At Downey High School (CA) the Competitive Games model has been great to celebrate success and use the lesson of losing to teach consequence and talk sportsmanship.
By Jeremy Plaa
Thomas Downey High School
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In our program, teaching the concept of HOW TO COMPETE is just as important as teaching technique and scheme. While some coaches may not believe that, the Competitive Games model has been great for us to celebrate success and use the lesson of losing to teach consequence and talk sportsmanship. And best of all, it’s fun and our kids love it.
Competitive Games have multiple benefits for our program:
- Each team has a captain and a co-captain, so it provides the opportunity to teach and build leadership
- Reinforces the idea that LEARNING TO COMPETE is everything in life
- Celebrates winning & uses losing as a motivator
- Serves to organize attendance in our program- each team’s captain takes roll
- Improves attendance in the summer- captains apply pressure to make sure all their team attends
- Serves to organize setup/cleanup of practice equipment (bags, water cart, cones, etc.)
- Reinforces the idea of family- helps freshmen to connect with older kids in the program
- Helps to prevent the hazing atmosphere that some programs have- where Seniors look down on younger classes
- Organizes jobs/duties in the off-season program- each team is responsible for something
- The FUN factor- don’t overlook this- we have FUN with our summer games
What is a Competitive Game? At the end of every off-season workout, we spend 15 minutes competing. Our entire program160 kids- is split into 8 families. Having 8 makes it easy to make every competitive game a bracket-style event. To get everyone involved, we come up with guidelines that will make sure all kids on each team compete at least once a day. For example, we keep Handball on Tuesdays a game of 5 on 5. To make sure everyone plays, we say that no athlete can sit out two games in a row. So, if they sit out round one, they must play in round two; or their team is automatically disqualified. Also, if a team is eliminated in round one; on the next day athletes who did not participate MUST be the first to be included.
Organization of Teams
How do we set this up? We start with coaches selecting potential captains. Anyone and everyone that we think is a potential captain is up for discussion. Our coaches settle on anywhere between 8-16 captains for the summer teams. This year we identified ten kids that have captain-potential. So, we picked our top 8 and allowed those 8 kids to select their co-captain. The remaining two kids that didn't quite make captain in the coaches' view, were some of the first "co-captain" picks. You can steer this as needed. Once we have a captain/co-captain for eight teams, we set a draft date following our first final exam date in May. Before the draft begins, captains select a team name with a "character trait" theme, and they also select what summer setup/cleanup jobs they want for the entire summer.
Kids draft all the Seniors first, then all the Juniors, then all the Sophomores, and they can select any two incoming freshmen. I then even out the teams and we have our summer rosters set. As you can imagine, the draft is very popular and something our kids look forward to every year. It's also a great preview of seeing where your "problem kids" are in your program. Every year it's surprising to learn when a good player slides down the draft because none of the captains want to deal with kids that are flaky or egotistical. Since we've done this for many years, our captains know that they need to pick kids that are both team players, and consistently at every summer practice. The structure of our weekly schedule allows us for both stability and flexibility. We are creative on Mondays and have the same type of game for the rest of the week. Even with the structure, if we come across something we want to do, we will vary it to keep it fresh. This year we did things like a Swim relay, belly flop competition, Joke-Off, Cornhole relay, and Tire Tug.
The captains of each team are responsible to make sure this happens. Since Freshmen are the most likely to be shy, and/or excluded by the older kids; there are some games where we do a Freshman-only first round. Relays on Mondays and Tug-O-War Fridays are great days for inclusion. At least once a week, we must disqualify a team because of sportsmanship or not following the rules correctly- either because they didn’t listen to the rules or they thought the rules didn’t apply to them. Either way, it is a GREAT teaching opportunity for the kids in our program. Showing the kids that there are consequences makes our program stronger, and hopefully lessens the need for consequences when we are in-season. Every day we have a theme, so the kids know what to expect:
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- The competition schedule conducted on Mondays, the “team relay” day.
- The competition schedule conducted on Tuesdays, the “unit” day.
- The competition schedule conducted on Wednesdays, the “free for all” day.
- The competition schedule conducted on Thursdays, the “discipline” day.
- The competition schedule conducted on Fridays, the “pride point system” day.
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We will do anything that allows our kids to compete and have fun at the same time and have had success stealing ideas on social media. The best games are the fast ones, have most of the team in it, and include some laughter as well. Competitive games will help your kids become better competitors and closer as one family, and is one of the cornerstones of our successful program.
Meet Coach Plaa: Coach Plaa has been at TDHS since 2004 and has been the Head Varsity Coach since the 2007 season. He is a graduate of San Francisco State University (BA) and the University of Texas-Tyler (M.Ed). He has coached football since 1995. His teams won five consecutive league championships from 2012-2016. He was the Modesto Bee's District Coach of the year in 2002 and 2012. He often speaks at Clinics and & has spoken for USA Football, Nike COY Clinics, Glazier Clinics, & Northwest AllSports School. Coach Plaa teaches AP Human Geography & AP Government on campus.