Carrot in Front, Bullwhip in Back...

  • Motivation VS Competitiveness

    There is a difference between motivation and competitiveness. Motivation is the fuel for energy, focus and execution leading up to and during the big event. Most of motivation isn’t experienced by the fans because it is in use before the event… in the gym, video room, team room, etc. Motivation helps babysit players, keeps them directed away from bad avenues outside of their sport and focused on the big picture of winning.

    Competitiveness comes into play during the game. The court becomes a battleground, and both sides are soldiers in war. Competitive behavior is more of a personality trait. Motivation is more situational.

    It is important to know the difference between these terms, because a team (or players) can be competitive but not motivated, or the other way around, a team or player(s) can be motivated, but not competitive.

    I once had a coach that I would put his success up against any coach in America. No, he didn’t coach at UCLA, or Kansas or North Carolina. But the man could coach and had the record to prove it. The team I played on for him posed his biggest challenge. We started the year in losing fashion, and his coaching reputation was being challenged.

    I was born a competitor. I was driven any time I walked on a court, or even in a supermarket aisle. I was once thrown out of a supermarket for playing competitive nerfball on their toy aisle. So I was a hard case to teach when it came to motivation, because I brought it to every game wrapped into my competitiveness, naturally, but I wasn’t prepared to understand its full meaning. I wasn’t prepared to make the sacrifices needed outside of the game court.

    My coach explained to me the difference of motivation and competitiveness, and from that point on, I lifted my game to a much higher form of play by working hard when not on the game court.

    Coach said, “motivation can come from both sides of the plow horse. A plow horse will pull forward trying to bite a carrot off a string, or a plow horse will pull forward because the farmer smacks him with a whip! And the plow horse will pull hardest when being encouraged from both sides.”

    At the time, I was young and felt I knew everything. After suffering a big dose of losses and watching our beloved coach take a hit on his coaching reputation, I finally reached the level of humility necessary to learn a lesson. I was a competitor, but I had nothing motivating me outside of the 40-minute game.

    We ended up salvaging a respectable record that year, and the following three seasons we dominated our league. Every player lifted his game way beyond their previous expectations because we all worked hard outside of the game court.

    Coach Self has mentioned how this team has a “laid-back personality.” What can we conclude from that statement? All of our guys have talent. Have all of our guys been motivated at one time of their lives in order to build their game? Are all of our guys truly competitive in nature?


    I believe all our guys have a decent amount of motivation at work. They show up on time for practice, listen to coaches, work hard, and seem to be keeping themselves out of trouble when off the court. Most of motivation we (fans) can’t see because we don’t have the opportunity to sit in at practice and in the weight room and other facilities. If we did, I am sure we would see a difference between players. Some seem to have a bigger carrot in front of them, and some are receiving Self’s whip more than others. The results are becoming positive; the fields are being plowed!


    Competitiveness is what we get to experience for 40-minutes each game. Competitiveness is what my FLOOR BURN AWARD is all about. I’m offering a motivational carrot to the player who is competing the hardest each game.

    Competitiveness is the area where I’m not 100% sold on this team. People who have the competitive personality trait are rarely considered “laid-back.” I’m not the only one who sees competitiveness as a possible issue with this team. Many of you have complained during this year for a lack of hustle. Kevin Young has been sorely missed on several occasions!

    Motivation is treatable, but can we tweak competitiveness? Is it the same thing if our guys are instructed to go down and slide for loose balls or if the desire comes naturally? Personally, I think there is a difference. I think a player who is not extremely competitive but instructed to go for balls will go sliding for balls, but then what? Every loose ball is a different situation, and the player that wants it the most wins. Being instructed to go for ball is basically programming a robot to accomplish something. But a robot will never take the ball away from a man who can’t stand to lose. There is something to the famous quote, “it isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, but more the size of the fight in the dog!”

    I’ve learned my lessons on motivation. But I don’t have a clue if competitiveness can be taught because I’ve never lacked it. Maybe some of you can add to this conversation by sharing your input on competitiveness.

    Can this team learn to play more competitively?

    Can motivation be used to build competitiveness?

    I see plenty of both carrot and bullwhip in play here. Can either be used to make these guys fight harder?

    I have no idea… because even today, if I see a nerfball loose on aisle 7, I’m diving for it!

