How to Effectively Use Competition to Develop Athletes

By John Spack, Maverick Volleyball, Coaching Director and High Performance U18 Girl’s Coach

Too often players, coaches and parents over emphasize competition between teams as “the method” to achieve the competitive edge and use this as the only method or measuring stick identifying competitive progress.

To develop the “competitive edge”, it is important to create an environment that is not only challenging, allows a little creativity and experimentation but must also be stimulating and fun. Athletes must buy into and understand the various ways that are used to simulate competition and think of it as a healthy thing and not something that’s going to threaten their existence. They have to understand that the more times they are faced with adversity and the more times they overcome it, will only serve to give them confidence in thinking that anything is achievable through proper preparation and hard work.

Competing begins as an idea or philosophy and morphs into a way of life. Developing the “competitive edge” comes through experiencing physical, mental and emotional challenges. It could be something as simple as a one on one hitter vs blocker challenge or an individual drill where the athlete must meet a certain success criteria in order to succeed or complete the drill.

As I mentioned sometimes young athletes seem threatened by these internal competitions, so it is important for the coach to set the scene properly. At younger ages there is safety in numbers, so attempt to do competitive drills in pairs or small groups and therefore success can be celebrated and when not succeeding can be shared as a group and in doing so minimize the social impact.

It is also important that they understand that not succeeding only means an opportunity to get better and does not mean failure. Teammates also have to realize that competing against each other is a way of making each other better and therefore they must support one another and appreciate each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

Learning how to compete as individuals in a team sport is important and just as important is the ability to challenge your teammate but at the same time respect and support them.

“Volleyball is a sport through which I am able to express my God given talents of being an athlete. It is a sport which involves relating, pushing and encouraging your teammates. It has helped evolve me into the person I am today.” John Beard, Captain of the Australian National Team

Favourite Competitions

  1. “One on One first to 3” – I like this drill with the older groups as it isolates athletes and puts the onus on each to perform. Could be done with any match up, Left side hitter vs. Right Side blocker, middle against middle etc. Hitter must attack two specific and defined areas such as sharp cross and deep five. Blocker must stuff block or touch block to keep ball playable. First player to three points wins. A variation is having players alternate hitting and blocking.
  2. “Ten up” has a back row defender digging hard driven balls, tips, rolls and redirects in fast succession from one or more coaches. They must dig ten balls so they are playable. Very physically and mentally demanding. Teammates are urged to add encouragement with cheering.
  3. “Serve for Three” – I like to throw this competition at the athletes at anytime without warning. The goal is to get the entire team to serve three balls into each of two very specific marked locations on the court. Both target areas are marked off identically on both sides so serving can be done from either end. This is a timed competition with a predetermined amount of time allocated (108 seconds = 8 seconds per serve with 10 seconds between to shag ball and return to serve line.). This drill gets challenging as each athlete can only serve the ball they started with and therefore must chase it down after each serve. Fatigue becomes a problem both physically and mentally. Pressure builds because no one wants to be the last to succeed. Challenge ends when last athlete completes the task and all balls are back in cart. Seconds over the allotted time are added up and the WHOLE GROUP must do some types of reps.

A reminder to coaches to only introduce challenges as they know are appropriate for the athletes age and maturity and be sure to have discussion as to the purpose.

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4 Responses to How to Effectively Use Competition to Develop Athletes

  1. hugo says:

    Louise Gratton, Great article!!!

  2. Chris Spack says:

    great picture!

  3. Jeff says:

    Simple, makes sense and easy to do!

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