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)

Copyright 2009-2012 Jeffrey S. Rhoads; All Rights Reserved


Unknown said...

As a coach, it's important to find that role for those "last picks." The challenge is getting them to accept those roles. With youth baseball and softball, I make every effort to praise doing the "little things" correctly. When our left fielder backs up third base when there's a runner on second or third, I make a conscious effort to let them know it's appreciated -- especially if they field a ball in that situation. Every kid can contribute in some way. But, you're right. They have to understand that role and accept it. If they do, then their teammates will go from grumbling to cheering them on.

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