new skills or to-do’s that a player must learn or quickly improve upon. This is “pump-up” time, not overhaul time.
All of your words, actions, reactions need to echo with “We will play great”, “You will have a great game”, “You are the best at this”, “We are really hitting stride”, “Things are really coming together at the perfect time”, etc.

Keep the players at a high level of concentration upon what they need to do to play well. Keeping the game plan simple will remove mental overload for your players. Under the pressure of game conditions, It is easier to focus and remember a few keys to victory than having to reference and recall a library of “if’s”, “how to’s”, and “when’s”.

Coaches Keys: Keep the week simple and limit distractions. Regarding practice, travel, game day logistics, and the like, work to minimize the “elements of difference” that will break concentration and pull the players’ minds off the game plan that will lead to a win.

When the heat is on, the clock is ticking down, and utter pandemonium rules the arena, the players and teams that are able to keep composure — by sticking with the game plan — more often than not find themselves victorious.

Coaches Keys: Make the preparation period focused, yet loose. Include significant opportunity in practice to stay patient and calm in pressure situations. Stress patience and composure within the game plan. Make it clear that freaking out is not an option, by players or coaches, when errors are made or when momentum shifts against you. If imagery has been regularly used throughout the season, add scripts that vividly describe the situations that will be faced with brilliant and resourceful positive outcomes.

Take all of the pressure off your players and make the game plan the focal point. Continuously reinforce to your players, “When we do these things (the Game Plan) with commitment, confidence, concentration, and composure, we will win this game.”

Make sure you, as the coach, are also thinking, acting, talking, walking, eating, and breathing in a very committed, confident, concentrated, and composed manner. You are the field general leading your team into battle. All your players’ eyes are upon you. They will be following your lead.

Lastly, and certainly not least, enjoy the ride! Never forget that it is a game and is meant to be played and enjoyed. Don’t be afraid to smile and laugh.

S² Tip

Winning in the postseason is not the time to get fancy. Make a simple game plan and stick to it.

In Another’s Words…

“I will study and prepare, and someday my opportunity will come.”
— Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States

Mich. State tips Tennessee to Earn Another Trip to Final Four