Equal play time in youth sports?

Do young rec players play chaotically because they are kids or because of equal play time rules?

I “herded cats” while coaching in a rec league with equal play time rules. Rec ball is known for sloppy play. Like most, I chalked it up to the kids being young and beginners.

But, I hadn’t considered that equal play time may be a bigger part of it.

When we moved to competitive soccer, I began subbing players out who weren’t working on the fundamentals and team tactics we were teaching them in practice. I’d let them know what I saw, remind them what they should be doing instead and then put them back in at the next chance. That seemed like a competitive coachy thing to do.

I didn’t intend it as reward and punishment. I just thought it would be better than yelingl across the field, which rarely seemed to work. I figured they couldn’t hear me.

It didn’t take long and the players were telling me why I subbed them before I could say anything. “I was just kicking the ball, wasn’t I?” I thought that was awesome. I have never seen anything else get young kids to become aware of how they were playing like that.

But, I truly didn’t realize how effective this was until after a parent’s misunderstanding about how I subbed caused me to go back to equal play time to keep the peace. He thought I was punishing his child and thought they were too young to be punished.

Over the next few games the team devolved from playing their best. A parent asked, What’s happening they looked like 6 year olds in rec again?

Indeed.

That got me to thinking. What had changed? Equal play time.

What incentive do they have to work on what we taught if they got all the play time they wanted?

I went back to my subbing routine and they were playing well again within a couple games.

When game time became an entitlement, rather than doing what was best for the team, they became glory hounds or reverted back to their impulse just to kick the ball randomly.

I’ll add that over the years I coached I tried dozens of things to motivate the kids and that’s the only thing that did. 

This experience made me wonder if equal play time is a bigger cause for why rec ball is so sloppy.

Now, I’m not saying this is THE answer. This is a sample size of one, so it may not be repeatable. But, if you find yourself herding cats, give it a try and see if it works. But, also, make sure the parents buy off. I thought mine had, but when push came to shove a couple of them were bothered to see their kid being subbed out and didn’t bother to notice how quickly they were improving.

A few other things I’ll say about this…

I never sensed from the kids that it bothered them. The feedback I’d give them was low-key and calm. “Remember, I said I wanted you to try to control the ball and do something with it, like dribble to space or find a pass, right? What were you doing?” “I was just kicking it.” “Okay. Now get back in there and work on controlling the ball.”

When I think back on it, I could think of a few reasons why it worked well.

Kids love play time. Even the kids who aren’t that into soccer love to be in the game. So, it makes sense that was such a strong motivator.

The feedback was immediate. It didn’t wait until half-time, post game or the next practice when the message could get lost in translation. The players were receiving a consequence and feedback tied directly to their actions in real- time and they had full control of it. 

The kids who did what we were working on naturally got more play time because they didn’t need to be subbed off and they seemed to dig that.

This wasn’t about performance and winning. In fact, the strongest players were often the ones being subbed off more because they were the ones more likely to go off script.

I was always clear about what I was looking for in the game and when I would sub them, so it wouldn’t leave the kids guessing.

I was also clear that if they were working on these things, even if they weren’t doing them well, I wouldn’t sub them out. I’d rather lose by working on things that will make us a better than win by doing things that won’t.

The only downside was when they were all doing well, I still had to sub sometimes to get all the players in, so they did come off the field asking why they had been subbed. I was honest: “You were doing great! But, I do need to get everyone in the game.” Or, “Looks like you just need to catch your breath.”

Here’s about 90% of what I subbed players off for:

Just kicking the ball, rather than controlling it and trying to set up a good ball for the team with a purposeful dribble or pass. This one I thought was important to transition them from chasing and random kicking to feeling comfortable with the ball at their feet under pressure.

Diving in on the tackle, instead of slowing the attacker down first and then going for the ball with the full body.

Not marking the other team’s most dangerous scoring threat. This was responsible for another 20-30% of the goals against.

Taxpayer-subsidized grins

Tyler Cowen, of Marginal Revolution, links to a piece about the increase in spending on college athletics.