  • @drgnslayr I could sit down and discuss this post for hours. Dont really know where to start. One point, w/out saying names, do you think players w/less talent do the diving on loose balls in order to bring energy and get more playing time? KU fans love these guys! I also see that as these guys gel, I think they are more likely to put themselves “out” there more. I also think they are understanding what it means to put the Kansas uniform on. What I question is, can a D1 player actually not be motivated or competitive? Can it be taught? If you think as some did in the beginning of the year, then I think it has been taught. Different kids learn in different ways, the whip or carrot. Bill Self has that figured out! You might have to beat me to the nerf ball!

  • Great post – I think there are some folks born to get their noses dirty. It’s in their DNA. No fear of bodily harm. Others, it’s a chore. They’re soft. They don’t like to get in a scrum. That’s DNA, too.

    But I think it can be taught or learned – meaning competitiveness. I don’t think it’s something that changes in someone quickly. But I do think it can change within a team quickly. Like, the light switch goes on type quickly.

    Within a team concept, you have multiple personalities and moving parts. A team can take on a life of its own. And it can be impacted by just a few elements. It’s why coach Self makes such a big deal about Selden getting dirty. That action motivates, it inspires, and it makes the team think in a different box. Quite simply, it’s leadership – taking the team down the right path.

    I’m not sold on this team’s competitiveness yet either. Mainly because we have passive personalities. So I’ll never be sold. Give me the fiery dudes any day. But guys who don’t show it can, of course, be highly competitive. They just will live longer. I’ve known a few like that. Everything is laid back. In my opinion, that type of personality has difficult time leading.

    With a team that has individuals with laid back personalities, thinking about the team as having a “personality” takes on a bit more importance. The team has to have that fire – as a team. A collective fire where the guys feed of each other. Getting that to click. I’m seeing that with our guys now.

    As an aside, we’ll know when coach Self has truly gotten through to Wiggins when we see him go “Selden” after a ball. I think it could happen. Clearly, though, Wiggins is a finesse dude. Wouldn’t want him to bruise. But he can learn it.

  • @HighEliteMajor politely disagree w/Wiggins not getting bruised. When he goes to the hole, he is getting laid out! But, he never hesitates. I do think he’s a finesse dude. I hoping we see him dive on the floor. Some fans, not saying you, won’t think he is playing hard till they see that.

  • @Crimsonorblue22 I don’t know. Doesn’t he seem like the quintessential finesse guy? Even when he goes to the hoop it’s kind of polite isn’t it? No “bad intentions.” Now, I’ll kindly take those 29 polite points.

  • @HighEliteMajor I’m the person that can see 2 sides, most of the time. I enjoy hearing different opinions, but I can never put a kid down.

  • This subject tears at my guts.

    I have no doubt, if I was on this team as a player, I’d be trying to get players to gamble their stipend change in some late-night 1-on-1. It isn’t about the money. It is all about raising the stakes to intensify the challenge. It is all about competing.

    I have a list in my head, of the players I sense are more competitive than others. Is it fair to post it? I don’t really know what I’m talking about here because I don’t know these players in person. So I won’t post my list in competitive order. But I will make a few comments on what I see on the court.

    Wayne Selden has gone after some balls. It is clear that he is willing to sacrifice his body for this team. It feels competitive to me. Or is he just a physical player who is playing with football instincts?

    Andrew Wiggins has taken it hard to the rim. Sometimes, it feels competitive to me. He may be risking the most with his future by pushing physical contact. I have a gut feeling he would slide for balls if he knew how. That may sound funny… but he didn’t slide for balls in HS.

    Joel Embiid, I’m starting to think he may be the most-competitive player on this team. His face goes sour when he is benched with 2 fouls. I’m pretty sure we would see totally different play from him if fouling wasn’t a part of the game. His instinct to punch back sometimes is driven by competitiveness. He is striking outward! I think this is very important to understand, especially if we are blessed with Joel in a second season. As he learns to play without fouling , he’ll learn to play more aggressive ball without fouling. This is huge. His game will grow exponentially!

    Jamari Traylor seems a bit like Joel. When he learns to play without fouling, he’ll play more aggressive.

    From our main core, I guess I see these guys as having the most competitiveness characteristics.

