While [tag]coaching youth basketball[/tag] for 11-12 year olds in a community team,“  we only have one practice and one game each week.  After the first game, I tell the players that they now have their benchmark – akin to a golf “handicap” – and that each week the “Player of the Game” will be awarded to the player who plays the best relative to their current handicap.

Although the team has a wide range of skills and athletic abilities, each player has roughly the same chance to win the “Player of the Game” award each week. The winner might be the team’s most talented player one week, the least talented player the next.  The point is that ultimately each player is competing against themselves–-just as the true test of a [tag]basketball team[/tag] is not how many wins and how many losses, but how it progresses over the course of a season.

In each [tag]basketball practice[/tag], after a few warmup [tag]basketball drills[/tag], we break to quickly review the last game and award the “Player of the Game”.  I always lead in with a couple of “honourable mentions”, followed by announcing the “Player of the Game”. In each case pointing out what actions and/or intangibles contributed to the selections.  For instance, I might point to setting screens away from the basketball, or blocking out for rebounds, or strong help defense, as contributing to the selection.  For those two minutes, I have the rapt attention of every player, and a very concrete opportunity to single out and reward behaviors that advance the team’s goals.

There can be repeat winners, but I remind the players that when they win, they raise the bar for themselves, i.e., their handicap is now higher. “  The players take great pride in the award; it seems that at the start of every practice at least one player eagerly asks me “So who was the Player of the Game?”

The tangible award isn’t much; I buy one good [tag]basketball[/tag] at the start of the year and write on it in permanent marker the name of each week’s winner.  But regardless of how we match up against our opponent in any given game, it gives every player something to shoot for, and provides a tangible symbol of progress as a basketball player that factors in a whole lot more than just individual points scored.