Although you want the best youth sports experience for your child, you should recognize that coaches and parents may have different views on how to go about reaching this goal.
As a parent, you are understandably concerned about your child’s best interests and want to ensure that your son or daughter can succeed. You may have decided on a specific path to prepare your child. In some cases, you may expect that the coach will play your child at a certain position. In youth programs that emphasize relatively equal participation, you may think that your child should always get equal playing time each game. And depending on the extent of involvement and the competitive level of the youth sports program, you may decide to forcefully engage the coach to make your expectations known. Think twice, however, before you do so as this can sometimes set a bad example for your child and possibly worsen the situation.
As you watch your child’s season unfold, and observe the coach’s actions as they relate to your child, understand that the coach’s goals and approach may vary from yours. First and foremost, he or she must balance the best interests of your child against those of the other individual children on the team, and the best interests of the team itself. Secondly, a good coach may accurately recognize existing traits in your child, along with potential abilities, that suggest a role for the child that differs from the one you envision. He may see a different path to success for your child. And finally, your child’s coach will have his own method of achieving results. If he follows the guidelines advocated in this blog, he will believe in building a custom framework of opportunities for your child over the course of the season—one that leads to growth and success.
For example, several years back the mother of a seventh grade boy in a middle school YMCA basketball league approached me after a game. In no uncertain terms, she stated that her son should play the point guard position and that he was better than the current backup point guard. Although this boy had reasonably good ball handling skills for a player his age, and showed the markings of a potential point guard, he was undersized and physically overwhelmed by the other eighth and ninth grade boys. In addition, two other boys on the team demonstrated equal or better point guard skills and were better equipped physically to handle the speed and power of the game. For both the boy’s personal development and the best interests of the team, I decided to keep him at the off-guard position.
As the season progressed, I gave the boy opportunities to play the point in practice and occasionally in a game; but his primary role remained the same. He developed an understanding of his role and how he could contribute now to the team in a meaningful way. We won the championship that year and both the boy and his mother were pleased with the way the season turned out.
In a league that promotes equal participation, some parents expect absolutely equal time in each game. Depending on the team matchups, this may not be the best developmental approach. A coach may sometimes choose to play one player slightly more than another and instead balance playing time over the course of a season. By doing so, he can maximize the number of opportunities for both individual and team success. He or she can avoid placing players in situations in which they are overmatched and will necessarily fail. Against weaker opponents this coach will play the less skilled players more than the skilled players, giving them increased responsibility and more challenging roles. In the previous example, this is where the seventh grader gets to play point guard.
If you are confused by the coach’s actions as they relate to your child’s development, talk with the coach to gain a better understanding of his approach. Recognize that his or her responsibilities, along with his knowledge of the sport and experience developing young players, may lead in a direction different from yours.