Style of play
Some coaches are "go" coaches and like the fast-break, full-court press, gambling, trapping, and like the game to be a track meet. This style of play is ideal for a team with lots of quick, athletic players and a deep bench, allowing for lots of substituting. This style is often liked by players, parents and fans because it lets players "play the game" and more players get playing time, helping maintain team harmony.
Other coaches are "whoa" coaches who like a more deliberate, slower-paced game with little risk taking. This style favors a team with strong inside post players who are better in a half-court type of game, rather than a running game. Teams without quick, great ball-handling guards would do better with this style of play.
Teams with very little "bench depth" will be better off too since key players will be able to play more minutes in a slower paced game. Additionally, coaches may feel they have more control over a team that plays this style of game, with more control over each possession.
Flexibility is key here. Some years, you may have race horses and you can use the running game. Other years, you may have mules and bulls and will find the slower paced, inside power game better. Even if you are a coach that structures your entire program on one style of play, you may find that you will need to be flexible in some game situations.
For example, we like to press and run. But when we have a couple of our slower players in the game, we may have to drop the press in favor of good half-court defense.
Although our basic system may be the same from year to year, our play calling will change. Some years, we have a good post player and we will use plays designed to get the ball inside. Other years, our shooting guard or our point guard may be our best player. We will use plays designed to get our best shooters open shots.
Prepare your team
Preparing your team for a game is more important than any courtside game-coaching "wizardry". It's true that good coaching may help determine the outcome of a closely played game, but preparation is much more important. Preparation means teaching kids correct fundamentals and team skills.
Having great practices are key as you "play like you practice". If you play and compete hard in practice every day, it's more likely you will play that way in a game. So make your practices competitive and upbeat. Prepare a lesson plan for each practice, selecting those drills that will help your style of play and game plan.
Know your opponent through scouting, film, previous experience, and work on your game plan in practice... how you are going to stop them defensively, and what you can do offensively.
Foster a great work ethic
Once they lace up their shoes and walk onto the court, all of the day's problems and issues are put aside, and each player must focus on the job at hand. Each player owes it to the other players to practice and compete as hard as he/she can. Every player, coach, assistant, manager, etc has a job to do. Your star players and seniors should lead by example and work hardest of all, and set the tone for the entire team.
The coach must instill the concept of "team", rather than the individual. A cooperative team spirit must be cultivated both on and off the court. A team whose players come to understand that they are part of something more important and bigger than their individual considerations, and become unselfish in their thinking, will achieve more and will obtain more satisfaction from the overall experience.
A team must arrive at the notion of a singleness of purpose and a dedication to the course. The idea of "don't let your buddy down" is a good one.
Belief in the system
You must get everyone onboard and believe in your system and your style of basketball. Players and assistants must be totally dedicated and believe in what they are doing. Instruct, explain, diagram what you are trying to do. Players must be confident that (all other things being equal) if they practice hard, prepare, and play hard, they deserve to win, since the team that plays and practices hardest usually wins.
Set goals for your team, your program, and your individual players. Having fun should be right at the top of the list. Most players will never play college basketball. Even those who do, will often return several years later and say that playing high school basketball was the most fun they ever had, and this is one of the best compliments they can give you.
Team goals could vary from year to year. A team goal might be to win the state championship, or the conference title, or maybe to finish above 500 with a winning record. With a team lacking in talent or experience, it might be to just be a better team by the end of the season, in preparation for next year.
Individual player goals might be developing a post player's moves and strength, or a guard's dribbling, ball-handling, and shooting. But personal character goals are even more important... developing priorities, commitment, work ethic, trust, loyalty, etc.
"If you make every game a life-and-death thing, you're going to have problems. You'll be dead a lot." - Hall of Fame Coach Dean Smith
Players feel the pressure of having to win an important game. Rather than focusing on the "win", shift the focus to each player having fun and giving a "winning effort". If each player plays and competes as hard as he/she can, then the winning and losing is less worrisome. There is no shame in losing to a better opponent if you have played as hard as you can.
Winning effort also goes back to work ethic and competing as hard as you can in practice every day. Players make each other better by competing hard in practice. If your team does not compete hard in practice, it's unlikely that any pre-game motivational speech will get them to play any harder.
Further, we stress that "having fun" is competing as hard as you can... that the most enjoyment and satisfaction occurs when you have given all you can against a worthy opponent. A little goofing around and joking from time to time is fine, but the enjoyment it is not on same level as the fun obtained from competing hard.
Unfortunately, we all get caught up in wins and losses. Coaches are remembered for achieving milestones such as so many career wins and championships. It is true of course that good coaching, teaching fundamentals, developing your program, passion, dedication, hard work, etc will translate into more wins.
But not all coaches are blessed with talent every year. Recently, I witnessed an excellent coaching job done by a freshmen coach who took a bunch of inexperienced kids with poor fundamentals and no confidence, to become a winning team by season's end.
Overall they had lost more games than they won, but by the end of the season, they were beating teams that had easily defeated them earlier in the season. The season ended with the boys having a sense of pride and feeling good about themselves and eager for the next season. So you see that great coaching is not always accurately reflected by the won-loss record.
Better measures of success would be the fun your team and individual players had, and how well they learned, developed, improved, and matured to become better players, students and citizens.