The Four Primary Game Flow Phases

Posted on June 12, 2021. Thoroughly revised on June 13, 2021.

Often it is it claimed that there are four game flow phases:

  • Set defense
  • Transition offense
  • Set offense
  • Transition defense

This categorisation is illogical regarding the hierarchy of the game flow phases. The four phases obviously do not belong to the top level of the hierarchy.

This is made clear by the terms alone. Transition offense and set offense are subphases of offense. Parallelly, transition defense and set defense are subphases of defense.

This would leave us with offense and defense as the two primary game flow phases: alone at the very top of the hierarchy.

Yet this is not the case either. This would leave out something crucial.

That is because in basketball a team is sometimes neither on defense nor on offense. There are frequent short phases when the ball is loose. These loose ball phases typically take place in rebounding situations but are not limited to them.

Whichever team gets the loose ball, gets the next offensive possession. This makes loose balls crucial regarding the outcome of the game.

Thus the four primary game flow phases are:

  • Defense
  • Defensive loose ball
  • Offense
  • Offensive loose ball

The flow chart looks like this:

The way a coach sees the game flow phases affects her coaching. So, the discussion here is not just theoretical but also very practical.

Establishing loose ball phases as primary game flow phases emphasises their importance. It becomes obvious that since rebounds and other loose balls phases happen quickly, per second they’re the most important moments of the game.

Realising this, a coach may put more emphasis on loose ball phases while training. For example, when playing small-sided games in practice the coach may no longer stop the play after the first shot but rather let the play continue into the loose ball phase and beyond.

Also, the flow chart makes it apparent that during loose ball phases teams should not only go after the ball but also get organised for a next phase. The teams must be ready whether the games flows into an offensive phase or a defensive one.

From this viewpoint it becomes important to consider synergy when planning and practicing your offense and defense. They need to fit each other.

For example, different offensive systems provide different starting positions for offensive rebounding, for getting back and for attacking off an offensive rebound. Thus, your offensive phase affects your offensive loose ball phase. Which in turn affects your defensive or offensive phase. And so on, indefinitely.

Also importantly, the flow chart presented lowers the status of the set and transition phases of offense and defense. They are no longer primary game flow phases.

This is important, too. When planning and practicing, you shouldn’t starkly separate different phases of your offense or your defense. They’re all interwoven and should be treated as such.

Click here for a blog on the subphases of offensive and defensive phases.

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