Developing Your Game Model

By Randy Sherman

Develop a Game Model to help improve and clarify performance standards, strategy and tactics for your program. 

Understanding the game is fundamental for successful teams and coaches. It is assumed coaches understand the game, but can they articulate a model that players can comprehend? In better organizations, the players see the game the way the head coach sees the game. Is the coach’s model coherent and consistent through all phases of play? Does the coach consider how all phases of play impact one another? Do players know the unacceptable, acceptable and exceptional standards in all phases of play? Do players know the primary objective of each phase?

In our mentoring program for coaches (RAMP), we ask all coaches to create and apply a Game Model to help improve the performance, strategy and tactics of their teams and programs. This document then serves as a blueprint or manual for their teams and programs.

The Four Macro Moments 

Basketball is played in a cycle. Games are played in a never-ending loop and at any given point in the game your team is in one of four macro moments. It is important to have clear standards, strategies and tactics in each of these moments. What’s more important though, is that players know the moments and know those standards.


In the graphic above we see these macro moments. The Game Model asks that you organize and articulate your standards and tactics in each of these phases of play.  First, we must identify the primary aim of each of these phases.

  • Offense – The team has moved the ball into an area from which it can score. The primary intent is to score.
  • Transition Defense – Team has just scored or turned the ball over via a turnover or missed shot. The primary intent is to slow the advance of the ball so as to buy time to organize.
  • Defense – The primary intent is to prevent the offense from scoring. Prevent movement, disrupt the offense and regain possession of the ball.
  • Transition Offense – Primary intent is to move the ball quickly into scoring position.

Now that we have identified the four macro moments and their primary intents, it is time to dig deeper into each moment. What are we trying to accomplish in each moment?

Strategies and Tactics

There are multitudes of strategies and tactics a team can employ. But your team must know your own strategies and tactics in each game phase. Develop the Game Model to articulate these. Become a “four phase” team by making objectives and standards clear in each phase.


Above are three “micro principles” for each of the four macro moments of the game. In your Game Model, detail how you are going to carry out each of these principles in each of these moments. Get specific. This is the equivalent of creating your playbook. Evaluate what you are teaching in each of these phase against the principles listed above.

For example, in the Offense macro moment, what will be your construction? What alignment will you player from (four-out, five-out, Horns)?

How will you penetrate the defense? With the drive? With the pass?

What does our execution look like after penetration? Do we find a layup or an uncontested shot? Do the decisions we make after penetration reflect our standards of execution?

Repeat this process while organizing the strategies and tactics in the other phases. Use the micro principles as a guiding light for your strategies and tactics in each phase.

Next Steps

Take time in this preseason to create a Game Model for you program. I challenge you to think through each phase of the game and spell out exactly what you are teaching in the phases. Keep in mind basketball is like an ecosystem. Changes or neglect in one phase will have ripple effects in other phases. Create a seamless Game Model reflecting the interconnectedness of the game phases.

The Game Model, after it is created and implemented, can be an evaluative tool as well. When reviewing performances the Game Model gives you standards for each phase to evaluate against. For example, when reviewing film of an offensive possession you can ask yourself and your team:

  • Did we construct properly? Did we construct the alignment and spacing that maximizes our ability to use space and score?
  • Did we penetrate? Did we disorganize or collapse their defense? Did a second defender have to engage the ball?
  • Did we execute? Once we created an advantage did we find it? Did we use it? Or did we let it squander? Did we take a shot of desired quality?

Meeting all three of these principles would represent an ideal performance in that possession.

A coaching staff can repeat this process for each phase of play in every moment they occur in games. As a coaching tool, the Game Model gives you cues to relay to players in every moment of the game cycle.

The Game Model serves as a “charter” for your program. You can create alignment and an identity by referring to the Game Model. If you have a feeder program or multiple teams within your program, the Game Model can serve as a broad manual for the coaches who lead those teams. This is who we are and what we teach in each of these moments.

In the practice setting seek, design and implement more drills/games which envelop multiple macro moments. Too much of practice is spent solely in one or two of these moments. Pack the plan with drills/games that envelop all four. Get in the habit of coaching through the principles of each macro moment even in practice drills.

Bring the Game Model to life. Actually create a document that you can share with players, staff or anyone invested in the team or program.

Resources – Click links below for more information!

Inspiration for the Game Model comes from the book Game Changer by Fergus Connolly. Connolly details the common moments in invasion games such as basketball, lacrosse, rugby and formulates them into a Game Model.

Example of a Game Model from RAMP Gold Medal Member Coach Michael Lynch, Head Boys Basketball Coach at Leicester (MA) High School.

Notes from a Game Model based clinic delivered by Coach Tim Brady.

Continue the conversation:

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Randy Sherman is the owner and founder of Radius Athletics - a basketball coaching consulting firm - where he consults with basketball coaches at all levels on coaching philosophy, practice planning, Xs & Os and teaching a conceptual style of basketball. While a head basketball coach at the the interscholastic level, Sherman's teams won 197 games in nine seasons.
March 16, 2018 – San Antonio, TX, Estados Unidos – San Antonio Spurs head coach, Gregg Popovich (L), during an NBA basketball game against New Orleans Pelicans, during an NBA basketball game in San Antonio, USA, 15 March 2018. San Antonio won 98-93. (Credit Image: © Darren Abate/EFE via ZUMA Press)

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