So often we look at an issue in our sports based youth development programs and think we need to add something or dedicate more resources to fix it. But sometimes the best, most productive thing we can do is simply change the game itself. As I discussed in this earlier post, there are five different domains of the sport system that can be reimagined for specific outcomes:
- Playing space
- Rules of the game
- Roles of the referee/coach/supporters
- Structure of the game or league
Let's now look at Brian McCormick, founder of Playmakers Basketball Development League, and Lawrence Cann, founder of Street Soccer USA (SSUSA) as two shining examples of how Sports System re-Design (SSrD) can have huge, positive effects on the outcomes for the participants.
Brian McCormick and Playmakers Basketball Development League
Brian McCormick observed some issues while watching a boys’ basketball league he ran. Coaches, who were normally well intentioned, were behaving poorly when it came to game time. In the heat of competition the coaches’ desire to win was getting the best of them, and their actions were not in line with the player development goals of the program. Brian felt coaches egos were getting in the way, and that players were not getting enough chances with the ball.
Brian decided to look at his league from the ground up – considering the players, the budget, and the goals of the program. He wanted Playmakers Basketball Development League to be a positive organization where kids developed basketball skills, and could benefit from the skills that each coach could bring to the league. Brian turned to a redesign of the game itself to try to achieve his desired outcomes. He made his basketball league a half court 3v3 format, with four players per team and mandatory rotating substitutions, resulting in more touches on the ball. He redesigned the league so a coach would no longer coach a team, but instead be in charge of a basket where he or she was responsible for coaching both teams. Last, he eliminated the referee and handed that role over to the kids to make calls.
The changes worked. Because the coaches were now coaching both teams – a role change – they worried less about winning and losing, and they coached all the players instead of just a few stars. Making the game half court – a playing area change – allowed players to develop technical skills faster because they dribbled, passed, and shot more often. Small teams with mandatory substitutions promoted skill building for everyone. And having the players self-referee – another role change – gave the players more ownership over the game.
Lawrence Cann and Street Soccer USA
Street Soccer USA serves urban and special needs populations — often homeless adults and youths — using sport for personal transformation and social change. While sports have a long history of creating punishments for negative behaviors delivered by referees, judges and umpires — technical fouls in basketball, the penalty box in hockey — Lawrence and his team at SSUSA wondered “What if we could use the mechanism of delivery - the referee - to encourage good sportsmanship?” And so they added the green card. Unlike soccer’s yellow and red cards given for rules infractions, the green card is awarded at the referee’s discretion to recognize fair play and sportsmanship, reinforcing the values of SSUSA. When it was first introduced, the idea was for the card to be given to the team at the end of the tournament who demonstrated the most pro-social behavior throughout the tournament. But, almost immediately, the referees began to give them out during the game for positive behavior in the moment. Now, the team with most green cards at the end of a match wins in the case of a tied score. By creating the green cards SSUSA has successfully used a SSrD to encourage positive behavior from players on the pitch.
While the changes for the sports in both programs were small, the effects were huge. When we look at sports based youth development, it’s important to keep in mind our intent and outcomes. What is the purpose of our program? Both McCormick and Cann found that small changes through SSrD could make their programs better for everyone. They recognized where their programs were, envisioned where they wanted them to go, and redesigned their sports based youth development programs to get there.
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.