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Teaching your Players to be Competitive

By Dr. David Hoch, CMAA, CIC

It’s easy to assume that all athletes are inherently competitive. After all, they are playing a sport and the object is to win the game. But this may not always be the case. You may actually have to teach some athletes how to be more competitive.

The first step is to clearly spell out what you mean by being competitive. This may vary from coach to coach due to different styles of play and philosophies. But your players have to totally understand what this concept means in your playbook.

This is no different than teaching skills or strategies of the game—players must know how to be competitive in order to do it.  For example, when you tell athletes to play hard, will they all understand this the same way you do? Probably not. You will have to use specific examples and show them how they can accomplish this directive. Does it mean playing with more energy? Being quicker? Take the time to spell it out.

After explaining what it means to be more competitive, the following are a few approaches that can help players practice being more competitive. While these examples come from basketball, they can be applied to most all sports.

1. Run drills at game speed. Players may be able to stand in a spot on the court and shoot well during practice sessions because they are relaxed. But during games, players are in motion and usually at a pretty high speed. Therefore, you need to practice at game speed in order to be prepared for it. 

2. Apply defensive pressure in offensive drills. In shooting drills, have a defender pass and then go and contest the shot. While players may occasionally get wide open shots in a game, many will occur with a “hand in their face.” This can and should be drilled.  Make it realistic and what you will actually encounter in a game.

3. Increase the number of defenders. Instead of practicing your half-court offense versus five athletes, add one more and have your team work against six defenders. This approach can also be used versus full-court and half-court presses. By adding another defender, you are ramping up the pressure and teaching athletes how to boost their competitiveness.       

4. Put difficult goals in place. For example, stipulate that a group has to stay on defense until they get three consecutive stops. To increase the competitive nature, increase the number of consecutive stops needed to hold the opponent scoreless in future practice sessions


David Hoch retired in 2010 after a 41-year career as a high school athletic director and coach.  In 2009, Dr. Hoch was honored as the Eastern District Athletic Director of the Year by the Nastional Association for Sport and Physical Education.  He was also presented with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Distinguished Service Award, and in 2000 he was named the Maryland State Athletic Director Association's Athletic Director of the Year.  Dr. Hoch has authored over 460 professional articles and made more than 70 presentations around the country.

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