Taming the ball hog

Any parent with a kid in sports has seen it happen: one kid running up the field with a ball, not passing it, as though his teammates didn’t exist

Photo: bigstockphoto.com © matimix


Ottawa coaching experts say taming a ball hog is complicated, no matter the sport or ages of players.

“I always want to try to head that off and make sure it doesn’t turn into a negative spiral,” says Rob Smart, assistant coach to the Carleton University Ravens men’s basketball team and a professor at the Sprott School of Business. Sometimes a child will lack confidence in teammates and try to go it alone. They may find success, but it doesn’t last. Smart says going it alone and scoring can reinforce the behaviour, but inspires resentment among the other players and keeps them from developing their own skills and confidence. Eventually, he says, as players progress, skilled teams can easily defend against a talented loner.

Smart, who also coaches kids’ basketball, has grappled with the challenge of getting players to work cooperatively. He says it’s a problem even for adults.

“If you find success, but you alienate the people you work with, you won’t be able to replicate that success in the future,” he says.

Encouraging teamwork on the field, rink or court takes a multi-pronged approach, beyond telling a player to pass more. You don’t want to make them defensive or feel bad for wanting to do well. At the same time, the other players need to be encouraged to do their best and look to their teammate as an example of a player who is trying hard to win, says Smart.

“Often, one of the keys to avoiding the problem in the first place is making sure your practices are adequately programmed,” says Robin Clouthier, director of recreation programs for the Dovercourt Recreation Association. Kids’ sports leagues tend to be run by parent volunteers, who don’t have much formal training, or time for planning practices.

“It can be as simple as making sure that if you have 20 kids, there are 20 balls, so no one is waiting around,” says Clouthier. Coaches should have more practice activities than they need, so if they need to change things up and keep players engaged, they can. Drills can be structured to encourage teamwork, possibly by putting players into smaller groups than they would be in during a real game, she says.

Both Clouthier and Smart say leagues should have more practices than games to build skills. Smart recommends a three-to-one ratio. Passing might the hardest skill to teach, even at the university level, he says.

“For younger players, on top of the physical skill of passing, it is really hard to teach players to see the floor and anticipate what the other players are going to do, which you need to be able to do to be an effective passer,” Clouthier says.

“I think we need to have patience with the ‘ball hogs’ and help them (and others on the team) develop the skill,” says Smart. “Parents, coaches, and the players themselves need to understand that it takes a lot of practice to be a good passer.”