Most local basketball coaches agree that playing home games is preferable to road games, but it’s unclear how significant that advantage is.
Hillsboro High School boys coach Darrel Knoll says crowd noise at key times can give a team an extra boost. Playing games in familiar surroundings is helpful, according to girls coach Nathan Hiebert, but he says, “I think some schools have a better home-court advantage than others.”
“It’s always nice to be in front of the home crowd,” Knoll said, “But how much of an advantage it is varies from team to team. That being said, I do enjoy playing in front of the home crowd.”
Hiebert said, “How emotional a team plays will affect if home-court advantage is important or not.”
Tabor College Vice President of Athletics Rusty Allen, a former high school boys’ coach and college women’s basketball coach, says he found the better his team, the more significant the home-court advantage.
“If you look closely at the details of when I had my best teams at Tabor, you will notice a huge home-court success rate,” Allen said. “However, you will also notice that we had a fair amount of success on the road. The bottom line is teams who know how to win tend to take whatever circumstance they find themselves and adapt it into a competitive advantage.”
Tabor women’s coach Shawn Winter observes that it’s easy finding advantages of playing at home and says, “I can’t think of any disadvantages to playing at home.”
Tabor men’s coach Micah Ratzlaff says the home-court advantage is greater with an experienced team, “but you still have to have players to get the job done. I have noticed that with an inexperienced team, playing at home can often be too much pressure and at times hard to calm the nerves.
“With an experienced team, there is nothing better than someone coming to your house. There seems to be more of a responsibility to take care of business at home because of the community and fan support. They are able to turn the nervousness and pressure into motivation to get the job done and perform at a high level,” Ratzlaff said.
Opinions varied as to the effect the home crowd and home court have on officials.
Knoll said, “I don’t know that it matters. For the most part, officiating crews operate the same way, no matter where they are officiating.”
Hiebert says some officials may be affected, but generally, he hasn’t seen a huge difference in how the game is called.
It depends on the quality of the team playing at home, according to Allen.
“The better the team, the larger the support at home games, which creates pressure,” he said. “I’m not necessarily saying that means officials show some kind of favoritism, just that some officials handle pressure better than others.”
Winter believes experienced officials do not allow for an advantage for either team based on where the game is played.
He said, “There may be times when younger, inexperienced officials have a tendency to be swayed by the emotion of the home-court environment.”
Ratzlaff said, “I don’t really have a response with the officials, because I have seen everything happen at home as well as on the road.”
For all of the pluses of playing at home, it’s important to learn to play well on the road.
As Knoll said, “Sub-state is almost always on the road and the state tournament always is. Getting tough on the road will help in the long run.”
Allen says there’s less pressure playing on the road and teams have the opportunity to grow in their trust and dependence on each other.
According to Hiebert, “Great teams know how to win away from home.”
Thanks to all of the coaches for sharing their thoughts on this topic. It’s probably fair to say that it’s hard to quantify how great the advantage is.
Generally, the better team will win most of the time, whether it’s at home or on the road.
But as we all know, the most-talented team doesn’t always win. That’s why we play the game.