Monday, October 28, 2013

Advantage/Disadvantage (Part 1)

   Here's another excerpt from my new book, The Young Athlete's Guide to Playing Sports. This topic is from chapter 4, Principles of Play. It discusses advantage/disadvantage situations that a player encounters during games along with related tactics.


Most patterns of play in sports involve two opponents (individual or team) that initially have no advantage. But inevitably, of course, one side gains an advantage and the other is placed at a disadvantage. Sometimes this results from individual match-ups in which one player or team begins to physically dominate the other. At other times, an advantage is gained by executing certain tactics (offensive play, defensive scheme, etc.).

Throughout this book we touch on ways in which you can both take advantage of and counter physical mismatches. Let’s now look at advantage/disadvantage situations from the perspective of tactics.

Besides understanding the general patterns of play that will gain you or your team an advantage, you also need to learn the tactics to use when you are at a disadvantage. You need to know both how to defend your weakened tactical position and, ideally, how to regain a position of either neutrality or advantage.

Positional tactics

During the course of play, teams and players are constantly jockeying positions, each trying to gain the high ground—the position in which they have the best chance to dominate the opposition. A “big man” in basketball tries to post-up his defender on the block. A tennis doubles team wants to be at the net. Hockey and soccer teams try to play in their opponents “end.” A defensive end in football, tries to get the “edge” when speed rushing. And of course, each opponent in the above examples is trying to prevent the other side from gaining a dominant position.

Consider a baseline rally between two tennis players (see diagram). At the outset, each player is located in the middle of the court. Neither has an advantage over the other. But as the rally continues, one player (X2) starts to control the play, hitting return shots at sharper angles, moving the other player (X1) farther to one side of the court. Through the use of a well-executed sequence of shots, advantage has swung toward X2.

On the defensive, and out of position, X1 knows that X2 will eventually try to hit a winner to the opposite side of the court. X1 needs to understand the possible shots (e.g., deep, elevated, slightly cross-court shot with less pace) that can defuse the inevitable winner before play gets to that point. And if X2 does attempt to hit a winner, X1 also needs to know how best to return the ball (e.g., defensive lob) should it be reached.

Positional tactics are of course specific to each sport. Just as the tennis players in the above example need to know how to both move their opponent around and recover when out of position, a wrestler needs to understand how to gain position and counter his opponent’s moves to do the same. Besides learning the skills associated with your sport(s), you must also learn its positional tactics.

[Part 2 of this topic will discuss advantage/disadvantage situations related to number mismatches and quick transitions of player and ball movement.]

Copyright © 2013 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book: The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the Best Youth Sports Experience for Your Child

($8.95; Kindle: $2.99)


Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Player Nobody Wants

   Here's another excerpt from my new book, The Young Athlete's Guide to Playing Sports. This topic is from chapter 3, A Primer on Pickup Games, and discusses behaviors when playing pickup that lead to either acceptance or rejection.

The Player Nobody Wants

In pickup games everyone likes to get chosen early, preferably first or second. But within any group of players, there will always be less skilled players who are the last ones chosen. Sometimes even a talented player (the selfish one that hogs the ball, takes far too many shots, and makes the game less enjoyable for his teammates) is a lower pick.

It takes a special type of player, however, to get branded as the worst player—the one that elicits a collective groan from everyone each time that person shows up to play. But before you jump to any conclusions, it’s not necessarily the least-skilled player.

To help illustrate the fatal flaw that leads to a player’s downfall, let’s have some fun with a fictional character named Joe. We’ll pretend that he is the worst player and look at how his behavior affects the other players’ view of him. You can plug in the sport of your choice.

Our imaginary scenario begins with Joe arriving to play in a pickup game. He’s played with this group before and they know who he is. A few players greet him, but most just ignore him. Teams are picked and he’s the last player chosen. He can’t understand why. In his mind, his abilities are equal to, or exceed, those of some other players. The game begins. Part of him realizes that some of his teammates are better, but he also feels that he has the “right” to touch the ball as much as anyone else. Why should they have all the fun? So when his team is on offense, and the ball comes his way, he proceeds to “do his thing.” He may be aware (but probably not) that his teammates are grumbling about his play. The game ends. His team loses. He tried hard and gave it his best effort. He can’t understand why his teammates are ignoring him.

Most likely, you can see what Joe can’t. That his view of playing sports revolves around himself instead of his team. That he believes he is entitled to do what everyone else on the team does, regardless of whether he has the ability to succeed. That he doesn't understand the important concept of playing a role in team sports. And finally, that his play directly affects the fortune of other players on the team.

The key to acceptance

It’s essential for you to understand that a single player in most team sports has the power to disrupt a team’s effectiveness and opportunity to win. Since most players like to win (especially when a win means “staying on” for the next game), they will avoid any such individual.

The key to acceptance by others in a team game is to have an accurate understanding of both one’s ability and the corresponding team role(s) that best match your skills and talent. Grasp these two points, realistically shape your game to accentuate strengths and diminish weaknesses, and you will always have value to other players. Even if your ability is limited, your teammates know that you understand your limitations, will “play within yourself,” and can look past your personal needs to help the team maximize its opportunity to win. If you demonstrate this quality, other players will respect you.

If you sense other players avoiding you, choosing you last in pickup games, or not passing to you when you’re open, it’s time to realistically examine your game. Are you hogging the ball, taking too many shots, or attempting plays that are beyond your skill level? How many errors and turnovers occur when the ball is in your hands? Ask your friends for their thoughts and advice. Although it may be hard for you to do, try to see beyond your ego.
Players who think they are better than they actually are—and refuse to play a role that fits their abilities—will continually fail. They will fail to make necessary plays while also committing errors that pull their team down. If you engage in this behavior, consciously or not, other players will avoid playing with you. Should you continue to demonstrate this fatal flaw of judgment or character, others will unfortunately brand you as—the worst player.

While the above example describes a pickup game, the same principle applies to organized sports. Although your teammates may not control your playing time, they will resent your style of play, ignore you, or may even make fun of you. The team’s coach will either minimize your playing time or (in the case of competitive programs) cut you from the team.

If your ability and skills are, or become, superior to other players, your team role will inevitably and naturally grow. Don’t try to force this process; don’t try to be something you’re not. Know yourself, know your team, and know your role.

When in doubt, stick to the basics and help your teammates succeed. In basketball, for example, you might concentrate on making good passes, playing solid defense, and setting screens to free other players. By taking this approach, you will quickly find acceptance (and gain confidence).

Copyright © 2013 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book: The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the Best Youth Sports Experience for Your Child

($8.95; Kindle: $2.99)