One of the most common questions basketball players find themselves asking is: “Why don’t I get more playing time?” First, know that you’re not alone if you’re experiencing that right now. If you’ve seen Netflix’s Last Chance U basketball documentary that follows junior college athletes as they hit the hardwood in East Los Angeles, trying to get on the radar of D1 schools, one of the athletes riding the bench says, “At times, bro, I do be sitting on that bench like, ‘…why didn’t I just go to this school and score 30?’ But then I be thinking, ‘No, maybe God trying to teach me something.’ But you just gotta make it work, bruh, ’cause ain’t no point to stop now.” So stick with it!
Overcoming the mental battle, as well as physical, will make you stronger and equip you for more situations that can come up in your playing career. Luckily, there are some actionable steps you can take to improve your chances of getting the minutes you want. So today we’re going to share a few ways to get more playing time in basketball. Let’s get after it.
From asking the right questions of your coach to getting in better physical condition to finish out the fourth quarter strong and reliably, take these steps to give yourself the best opportunity to get more minutes.
Step one is to assess your current situation. When we’re feeling crummy or insecure, often we shut down and become a bit more reclusive. But you actually need to do the opposite – you need to seek out feedback and clarity. Talk to your coach about your basketball goals and ask for feedback on what you can do to improve and earn more playing time. Be open to constructive criticism and do your best to implement the coach’s suggestions.
Here are some specific questions you can ask your basketball coach to get more playing time:
Based on what your coach shares that you need to work on, here are a few ways to get to work: shooting drills, dribbling drills, and ways to improve your basketball IQ. Don’t get caught up in the details of finding the exact right drill for you. Pick a few you can manage to do every day, that involve reading and making reactions, and get to work. For example, for better ball handling, grab a friend and play dribbling tag – define a confined area (like the lane), and whoever knocks away the other person’s ball first wins. If you don’t have a bud, you can do copycat dribbling – find a squirrel, piece of trash flying the wind, or even human walking by, and dribbling in the same patterns they’re moving in. And switch it up from high dribbling to low, fast to slow, playing with pace as you follow the direction of their motion.
In a world full of non-stop dunk highlight reels, it can be easy to lose focus on the other half of the game. Look alive on defense all the time! Taking pride in your defense can not only help your team, it can also help you personally build confidence that you can then tap into on the offensive end of the court. Here are a few ways to invest in your defense every trip down the court:
She recently shared her insights about film on Sami Whitcomb’s podcast: “Yeah so honestly the way I started breaking down film and watching the defense and stuff was the year that I coached in 2013. I had reached out to [a coach] and was like ‘Hey how do you break down game film to where it doesn’t take the entire two-and-a-half hours?’ like ‘What are some keys? What am I looking for?’”
“So she sent me how to do that. So that year that I coached at my alma mater, as I’m preparing my scouts for the team is when I really learned how to start scouting other teams and players. So when I came back to the league that following year – 2014 – that’s when I really started to study.”
“So I would have our video coordinator send specific games or a specific collection of clips of their tendencies. So as I’m watching film, I watch for tendencies. Because yeah the statistical part of it – [she’s] the one who introduced that to me…So she was like some people can’t handle this load of information, but I feel like you’re a person who can. So she started sending me little stuff before games. So I took that and upgraded it. Like okay, let’s break it down to where I know what a player wants to do on the left side of the floor. I know what the player wants to do in transition. And I know their tendencies in those positions.”
“And obviously it’s basketball, I’m guarding the best players in the world so it’s not like I’m going to stop them. But if I can make them go to their B and C options, and make that tough, then I’m doing my job for the night. So I want to know what players are doing before they even know what they’re going to do. And it’s a bit obsessive.” Alysha shared.
Being in your best physical shape lays the foundation for everything else. Can you finish a game? Coaches don’t care about your first shot, they want to know can they count on you to deliver in the fourth quarter. Here are some fun and easy ways to get in shape and stay in good physical condition for basketball:
Showing a willingness to hustle and give maximum effort can impress your coach and lead to more playing time. So don’t forget the little things. Here are a few examples:
Along the same lines, stop doing too much. Run the offense, make the easy pass, don’t over dribble – do what your coach wants!
When you’re not getting the minutes you want it can be easy to be in your head and be aloof. But it’s important to stay invested in your team and teammates’ success. Set a goal of making the team culture better every day.
Give high fives, cheer for buckets, make eye contact, sprint into the huddle, mentor younger players, volunteer to get shots up and work with other players on their game. And most importantly, watch your body language – try to avoid slouching, crossing your arms, frowning, etc.
As much as possible, try to keep your ego out of it. “There’s zero ego involved,” Devin Booker said talking about his relationship with Chris Paul. “I think that’s the most important part. We both want to see each other succeed. We both want the team to succeed. We all want the team to succeed.
One great example of how to be a supportive teammate is Sydney Colson, now on the Las Vegas Aces, who’s heralded as “the glue” of the Las Vegas Aces organization and their fans.” When teammate Kelsey Plum fired the one-legged three-ball against the Sky that almost made James Harden drool, it was Sydney who was the first to hustle over to Kelsey beyond the bench with a chest bump. “I think overall she’s been a factor in our team chemistry,” former head coach and then assistant Vickie Johnson said in 2019. “She does a great job of rallying the team and using that energy off the floor and before games and things like that as well.”
As another example, Las Vegas Aces‘ dynamic young guard Jackie Young said the first time she was in practice with Sami Whitcomb she thought, “She’s talking the whole time, she reminds me of Sue Bird.” Seattle Storm guard, WNBA Champion, and Olympic Gold Medalist Sue Bird is very vocal during practice and games. She encourages her teammates as they make good moves, she shares her perspectives on plays, and calls out what she’s seeing on the floor. Check out her practice session with the USA Basketball Women’s National Team to see how she leads.
Now you have a few actionable steps you can take to try to get more minutes. Also it’s obviously important to keep practicing hard and consistently. By improving your skills and understanding of the game, you’ll continue to become a more valuable player and increase your chances of getting more playing time. Don’t get discouraged. The simple fact is, it may take time to earn more playing time, especially if you are on a competitive team with a deep bench and are one of the younger athletes. Be patient, continue to work hard, and eventually, you may see your playing time increase.