  • @drgnslayr I feel the same way. Joel is really something, even there.

    Compare Wiggins to Xavier Henry - not that I’m into Xavier-bashing. Wiggins is going into harm’s way. The problem is, he’s taking it but not dishing it out.

    Lebron goes to the hoop and you think the game will be stopped to pick up the defender limb by limb.

    Wiggins seems to drive right at guys to stop just in time and finger-roll over them. If only he could get them moving so he could initiate real contact.

    And why don’t they post up Selden a little? Let that muscle tire out the defender.

  • @ParisHawk Lebron weighs how much?

  • @Crimsonorblue22 Lebron weighs a lot, right. I’m just saying it hurts less to initiate contact than to get initiated.

  • @ParisHawk I agree with you comment on Wiggins and how he does drive to the hoop. Has he ever really, in traffic, drove “angry”?

    @Crimsonorblue22, don’t mistake the critique as a put down. Clearly, Wiggins has not been taught to play a physical game. It seems apparent that he’s been taught to protect himself, to avoid contact. Heck, he’s probably be the guy since he’s been six years old. And it is in his DNA too. He seems to have that inherent approach to the game.

    The Lebron comparison is tough because Lebron is the best player right now, and he’s a full grown man, and he does weigh 250 or whatever. But lots of skinny dudes can drive and dunk with bad intentions – Durant, Wilkens, Drexler, Nance, etc., – did it in college.

    But Wiggins is what he is, and I personally appreciate him for that. He is just a freshman. And that is why I can’t ever be too critical. He’s only had a few months with coach Self.

    He’ll dive for a ball this season.

  • @drgnslayr I hear what you are saying! After Selden dove into the crowd and got the biggest applause of the season, I felt like the team understood what that meant! He may be the only one on the team built to do that. I want to believe that they are understanding what it means to play for KU! Today will be a great test. Rock Chalk!

  • @HighEliteMajor I appreciate Wiggins too! And your agreement by the way.

    My comment was meant as an observation, not a critique, and Lebron was just an illustration, not a comparison. I do think that, as in football, you’re better off hitting than being hit - but you have to get the defender moving before you can initiate contact.

    Selden has had a few nice baseline drives that were almost Releford-like. What a finisher that Travis was! Automatic for the 2.

  • I don’t know how I did this… but I forgot Frank Mason!

    He seems to be right at the top as a competitor!

    BTW: Did anyone else see the Ohio State at Wisconsin game?

    Talk about competitor… Aaron Craft! He was silent all game on offense then took over with 7 straight points down the stretch to pull out a victory for OSU on the road. That’s the type of competitiveness I’m looking for on this Jayhawk team. Who can’t stand to lose?

  • @drgnslayr agree on Mason! No comment on Craft, other than does a tough competitor show up only at the end? So much for my no comment!

  • @Crimsonorblue22

    I don’t know… do you have to score to compete? I don’t know if I look at Naadir and only judge his competitiveness when he scores big.

    With Craft… I’m mostly looking for his scrappy play, whether it be diving for balls or a diving scoop to score.

    I think we need to keep going on our conversation about this. I find it fascinating and revealing about potential success. I bet everyone in here has something important to offer on this.

  • @drgnslayr no! Absolutely don’t have to score to be competitive ! Especially your point! As if you didn’t figure it out(you’re way to smart!) I don’t like Craft. Can’t really explain it. I’ll take Travis Releford, any day!

  • @Crimsonorblue22

    Ha… I’m only a Craft fan because he is such a competitor. Same goes for Marcus Smart. He has been such a d-bag lately with his flopping… so it overshadows his true competitiveness. Maybe his desire to compete has washed away all his senses for fair play.

  • @drgnslayr in that case, we can refer to smart as “the next d-wade”

  • Great post and agree with so much of it. Wondering how we are doing versus the freshmen/sophomore wall that we have seen over many years? Isn’t this about the time it comes and pulls some of our younger guys down?

  • Gents, Just want to point out sometimes great competitors play phenomenal defense and don’t score much.

  • @JayhawkRock78 speaking of D, do we ever recruit a guy that plays great D? Seems like Self said he teaches D, but this team is not to receptive??? Just want to see them dig deep and do it! Oh, not a gent.

