Competitiveness is one of the areas that many youth basketball players (and their coaches) struggle with on a daily basis. Do players fight for every loose ball or rebound? Are they willing to get after it on defense and take pride in shutting down their man? Do players want to win the one on one battles that determine the outcome of so many games? Too many coaches I talk to say the answer is no. They believe players today just aren’t as competitive as players in the past. I would tend to agree as I’ve observed this on both teams that I have coached and in my work with players as a skills trainer. How do we develop that determination to win? What can be done to help improve the competitiveness of today’s young players? I have a couple of suggestions that can help coaches improve the competitiveness of their players.
Make sure that your players compete every single day in practice by keeping score. If there is a way to make a “drill” into a “game” try to do it. Don’t just have your players shoot layups, put them on two teams and see which team can make more layups in a minute. Don’t just do a shooting drill, set a goal so the team has to make a certain number of shots in a certain amount of time. Play short squad games like 1 on 1, 2 on 2, 3 on 3, etc. but make sure you are keeping score. In my experience, I have found that competitive kids always know the score. My youngest daughterplayed smurf soccer where no official score is kept, but every time a goal was scored she told her coach or her teammates what the score was. She competed hard for the ball during the game and wanted to win. Some kids have that naturally, others don’t. By keeping score during practice coaches can help all kids become more competitive in the moment. Coaching still requires teaching a skill first before you can get competitive, but once the skill has been taught your creativity as a coach can create competitive drills/games that will develop competitiveness in your players. If your players are never trying to “win” in practice, how will they learn what it takes to win a real game?
The second way to increase the competitiveness of your players is to put your players through drills or “games” that require contact and physical play. By creating games that require players to make physical contact (think rebounding or a drill where the offense can’t dribble allowing the defense to get right up on their man) coaches can put players in position where they have to play physical to be successful. Physical play tends to bring out the competitive spirit in most players. If you’re getting bumped and pushed around you’ll tend to play harder while bumping and pushing back. Remember that playing “physical” is not shoving other players in the back, tripping them, or taking cheap shots. It just means putting players in situations where physical contact is created and required for success in the drill/game. Doing this helps players become more comfortable with the contact that occurs during a real game.
In each and every practice, find ways to get your players to compete with each other and play physical. It will undoubtedly translate to success in games.