Friday, November 9, 2012

The Evils of Competition

One of my good friends from college, Ned, was a high school basketball coach before he wised up and became my insurance man.  But back in the day, when he was not only a coach but also an A.D., a gym floor mopper, and a P.E. teacher, he loved letting his students break the gym class monotony by playing an occasional game of dodgeball. 

Now I know there are all kinds of arguments against using dodgeball in a P.E. curriculum.  I've had those discussions with my principal, and later with my department chair at ONU.  Suffice it to say that despite what the adults claim, kids love to play dodgeball because they love to compete, and they enjoy that slight element of danger that comes from possibly being hit in the head. 

Recognizing this love of dodgeball as a Universal Truth, Ned figured he could get by with keeping the game in his curriculum, so long as he added a simple rule:  any time a player got hit in the head, every one of his teammates who were already "out" could reenter the game. 

This worked fine until the day one team got down to their last man, at which time all of his "out" teammates began chanting in unison to the opposing team, "Hit him in the head!  Hit him in the head!"

This was an unfortunate moment for the principal to drop by for his routine, unannounced teacher evaluation.  But, being a wise principal, he said to Ned, "This doesn't look like a good time... perhaps I can come back tomorrow."

Regardless of the naysayers, I stand by my earlier statement:  Kids love to compete!

Now, hold that thought.  This afternoon, we finished our fourth week of practice with a review of our early and middle break.  As you may recall, we define "early break" as any shot that results from a pass outside the arc.  (Examples: 1-2, 1-3, 1-4).  "Middle break"options take slightly longer to unfold: shots that result from a pass from inside the arc.  These options include a pitch to a ballside wing player, a bounce pass from PG to the low post on the opposite block, a "drag" pass from PG over the top to a weakside wing, and the "Trail" pass behind the PG.

In order to polish the early break, we use one of Paul Westhead's drills called "2 1/2 Cycles."  Here's how it works:
  • Have a coach toss the ball off the boards.  5 rebounds and outlets to 1, while 2, 3, and 4 sprint the floor.  1 pushes the ball downcourt, does a stutter dribble at the arc, and explodes to the rim for a layup
  • 5, having sprinted the floor, takes the ball out of the net, steps over the endline and inbounds to 1, as 2, 3, and 4 criss-cross and again sprint the floor to the other end.  Our second option has 1 passing ahead to 2 spotted up at the right fade for a 3-point shot.
  • Make or miss, 5 outlets (or inbounds) to 1, who passes ahead 1-4 for the layup.
  • Then next trip has 1 pushing hard to half-court, then dribbling across the floor towards our 3-guard, who is spotted up on the left fade for a 3-point shot.
  • On the last trip, we have 1 driving all the way into the lane, where she pivots and passes back to 5 for our "Trail" option.

Sounds hard, right?  It is.  Very hard.  But it's amazing how, with the addition of a clock and a scoreboard, we can take a really hard drill and transform it into a really fun drill!  Here's how...

With college women, we find that with practice this drill can be completed in about 30-33 seconds.  We start the clock the moment the rebounder gets the ball off the glass, and stop the clock as the Trail releases her 3-point shot on the last option.  You should note that it is possible in this drill to score up to 13 points (two layups, by 1 and 4, and three treys, by 2, 3, and 5).

Anyway, to motivate players we set the shot clock to 35 seconds (or use a stopwatach), and keep track of points on the scoreboard.  If a team makes every shot (13 points), and completes the drill in just 31 seconds, we would give them 4 bonus points (35 minus 31), for a total score of 17.  Another team might make 8 points, and finish in 34 seconds, which would give them a total score of 9 points. 

If we have 3 units competing against each other, we could play 3-4 rounds each, and see which group can accumulate the most points.  Or, to get a snapshot of our entire team's progress, we could see how many total points we can accumulate in, say, 10 rounds. 

There are all kinds of ways to use the clock, and to keep score, to build the element of competition into your System practices.   So don't listen to the Dodgeball Haters of the world who try to tell you that competition is the devil... they're wrong.

Competition is a good thing, as long as you don't get hit in the head.


  1. System ball has actually freed our team to compete in a more constructive way. I think Dorrance is right on for collegiate women's athletics, but I am not sure it translates as well to the high school level. Most of my athletes join the team to be on a team with their friends and to have fun learning a little bit of basketball.

    With conventional basketball, our girls felt that one on one situations were all about the coaches being able to pick favorites, and then the favorites were going to get the most game PT. However, with the system, all the girls know they have a role in the game and that they are going to see the court significantly. Therefore, they view small competitions as better game preparation and not so much as head-to-head for coach's attention. I expect to see that our younger players will gain confidence much faster than they have in the past because of this paradigm shift.

    1. Good point, Ryan! Since everyone will play anyway, 1 on 1 competition is not so much for separating winners and losers and evaluating talent. Rather it's just another tool for developing skills, aggressiveness, and competitive instinct.