The most aggressive and defensively feisty basketball players are often described as scrappy. They dive for loose balls. Many end up in the first row of the bleachers at some point during the game. And almost all of them finish the game with scrapes and bruises marking them, at least temporarily, as scrappy.
But can scrappiness be taught? Or is it a trait that is in all of us and just needs to be unlocked or turned on?
The game of basketball changes with each age group. The youngest players, those in our youngest Yball league (4 years to 2nd grade), often show a high level of scrappiness. It’s really all they have until they develop the basic skills like dribbling, man defense, and shooting. As players grow, it seems that routine and the framework of plays and defensive schemes overshadow the innate compulsion to tap into that scrappiness to get the job done.
Scrappiness in Action
The Buffalo Wranglers were generously sponsored this season by Back Country Spraying. Thanks Matt and Mike!
This weekend Adam Teten and I hit the road to Gillette with the Wranglers, our 4th grade boys travel basketball team. Like most tournaments in Gillette, our boys drew Gillette in the first game and the expected 8am tip.
This team has been together for just a few weeks and this was our first tournament. The other teams in our bracket, including two from Gillette, two from Sheridan, and one from Spearfish, have all been playing since November. We dropped our first game to a strong Gillette team by double digits though we hung tough until half. The second game played out much the same way though we did see improvements on the offensive side of the ball.
What we lacked was the ability to stay in our man to man defense for more than a pass or two. It wasn’t much of a surprise if you consider this was our first real competition. The notion of “game speed” is hard to replicate in practice particularly when many of these boys were traveling for the first time for basketball.
Adam and I decided well before our Sunday game that the mantra for the day would be scrappiness. Our hopes of winning would not be pinned on the execution of the plays, the ability to stick to each man like glue on defense, or even our ability to hit open shots. Nope. Our hopes would rest solely on our desire to compete, to be scrappier than the other team and to prove that we wanted it more.
Things looked promising from the opening tip. We hung in there for much of the first half even overcoming a 10 minute run where we seemed to struggle with defensive matchups often leaving someone wide open for uncontested jumpers. Gillette’s players seemed to make everything they threw up.
We spent our brief 3 minute halftime talking about how to be scrappy rather than shooting around and it paid off. We came out the second half armed for bear. We fought for every rebound, dove for loose balls, extended our defense, and slashed to the hoop like men possessed. Our 12 point deficit began to disappear, and was just 4 points with 4 minutes to go. When the buzzer sounded we came up short, losing by 6 points but nearly every player seemed energized.
We gathered as a team under the bleachers. We asked them how it felt to be so aggressive, so determined, so scrappy. A few of the boys took turns recounting the moments when they demonstrated their scrappiness. It was certainly a source of pride and the highlight of the tourney for us as a team. We agreed that this would be the new standard, the level of scrappiness that we would try to harness every game.
Somehow we found a way in Gillette to trigger that fight in our boys and we played like a team that could win any game. Though I still can’t say with certainty, I believe scrappiness is often more of a mindset driven by confidence, a belief that simply out hustling the opponent will get the job done, more than something we can teach. Of course, an animated coach screaming like a lunatic as he watches the magic unfold might also play a role. But that’s just my style and it may not work for everyone!
Weigh In with a Comment
What do you think? Can scrappiness be taught? Or is being scrappy something that’s innate? Please weigh in with a comment below.