When & How Do You Promote Selfishness?

By Joe Haefner

Extreme selfishness is not a quality you want with your players. Sometimes, selfishness can destroy a team full of great individuals. Most coaches experience these type of players and have developed good tactics to handle them and promote team unity.

But coaches also come across players that are too unselfish. Too unselfish to the point that it is hurting your team. Athletes usually become unselfish for many different reasons ranging from confidence to social acceptance.

So what do you do when the player is too unselfish?

Recently, while reading a PCA article about promoting selfishness for certain players, I saw this quote. The commenter named Eric talks about his Rugby experience and how he communicates to his basketball team when unselfishness becomes a problem:

“I had an epiphany one day when I played rugby. When I began playing, I always liked being in the action but didn’t necessarily want to be a “star”. Anytime I got near to scoring I’d pass the ball to a teammate. I surprised one with a pass one time when I was practically at the goal line, and we botched the play. Finally I realized that my unselfishness, if that’s what it was, was counterproductive. Doing your job includes scoring when you have an opportunity. I found out that if I got more aggressive with looking to score, it would focus more attention on me from the other team’s defense, and I could then create more opportunities for my teammates. Since then I’ve realized that when I scored, the points went to the team, not me. I’d tell your player that when she scores, she’s giving her team the points, and probably setting her teammates up for a lot more opportunities later. I’ve used this for some of my shyer basketball players, who don’t always like to shoot. The emphasis for these selfless players should be that they can take pressure off of their teammates by trying to score.”

What are your ideas to promote selfishness when you need to?

4 Comments

  1. DaleH — May 27, 2010 @ 8:07 am

    I never want to promote selfishness in my players. But I don’t think what the commentator is describing is selfishness. It is not selfish to develop and use your ability to be a scoring threat. It is selfish to think you are the only/primary scoring threat and therefore you don’t look at your teammates or help them be threats as well.

    I think knowing one’s abilities and using them FOR THE TEAM’S benefit is what makes for good team players. It’s not selfishness to try to score when you have a good opportunity. It’s selfish (and drives me nuts) when my players try to force shots in difficult situations when their teammates are in better positions.

    After all, someone’s got to score or it’s going to be a long night :-).

  2. Joe Haefner — May 27, 2010 @ 9:06 am

    Great points, Dale. Maybe the title should have been “How to handle players who are too unselfish”

  3. Pat Dotson — February 3, 2013 @ 10:57 pm

    We promote selfishness sbout rebounding and defense.We preach win for your team. Win thru your team!

  4. Gene Gorrell — August 21, 2014 @ 9:38 pm

    You make a good point to encourage the player who is so preoccupied about playing unselfish basketball that they sometimes pass up a shot that may be their team’s best scoring opportunity on that possession. I teach those players a couple of things: 1) Learn the habit of catching the basketball in shooting position and not be shy about looking at the rim first — you might just find yourself with an easy look. 2) Make sure that the player who struggles with a hesitancy to score understands that I need 5 offensive threats on the court at all times — 5 scorers. A box score following a win should show every player with significant minutes to also have significant points also. The opponent MUST know that I have 5 players that can and will score on any possession, they cannot use their 5 to guard just 4 of my players.

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