Anyone involved in youth sports in the last decade might have noticed the emergence of large, multi-level sports clubs, playing in multi-million dollar sports complexes all designed to host large quantities of organized competition for young players to become seasoned masters in their sport and attract the attention of college recruiters.

Having your kid get “signed’ to a college team — no matter how small the college, or how un-followed the sport — is the new crowning achievement of childhood that brings ear-to-ear grins to the faces of parents.

Take away taxpayer-provided college athletic subsidies and that crowning achievement of childhood and the industry that has sprouted to help parents achieve that ear-to-ear grin goes away.

Arnold Kling also comments on college athletic spending.

“I’m from the government and I’m here to help”

The Wall Street Journal had two good commentaries on Obama’s latest pitch to use more government to fix problems caused by government — that is, his recent speeches on college education.

1. From Obama State University, this one is a page out of Hugo Chavez’s playbook:

 “We’ve got a crisis in terms of college affordability and student debt,” said Mr. Obama, without a trace of irony at the State University of New York at Buffalo. The same man who three years ago forced through a plan to add $1 trillion in student loans to the federal balance sheet over a decade said on Thursday, “Our economy can’t afford the trillion dollars in outstanding student loan debt, much of which may not get repaid because students don’t have the capacity to pay it.”

Naturally, the President blamed somebody else and demanded more authority over higher education.

Mr. Obama specifically blamed colleges and universities for charging too much. “Not enough colleges have been working to figure out how do we control costs, how do we cut back on costs,” he said. His solution is for the federal government to rate colleges on their effectiveness and efficiency, and then to allocate federal subsidies to the schools that Washington believes are providing the best education at the lowest cost.

Chavez and Obama don’t understand (or admit to understanding) that incentives matter. They distort incentives then blame the problems that result from those distorted incentives the folks who respond to them.

It’s not that colleges haven’t been working to figure out how to control costs (actually, some are, but we haven’t widely accepted the for-profits just yet), it’s that they have no incentive to do so.

Well, Obama is now proposing incentives, I can imagine some will say. To them, I respond, imagine how much credence you would put into a Federal government’s rating system for restaurants. My guess is that no matter what those ratings say, you’re still going to trust your gut and what you hear your family and friends say.

This is also from the article:

Mr. Obama is trodding a well-worn political path. Politicians subsidize the purchase of a good or service, prices inevitably rise in response to this pumped-up demand, and then the pols blame the provider of the good or service for responding to the incentives the politicians created. Think housing finance and medical care. Now President Obama is attacking colleges for rationally raising tuitions and padding their payrolls in response to a subsidy machine that began in 1965.

That’s when the feds launched a program to make college “affordable” by offering a taxpayer guarantee on student loans. Federal grants and loans have been expanding ever since and it’s no coincidence that tuition prices have been rising faster than inflation for decades. This week the White House noted that since the academic year ending in 1983 tuition and fees at four-year public colleges have risen by 257%, while typical family incomes have advanced 16%.

2. Richard Vedder: The Real Reason Colleges Cost So Much

Here’s something I’ve noticed when visiting my own alma mater:

Many colleges, he notes, are using federal largess to finance Hilton-like dorms and Club Med amenities. Stanford offers more classes in yoga than Shakespeare. A warning to parents whose kids sign up for “Core Training”: The course isn’t a rigorous study of the classics, but rather involves rigorous exercise to strengthen the gluts and abs.

Or consider Princeton, which recently built a resplendent $136 million student residence with leaded glass windows and a cavernous oak dining hall (paid for in part with a $30 million tax-deductible donation by Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman). The dorm’s cost approached $300,000 per bed.

Universities, Mr. Vedder says, “are in the housing business, the entertainment business; they’re in the lodging business; they’re in the food business. Hell, my university runs a travel agency which ordinary people off the street can use.”

My alma mater has a fantastic turf field complex for its students. It has an indoor/outdoor mini water park resort. The dorms look like alpine ski lodges. It has an arena for women’s basketball and one for men’s. The commons area rivals high-end shopping mall experiences. And, yet, they still have the nerve to call me weekly asking for money. No thanks. 

