Re-Designing the Sports Experience

This weekend marked the first Change the Game conference sponsored by Boston University’s School of Education, Edgework Consulting, and Up2Us Sports. The idea behind the conference was to examine Sports System re-Design (SSrD).

There are three primary ways to affect change and achieve desired outcomes within a sports organization: coach education, curriculum, and changing the game. Everyone changes the game without realizing it. Youth basketball leagues prevent zone defenses or prevent full-court presses; these are ways that leagues re-design the game to create desired outcomes. Softball instituted the 10-run rule, baseball uses a tee, volleyball invented the libero: these are all re-designs of the game to achieve desired outcomes.

Sports System re-Design is redesigning the sport experience to get a desired outcome. I was honored to be a mentor at the event due to my experience founding the Playmakers Basketball Development League. The PBDL incorporated the basic ideas of SSrD to achieve several desired outcomes:

  1. Coach cooperation
  2. Emphasis on skill development, not winning
  3. Increased opportunities to perform skills
  4. Exposure to better coaching
  5. Equal playing time
  6. More court time/less sitting

An  unintended outcome that has arisen due to the structure of the league has been the reduction of negative parental involvement. While many leagues complain about the behavior of parents during games due to yelling at players and officials, and sometimes each other, these problems seem to go away with the PBDL due to its inherent structure.

When the organizers described SSrD, they suggested that re-design is “experimenting with discrete elements in your sport system to achieve specific outcomes.” Essentially, this means:

  1. Making the path to the outcome easier
  2. Making the path to the outcome unavoidable
  3. Making the path to undesired outcomes more difficult

By playing 3v3, skill development becomes easier. More playing time and additional opportunities to perform skills becomes unavoidable. At the same time, the structure of the league helps to reduce coach and parent ego involvement, which creates a more positive experience for each child. All of these outcomes are achieved without sacrificing the integrity of the game, as no skill in basketball requires more than three players.

Furthermore, 3v3 answers many of the questions posed by inexperienced or unskilled players. Should we allow zone defense? Should we allow presses? These types of decisions are negated by reducing the number of players on the court.

Throughout the conference, attendees extended their imagination and arrived at innovative solutions to complex problems in youth sports. For instance, why not have youth baseball players pitch to each other to increase the likelihood of hit balls and to eliminate walks? Why not treat quarters in basketball or hockey or innings in baseball like sets in volleyball? Rather than worry about a 20-point rule or running clock during a blowout, play first to three sets.

When working through these ideas, attendees were given four directions or guidelines:

  1. Go for quantity
  2. Try wishing
  3. Practice “Yes, and….” rather than “but…”
  4. Absolutely no discounting of ideas

With that in mind, what crazy ideas could a basketball league adopt to make the league better?

The organizers introduced a five-step model of SSrD:

  1. Understand SSrD
  2. Current reality assessment
  3. Goal setting
  4. Re-Design
  5. Formalize your SSrD

In my example, my current reality assessment was that there had to be a better way to develop youth basketball players. I believe that coaches volunteer of their time because they want to help children and provide a good experience. I do not believe that any coaches originally sign up to volunteer with a youth team because they want to win a meaningless trophy or create a poor environment for children. However, when games start, and coaches coach in the fish bowl, every coach wants to show his or her competence. Since we judge coaches based on won-loss record, coaches are invested in the success of their teams. There is ego involvement associated with winning games. I wanted to devise a way to remove the ego involvement and return coaches to their original state: creating a good environment for children and helping all the players.

Beyond the coaches, I wanted to create a game where coaches do not hide players and all players are more involved in the game. I wanted to increase the number of repetitions, much as Daniel Coyle (The Talent Code) alludes to futsal as an important element in the development of Brazilian soccer players due to the increased number of repetitions.

How would you assess your current league? What problems would you attempt to fix? If anything was possible, and no idea would be dismissed, what would you do? How would you re-design your league or your sport to achieve your desired outcomes?

That was the objective of the conference: To get coaches from a variety of organizations to imagine possibilities to improve youth sports and to set in motion these changes by inspiring these coaches and league administrators. The conference was a huge success and a great event for everyone who attended. If you want information on the next Change the Game conference, check out their blog.

Imagine. Experiment. Assess.

What would you like to see in a youth basketball league? How can we make the game better?

By Brian McCormick, M.S.S., PES
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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