As a father of 2 elementary school boys, I’m at my share of team sports games, especially basketball games. And as someone who has coached basketball at a competitive (but amateur) level, I enjoy talking to the coaches of my kid’s teams. What I’ve heard consistently is how the coaches feel the game should be fun, and how it’s more about the experience than winning or losing. But what I’ve experienced consistently is that when the games start, that philosophy gets thrown out the window.
At an early level, sports team’s coaches shouldn’t really care too much about the scoreboard. Their job is to make sure the kids have a fun learning experience so that they come back next season to play. That doesn’t mean that game scores shouldn’t be kept, I believe that it’s good to keep score and that there should be a winner and loser, but at an early age it’s more important to grow the players.
What usually happens on teams at such a young age is that there is at least one player that is heads and tails above the rest. And this player is going to be the primary reason why the team will be competitive at games. At this point the coach has a decision to make, use this dominant kid to score all the points, or train him or her to use their skills to get the others involved.
When there’s no score and it is practice time, a coach’s decision is pretty easy. There’s no game pressure, no screaming parents, no winner and loser. And all of the coaches have told me they believe in team ball. But once the game starts, a different story plays out.
You can beat a bad team if you have one good player that is simply just much better than everyone. But you can’t beat a team with average players if they all play together. And kids, like adults, get frustrated when they’re losing. And when they get frustrated, they get selfish. As a coach, if you don’t take control of the team and enforce teamwork, it’ll never happen. Players know when you say one thing but mean another.
I’ll never forget those conversations after a game is done where the coach will tell me that my kid played well, but he hardly got the ball. My son has asked me why he doesn’t get the ball when he’s been told he’s played good defense and passed well. As someone who has coached teams, I will never undermine my kid’s coach, so I just tell him that there are other ways to have an effect on the game. And then I do practice with both of my kids at home.
If you’re coaching an elementary school basketball game and look to rack up the points, are you really there for the kids benefit or for your own?
My kids are fortunate to have parents that take an involved interest in their sports development. I am in no way under the delusion that either of them will be professional sports athletes, but we do want them to be the best that they can be in whatever sport they choose to play. But my point in saying this is that I know that there are parents that cannot be as involved in their kids sports as they’d like. And so it’s really on the coaches to develop the kids as best as they can. And that means it might be the difference between winning and losing a game.
Before this season my son had a coach that encouraged the best player to get others involved, and while it might have been a frustrating experience at first for that player, the game results were proof that the strategy worked. Other players that were not as talented were able to step up in games and score points and help win games against better, balanced teams. And in the end, each kid got better.
To put this in context as a corporate professional employee, a good manager works to get their team in a position to best accomplish the team’s goals. Relying on one employee heavily over the others will let you achieve the small, immediate goals, but it won’t work for larger, bigger projects. Every team member must carry their weight, and if they cannot, the manager needs to be able to get them to a place where they can.
Develop teams of players and they will be back to play or work for you. Constantly rely on only one, and eventually you’ll be left alone.