 

Markets in Everything and Incentives Matter

Markets in Everything

I was intrigued on Memorial Day weekend by a show on the Discovery and Science channels called Oddities.  The half-hour show features the owners, Mike Zohn and Evan Michelson, of an “antiques and oddities” shop in New York City called Obscura as they haggle with buyers and sellers of some mighty strange stuff.  Mighty strange.  I thought bloggers were strange.

Belly lint art.  Rotting teeth.  Articulated animal skeletons.  Diseased brain cross sections.  You name it.

A number of times sellers walked into the store with some strange thing and I thought, they’ll never want that.  But then the owners offer pretty good sums of money for it.

If they don’t know what it is, they call in experts who usually “are really into this stuff” to get a better opinion on the going market rate for such oddities.

It’s interesting to watch.  I appreciate getting the insight into the haggling process.  For example, a sideshow performer worked Zohn and Michelson down on the price of a bed-of-nails sandwich (performer lies on his back on one bed-of-nails and then places another bed-of-nails, tips to nips, on his chest for people to stand on) from an old Coney Island sideshow by laying on the bed of nails and letting  Zohn and Michelson stand on top of him while he was in the sandwich.

Generally the sellers seem to be folks who have somehow acquired something strange from an inheritance, garage sale or something like that, and don’t really know what it is.  The buyers generally seem to be artists, performers and very specific collectors.

Incentives matter

One artist, who specializes in art from body functions and parts, was looking for something new.  Zohn pulled a large glass jar filled with rotting teeth from a top shelf.  He explained that dentists donated teeth that they pulled from patients to dental schools so dentists-in-training could practice filling cavities.  Somehow they came across this jar.

The artist loved it.  She and I both thought they would be happy to get rid of the whole jar for a price.  While hugging the jar she asked, “How much for this?”

Apparently there is a healthy market for rotting teeth.  “We sell those by the tooth.  You can pick out five or six teeth for $100 or so.”

This made me think back to Russell Roberts’ book the Price of Everything.  After an earthquake, one big box retailer raised prices on flashlights.  Some consumers saw this as price gouging.

But, the other side of the story is the higher prices caused better resource allocation.

Stores that didn’t raise prices were sold out of flashlights soon after the earthquake.  The value of flashlights had increased, but prices hadn’t, so the first few customers bought out the entire stock whether they really needed them or not, leaving no flashlights for customers that came in later.  The flashlights were allocated on a first-come, first-serve basis with all the spoils going to those who got to the store first.  People who came in later and really needed a flashlight could feel good that the store didn’t raise prices on flashlights, but they still wouldn’t be able to to buy a flashlight.

When the big box retailer raised prices, it caused people to more carefully consider their purchase, resulting in some people who may have already had flashlights, to pass on the flashlight purchase leaving more flashlights on the shelves for those who truly needed them.

Apparently, the same principle was at work on the rotting teeth.

Last Call!

In a recent interview with Dennis Miller, Tim Pawlenty offers a great illustration of how incentives matter.

All you really need to know about what we need to do with government is go to two weddings.  Go to one where there is a cash bar, go to one where there’s an open bar and you’ll see very different behaviors.

And the government has been running itself like an open bar.

If you run systems and programs where people have no idea what the price is, no idea what the quality is, the only measurement is how much they consume, and the provider of it has the measure of how much volume they can provide and the fiction is created that the bill goes somewhere else, that system is doomed to fail.

Unfortunately, that’s most of what we have in government, we’ve been running it as an open bar mentality.  The party needs to come to an end in that regard.  We got to switch to people being in charge of more of their own money, give them good information about price and quality and to the extent we can afford it, give them help, but give it to them directly.  Don’t run it through a big bureaucracy based out of Washington DC.

Sometimes the answers are hiding in plain sight.  The open bar analogy is perfect.  We can all identify with it.  I’ve had some rough nights after an open bar.  Not so much with a cash bar.  We all respond to incentives.

Yet many people unrealistically want to believe that we can have an open bar and somehow control behavior to prevent the downsides that causes.