It is tough to win on the road…PERIOD. It doesn’t matter what level you play at, it doesn’t matter what state, what country, IT JUST IS. Sometimes you forget how hard it is. Growing up, half of us don’t even have a “home” gym, we play in AAU tournaments, at the YMCA, at the elementary school, the grade school, the high school, outdoor courts, and anywhere we can get a game! You would think we would be able to adapt to play anywhere. These are all true, but there are a few things you need to think about.
You develop a home
Sure we play all over when we are young, but we do develop a home, and a comfort zone. You know how long it takes to get to the gym where you practice; you know the backboards, the shooting background, the lighting, and the bounce of the floor. You develop this familiarity with any team you play on. You get comfortable with where you practice and play.
Step out of the comfort zone
Sure the court is different in a new spot, but there are a lot of other things that are different when you play on the road. There is travel time. You have to take a car, van, bus, or plane to get to your game. You don’t normally have to do this, and you aren’t used to having to do it. Some people aren’t used to changes or different circumstances and they waste energy traveling. You also eat different food. You might have to eat at a place you haven’t eaten before, or eat a food you aren’t used to, or at a time you don’t normally eat. You might even be sleeping in a different bed, going to sleep at a different time, and waking up at a different time. There are also a number of other thoughts going on; did I pack all my stuff, did I bring extra socks, will they have a good trainer’s room?
The crowd is against you. They are going to yell at you, and maybe even insult you! You may have less room when you take the ball out of bounds, and they are often right on top of you when you are on the bench. The crowd often has the ability to get you excited when you should be focused, and to frustrate you if things aren’t going well.
Don’t expect to get the calls when you are on the road. It is just a fact of basketball life; you get bad calls on the road. You won’t get as many free throws, you might not get the toss up call, and don’t expect little fouls like moving screens.
The other team
You have all these obstacles, and the other team is in their comfort zone! They are in their element! They have the advantage.
But don’t worry…
All is not lost!
Here is a quick guide for surviving on the road:
The world is your basketball court. Mix it up sometimes! In the off-season (and even in-season), practice at a different gym, practice outside, dribble in your basement, shoot around at your house…anything & anywhere! Get used to different surfaces, different shooting backgrounds, using different basketballs, different lighting…always be ready for anything! If you practice on courts that aren’t perfect and ideal…you will be ready for new challenges.
Stay calm and carry on
During travel, do not get too excited. Just try to relax, enjoy the bus ride or the plane ride. Try reading a book or listening to some more calm music. There is definitely a place for music to get hyped…but save it for closer to game time. If you are staying overnight, try to get to bed at your normal time, try to eat your normal food. Sometimes as a high school or college kid, it’s easy to get excited about menu options when you are eating on the road…but try to stick to what you are used to…and if you can’t get something you are used to, don’t sweat it!
Laser focused – you and your team against the world
You have to look at the game like it is just you guys against the world. Like every single person in the gym is against you. You have to have each other’s backs, talk to each other, look out for each other…before, during, and after the game. Help rookie players learn the ropes on the road, don’t walk alone anywhere. It is a team game. To win on the road, you have to do it as a team. Make eye contact with each other, no negative body language, no slouching…all business. You can’t worry about the crowd, the other team, your fans, who is in the audience…nothing except your teammates and your coach, block out everything else. If someone on your team falls down, 4 other guys should be sprinting to him to help him up.
I just mentioned this, but I’m going to say it again because it is that important. Talk to your teammates. At every instant you should be letting your teammates know what is going on, where you are, and communicating. “Help left!” “Screen coming, on your left!”, “I’m fronting”, “I got shooter” “kick”, “extra”…always talking always communicating. Yell out play calls, then every player should echo them. Not only is this great for communication, but this is intimidating to the other team.
Don’t expect a foul
As was mentioned above, you are not going to get bailed out by the refs. You better plan on powering up to finish that lay-up or dunk, because you are not getting an easy trip to the line. You better find a way over or under that screen, because they aren’t getting called for a moving screen. You better hold that box out then go get that ball and be strong with it, because they are coming, and they aren’t getting called for a reach in. Dive on the floor for the ball, fight over screens, move your feet and get in front of someone!
Get even closer when times get tough
When it gets tough out there, if you are down, or getting bad calls, this is when you need to stick together. At every dead ball you should be sprinting together to huddle and talk strategy, make sure everyone is matched up, or know what you are running offensively. Stay positive, and try to get it back one point at a time.