“ALPS” by Dean Lockwood

A universal issue faced by coaches in many sports (For the purposes of this article I am speaking more to basketball coaches.) is substitution – specifically how, when and WHY players go in and out of games. Basketball coaches on every level invariably deal with component of substitution, and more to the point, not only how it impacts our teams on the court but also the “ripple” effect of how players are impacted individually. To be clear, I think most of us would agree that it is all about the team. Whatever we believe and feel our team needs, and that which we think is best for our team at any given time, is what we do. Easily stated, easily understood. That however, is just one part of the substitution equation. How our players react individually to being “subbed out” for in a game, and sometimes even how they act, speak and communicate with body language after a game, is the other part of the equation that not only impacts our teams DURING the game, but quite often AFTER the game as well. Anyone reading this who has coached beyond 5 years can in all likelihood immediately recall numerous conversations, informal visits or even more formal meetings dealing with the issue of coming out of games. These references are what we KNOW about – I think any of us would be naïve to think that players, far beyond our earshot, do not talk about substitutions, namely their own insertion and withdrawal from games. In particular, players who have been very successful at the level their previous level or who have been led to believe that their respective games have few shortcomings, can create small or perhaps larger distractions for the rest of the team and coaching staff. We all know these scenarios, so what next?

As in any area or issue with the potential for distraction, I believe being proactive and having a “plan” in place is the most effective manner with which to address it. Therefore, putting first things first, we talk about the physical elements of coming in and out of a game. (Running on and off the court, physically touching your teammate, and communication vital information to name the most primary items.) Now the next part, for the player being substituted for, is where this piece is primarily focused. Very few players are ever happy to come out of a game, and that is okay for us. If you are a competitor, you WANT to be in the game, in the thick of the action, and doing everything you can to help your team win. (Ever see a major league pitcher gleefully turn the ball over his manager?? They WANT to stay in the game and compete!) So what do we tell players about how to exit a game and how can we help them continue to be productive and effective for the team? We have condensed this process to 4 simple words we want players to focus on when they have been taken out of a game. (Here again, the emphasis is on controlling what you CAN control as a player, not what you cannot.) Being taken out of a game, more often than not, is a “CD” – coach’s decision. It is beyond your control as a player. What a player CAN control, is his or her REACTION to coming out of the game. Our 4 letter acronym is “ALPS.” (Not the Swiss or Austrian Alps, although there may be times when we might need a player to take a good hike on those Alps for some fresh air to clear their minds!!) Here is a breakdown of what “ALPS” is:

A – Accept. You can question, complain, pout, mope or anything else that conveys dissatisfaction but it changes nothing. The fact of the matter is, you are coming out of the game. The quicker you can accept your coach’s decision the quicker you will be able to transition into the next phase, which is…

LListen. There is probably a reason you came out. Listen. Listen with your eyes, your ears, and your body. Give full attention to whichever member of the coaching staff is talking with you. There could be a number of reasons for which you were substituted. Listen, and you will probably find out. (Time and space do not allow here but we have also provided our team, well before the season starts, with specific reasons for which you may come out of a game. Fatigue, fouls, ineffectiveness, poor effort being just a few of those reasons.) Be willing to take input from your coaches; this is another part of being coachable. Receiving this information in a positive manner will then allow you to…

P Prepare. Unless you have really lost your poise and composure, (Such as a technical foul or unsportsmanlike conduct.) more often than not you will have another opportunity to go back into the game. PREPARE for it! Get your mind right, THINK about what you need to do to help your team and PREPARE to deliver it. Your mindset and mental focus in competition is crucial to positive performance, so invest time to get “dialed in” and keep yourself razor sharp mentally to compete at your best. Take ownership of whatever feedback you’ve received, then prepare yourself to apply it when you go back in the game. Also, PREPARE yourself to give tremendous effort and provide positive energy to your team. And while you are preparing and still on the bench…

SSupport. SUPPORT your teammates. Cheer, encourage, build up, communicate key information and throw yourself mentally, verbally and somewhat physically (Please don’t go on the court!!) into supporting your team. Let there be NO DOUBT that you support the efforts and success of the team. This is a very defining time for you as a teammate and team player – are you more concerned with team success or individual success and playing time? We will find out in these moments. It will be evident for all to see. Remember, this game and the team is “not about me.” This I can tell you from personal experience as a head coach and working with some outstanding head coaches…if a coach even remotely senses selfish thinking or self-absorbed behavior on the bench, the likelihood of your playing time decreases drastically. You are hurting yourself if you mope, pout, make excuses or question coming out of a game. Big-time! Show who you are as a competitor and team player by fully supporting your team when you are on the bench. Anything less than that and, quite frankly, you will encourage questions about your commitment…from your coaches, teammates, support staff and anyone else who wants your team to win. You will EARN much greater respect from everyone, especially your coaches and teammates, when you display outstanding support for your team, especially when things may not be going great for you. That is a mark of a person with “Grade A character.”

Hopefully “ALPS” can help you and your team put aside personal agendas and “energy drains” and stay focused with ALL of your resources on the mission at hand…your TEAM playing its best with a chance to win the game!


Dean Lockwood is an Assistant Women’s Basketball Coach at Michigan State University. Prior to Michigan State Coach Lockwood had been a member of the Tennessee Lady Vols Coaching staff since 2004. He served under legendary coach Pat Summitt, then assisted Holly Warlick . During his tenure, Lockwood has helped Tennessee win 7 SEC Tournaments, 5 SEC regular season championships and NCAA Titles in 2007 and 2008.