  • @HighEliteMajor - “But Wiggins is what he is, and I personally appreciate him for that. He is just a freshman.” Actually he should be a high school senior. (beer)

  • @Crimsonorblue22 Didn’t mean to step on a toe. Just that defense is a big part of many players game, some are much bigger on D.

  • @JayhawkRock78 you didn’t, think you misunderstood me! Funny, I did break a toe this week. I’m a huge believer in playing defense. I loved Releford! My gent comment was because I’m a gal.

  • I took it that you were a gal, so I should have said something non-gender like “folks”. Btw, my daughter plays club bBall and my son quit playing in jr high. It’s my daughter who watches games with me. Took her to Austin for the game last year-so glad we didn’t go yesterday.

  • I want to preface this with an acknowledgement. I have coached at a much lower level than major college basketball for the past 14 years. It is a school team, and it is competitive, but just not on the same level as what is discussed here.

    That being said, competitiveness, in its true form can’t be taught. It is something that is born into an athlete, much like the color of their eyes or hair. They either have it or they don’t.

    The team I am coaching this year is probably the least talented that I have had in the time I have been coaching. I have maybe two true basketball players and the rest are kids that won’t play much, if at all, after this year.

    One of the things that I always try to get my kids to do is compete to the best of their ability. I always tell them that regardless of officiating, shooting, and other things that they can’t control, they can always control their effort. They can play through slumps. They can play through a bad call.

    Their effort is the only thing they can control.

    That is where I am struggling with this team. I have tried everything I can think of to get them to compete, because at our level, that can make up for a lot of deficiencies.

    I have given them a number such as 10. Every true hustle play they make takes one off the number. If they get to zero, they go home after practice. Anything less than that and they run.

    It’s not working. The ball is on the floor and they reach instead of diving. Ball is on the glass and they watch and hope, rather than making sure they get possession.

    I told them last week after a better effort that they are getting there, but it still looks as if they are doing it because they don’t want to get yelled at, not because they feel a need deep down inside of them to go get the basketball. It is almost an afterthought, as if they are thinking, “If i don’t get on the floor, coach is going to go crazy.”

    I am going to keep trying, as I am sure Coach Self does every day, however, my kids may never get it. They don’t have it in their genes to compete. And it seems that it is something that can’t be forced.

    Hopefully that’s not the case with the Jayhawks.

  • CB,

    You are right, it comes from within. But I will qualify that with personal experience. When I was very young I learned to play things safe. I had little self confidence. I was not a competitor and an average athlete at best. But I was pushed by a father who knew I had more to give, just as you are pushing kids to reach their potential.

    At first with me it was baby steps. better athleticism, more confidence, and then came more competitiveness. More effort, extra work, it all snowballed.

    Success begets success, and competitiveness can grow with some. So some are born with it, for me, it happened in my teens.

    So I’ll bet you are helping some of your kids get it.

  • CB,
    Another observation. Very few kids today will do more that show up at practice. They give 100% at practice, but you won’t find them running stairs afterwards or on weekends. You won’t see them shooting free throws, working on dribbling skills on their own. You can tell them, do the extra work and you’ll play at the next level. I don’t know if its the x-box or what. With AAU clubs you can see who has already done the work. I just don’t see kids doing the extra work to catch up.

  • @JhawkCB and @JayhawkRock78

    Thanks a million for posting on this thread. I believe we all have our own experiences that should be discussed in here because nothing is more important than competitiveness when it comes to most things in life… including college basketball at KU!

    I’m definitely not a psychologist or have any formal background in psychology, beyond a couple psych classes in college. In my personal experience, it seems that much of competitiveness may even be a part of our genetic code. But then, everyone has some level of competitiveness, and it seems that we can teach them to reach their potential for what they have. That addresses both of your posts.

    About 3 decades ago I coached some kids… it seemed like I reached them better with a “carrot strategy” even though in my own experiences growing up I did pretty well when receiving the whip!

