TEAM TUESDAY – So here is one of the big questions in contact youth sports: Can you turn passive into aggressive? Can you take kids who won’t go into contact and sell them on it? How many kids see a loose ball and pounce on it without any hesitation versus those who look at it, and scratch their head with too much rational thought?
Does birth order matter? Just when I think it does most of the time with the oldest being the softest, there’s an exception. And what about the relationship between socioeconomic status and demographic with aggression levels?
Let’s first establish signs that put kids in the aggressive vs. not aggressive/sort-of-aggressive/mostly passive/totally passive category.
Aggressive: They hunt down every loose ball, scoop it up with strong, aggressive hands or they jump or dive on it without hesitation.
Passive: On loose balls, they’re there or sort of there, but they’ll never even think of pouncing. (We do diving drills in practice just so it’s not new to them if the thought crosses their minds while I am dropping a very loud hint: “Get on the floor.”)
Aggressive: They get bumped while dribbling the ball, they hang on to the ball, maintain control of it, and actually get a ticked off, which only motivates them further.
Passive: They get bumped while handling, they weaken instantly, they turn it over quickly, and feel intimidated, scared or unable to complete the task.
Aggressive: They continue to get bumped after being fouled, yet they lean into the defender, get position and control and/or cut off the contact.
Passive: They veer away from the contact on all drives and fade away from the basket and defender when they shoot.
Aggressive: They chase down rebounds even after horrible shots, they keep hunting down the ball with at least two teammates along with them every shot up.
Passive: Watchers who don’t crash, and don’t exactly get back on D either.
Out of 10 non-aggressive kids, let’s say in grade 5 or 6 – how many of them will stay the same through grade 12? How many will change in time as their body fills in (if it does)?
It’s honestly very tough to sell a skinny frame on the contact piece. I was a stocky kid who fought with my younger brother all the time growing up. I played against and with my older brother and all of his friends. Telling a skinny kid to go into contact defies the laws of common sense. “Go at a player twice your size and strength.” Yeah, sure, Coach. But then why did I see little kids – girls and boys – taking the ball from bigger, stronger and more athletic kids this weekend? They don’t necessarily have to crash into everyone – but they can find a way to do damage by having a good nose for the ball.
Steph Curry isn’t crashing into people all the time, but is he tough? Is he aggressive? Yes. All the way. He will find his way to the ball. He will step up when his teammates need it and not shy away. So how many out of 10 can change from age 12 to age 16-18 years old when they’re on the floor for their varsity team?
And second, speaking directly to the elephant in the gyms on the upper east and west side of Manhattan, can you teach rich kids with good lives that that loose ball and that game means everything? Can you teach rich kids to want that ball so badly that there’s nothing more important in the world than getting it at that moment? Do we have to go back to the football pads, boxing gloves and foam paddles and smack them all practice until they see it as the norm? More Steal the Bacon on every play? Points and prizes for toughest players who don’t ever back down or let up?
Coach Andy and I have identified the problem. Now we’re working on solutions that get more of our kids wanting contact and attacking the boards as a normal response, not an exception. We know that it’s typically a “majority wins” battle in that if most of the team is aggressive, it will help convince the passive ones to put on their toughness suits. We also want to be realistic in our expectations. That’s why realistic numbers help. All comments and anecdotes are welcome – from individual success stories that surprised coaches to team success stories on how aggression can be taught even if chances are it’s not going to work. Or maybe we just have to get out there and find more aggressive players.