Sports Based Youth Development: Sport System Re-Design

Posted by Maren Rojas on Apr 14, 2015 9:29:00 AM
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Every sport has certain truths we all accept. You can’t touch the ball with your hands in soccer. A touchdown is worth six points. You can’t walk (or run) with the ball in basketball. But what if these rules weren't fixed? When you were a kid, did you ever reinvent part of a game due to obstacles or necessity? Maybe the power lines on your street kept knocking down passes so you re-did the down. Maybe your mom told you that you had to let your little brother play with your friends, so you made him play offense the entire game (even if you were not going to pass to him).

That enterprising little you was participating in Sports System Redesign (SSrD), taking what we know to be true about sports (baseball is played with nine players on each team) and questioning those assumptions (What if the teams had twelve players each? What if there were three teams?).

Your mother’s insisting your brother play forced you to change your game. While you had to be creative with a new, unexpected player, your brother got a chance to get outside, play, and hopefully learn from some older kids. Your mom, with you as her unwitting collaborator, introduced an element to your game to achieve a desired outcome. And it worked — your brother got to play and you had to be creative.

For the past several years, the team at Edgework Consulting has collaborated with Boston University’s Institute for Athletic Coach Education and Up2Us to study the concept of SSrD and youth sports on a broader scale. How can we take these sports we know and love and tweak them for certain outcomes? Is there a way to make baseball more active? Basketball more inclusive? Soccer more rewarding of fair play? If you stripped these sports down to their core and rebuilt them with one of these outcomes in mind, how would you do it?

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Change the Game

In April 2012, the trifecta joined forces to present the first annual "Change the Game" conference in Boston which introduced Sports System Redesign as a new model for youth sports coaches and administrators to address issues they’ve been finding — and affect change. Subsequent events were held in Los Angeles and New York City in the years following.

Historically, practitioners in the field have looked to coach education and/or curriculum to change the dynamics of youth sports. While there is a lot of value in these practices, we believe Sport System Redesign is just as important a factor and can be a catalyst for real change. Change the Game is an opportunity to discuss this approach and proffer ideas on how to make that change happen. When considering SSrD there are five different domains of the sport system we look at:

  1. Playing space — the field, court, pitch
  2. Equipment — helmets, gloves, the ball
  3. Rules of the game — offsides, handballs, strikes zones
  4. Roles of the referee/coach/supporters — what are each of their roles? What are their responsibilities?
  5. Structure of the game or league — what does “winning” really mean?

By reimagining any of these elements, practitioners can create a formula to achieve a specific outcome. If you want to get scoring up in ice hockey, for example, you might consider making the net bigger — or even go as far as getting rid of the goalie.

As we dive more into SSrD we’ll share some of our findings from the Change the Game events and some of the changes that leaders in in the field are instituting — from small sided basketball games to good sportsmanship helping soccer teams to victory.

Have you had any experience with SSrD? What sports, or parts of sports do you feel could be redesigned and for which outcomes?  

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This is part of Edgework Consulting’s Sports Based Youth Development series. Each Sports Based Youth Development post is designed to enlighten and inspire new thoughts in the youth sports world. For more entries in the series click here.

Topics: Sport Based Youth Development, Sports