    @JhawkCB - I’ve got some ideas for you to try. My teams always scrapped hard for balls because of some drills I put in place. First off, only practice on wood floors so you cushion their efforts. I tried to get all of my players to buy both elbow and knee pads. Once they did that, it gave them a sort of license to go sliding for balls. I would have specific practice drills where the only thing we did was slide for balls. Have 2 or 3 players going for a ball you would roll down the court. Within a few minutes you find out who are your scrappiest players. But if you give rewards for scrapping (lots of clapping, complimentary words, a show of excitement, and sometimes a bribery prize, like a soda or little trophy or something) everyone gets a bit more competitive because they want to be rewarded. The players who stand out will quickly earn rewards. With the other players you have to find ways for them to win sometimes. Everyone has to receive a reward now and then or they feel inferior and give up, but that doesn’t mean you give everyone the same prize when others are clearly better. You have to reward them at different levels.

    A big part of all of this relates to how well you bond with your players. Never talk down at them, talk across at them, eye-to-eye, and they will be excited to do what you want.

    We sometimes would get yelled out from other coaches and other players’ parents for scrapping too much. They thought we were kind of bullies on the court when clearly we were just hustling for the ball.

    The biggest key is to design practice drills that focus in on only one particular thing you want out of them. If your players have a 15 minute drill every day where they scrap for balls, eventually it will become second nature and they’ll do it in a game. You can even use a command like “LOOSE BALL” hollered out every time in your practice drill. Then during a game, when the ball is loose yell “LOOSE BALL” and it will trigger them to go scrap for it. By using a command it makes it easier for them to apply your practice drill to a game situation.

    Another good drill is to have two players face each other and both wrap their hands around the ball. Then blow a whistle and have them both try to rip it free from the other player. Rotate players all the time so everyone faces everyone eventually. Do that drill on a regular basis, even for just a few minutes. It gets them conditioned into realizing they can take the ball away from another player, and also they can prevent other players from ripping the ball out of their hands. Few, if any, of the teams you play will practice this, and because you practice it and help them learn it, you will win all those 50/50 balls.

    Make practice fun. Make every drill more like a fun game and you will keep them interested. We always did fun things, like learning how to party on the sidelines… players high five’n, jumping up and down and going crazy. Kids like to party that way, and we would celebrate constantly in practice, like when any other player did something good. I was the trigger judge and would indicate something well done and the players watching would do some kind of celebration move. It was a good way to bond them as a team, and it would encourage players to do their best so their own peers would celebrate their success!

    You can quickly have the scrappiest team in your league!

  • I appreciate the responses to my post. And I agree with basically everything that many of you have said.

    I think the main thing that I am trying to get across to them is that as a team, in order to compete and have a chance to win, we must do all the things that we as fans hear Self talk about all the time. Get the 50/50’s, out rebound the opposition, want it more.

    Where I think I am failing is that I haven’t been able to get that message across through winning. I do believe that once a team wins because of those things that everything else will fall into place.

    I do believe though, that I only need one or two to buy in and do those things, and the rest will follow suit. It is a contagious thing.

    At this point, they don’t understand that those are winning plays. That one extra possession gained, or taken away from the other team, can make the difference.

    @JayhawkRock78, I completely agree with you. So many kids today don’t understand what competing really is. It is not just on the floor for however many minutes they get. It is competing when you don’t have an opponent that you can see or touch. It is extra running after practice because you know that future competitors that you have never met are doing it. It is getting up hundreds of more shots than your invisible opponent over the course of a week.

    @drgnslayr I have done the lose ball drill with kids partnered up, getting to the ball first, getting possession and kicking ahead to their partner. I might try to do a few of the other things you mentioned. Especially trying to use the carrot more, my whip is getting worn out, and I think the kids have somewhat become immune.

    Last thing, I truly love this site, and if I think I can hang with some of the more popular and informed posters, I might venture to comment again.

  • I love this topic! Enjoy everyone’s posts. It’s so hard for me to understand how you can play and not be competitive ! All of my family is and in everything. Working w/kids at all levels trying to teach them to value ball is always important. I tell them it’s like a million bucks . During practice I toss the ball out at random times and we always have them dive on it. If they are playing d and aren’t watching the ball I toss it out, not at them. Ball is more important than man. Man can’t score w/out ball. I also walk around and try to knock the ball away from them when they are not looking. If I do, it’s push-ups. Post game is always about d, we give defensive stats, charges get candy, most floor burns get candy or whatever, Gatorade. I really think you can teach kids to be competitive. Some of the kids we had played juco and d1 ball. Fun times!

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