Monday, February 27, 2012

Unequal Playing Time in Youth Sports

The One Sport Voice blog recently posted an article titled Why is unequal playing time the norm in youth sport? In the article, Nicole Lavoi advocates equal playing time for all players up until age 12, regardless of competitive level.

I posted a comment in response, but for whatever reason my comment didn't make it past the moderation filter. But hey, one advantage of having my own blog is that I DO get the opportunity to comment! So here we go.

Although I don't fully agree with Nicole's perspective, she raises a good question, "Why shouldn't every child receive equal playing time in organized youth sports?"

In competitive organized youth sports, there's undoubtedly a wide range of opinion held by parents and coaches regarding playing time (and the overall merits of this form of play). I'm not going to address this side of the issue except to make two points.

  • First, in some (most?) team sports there is an inherent conflict between the greater number of kids needed to conduct productive practices and the smaller number required to field the most competitive player rotation in a game. On a basketball team, for example, coaches usually consider ten to fifteen players the ideal number for practices. But in a competitive game, coaches typically prefer to rotate 7 or 8 players in and out. To optimize a team's chance to succeed, coaches (and many parents) understand the above reality and why playing time will likely be unequal in a more competitive setting.

  • Secondly, I would suggest that as long as coaches are honest and transparent with parents about the overall opportunity that they will afford a child, less playing time for some is okay. On most youth sports teams, there is usually a mix of players who are at different stages in their development (age, skill, etc.). For those who are slightly younger, inexperienced, or less skilled, they may initially benefit from smaller roles that don't overwhelm them. As they get older and improve, their playing time will likely increase and possibly exceed that of their newer, younger teammates. (This is especially true of programs where teams are comprised of both younger and older kids.)

Regarding sports programs that DO emphasize equal participation, there are instances where a coach may believe it's best to play one child somewhat more (or less) than others. To this point, here's the comment I submitted:

"Without wading into the waters of older, more competitive youth sports, the goal of providing players with equal playing time in participation based programs is a good one.

But even in this setting, there are qualifiers to an approach of simply dividing playing time up equally.

Most team sports require a certain level of competence in key positions. Without a minimum level of performance in these positions, the play can disintegrate resulting in NO FUN for many of the other players.

For example, a competent point guard in basketball is needed to handle the ball against pressure and make good passes to his or her teammates. Likewise, a good “big-man” is needed to provide a young team with second shot opportunities (there are MANY missed layups).

In the pursuit of equal playing time, taking out a key player can ruin the play for others. It also can diminish the self-esteem of a young player who does not yet possess the necessary skills to play a certain position. This is even more evident when teams are not equally matched in terms of talent and age (something that regularly occurs in the real world of organized youth sports programs).

I generally prefer an approach that builds individual paths to success—especially for kids in the 10 to 13 age group. Teach Everyone Everything in practice, but tweak playing time as necessary in games so that everyone is placed in the best position to succeed. (I discuss this approach in several articles on my Inside Youth Sports blog.)

Yes, the emphasis is on equal playing time in each game. But the goal of equal playing time may also be achieved over the course of a season, with better players possibly getting a little more playing time against the tougher opponents, while the weaker and younger players receive more time against lesser opponents. The goal is to challenge players, but not put them in situations where they are destined to fail. Unfortunately, some parents only look at each individual game in judging whether their son or daughter is receiving equal playing time.

Like many other issues in youth sports, the equal playing time one is magnified by today’s youth culture that places so much emphasis on adult-run organized youth sports. Promoting more opportunities for children to engage in self-directed play (e.g., pickup games) would enable kids to naturally get the “equal playing time” they need to develop their skills and have fun."

As I was finishing this post, I saw a tweet referencing an older MomsTeam article that expressed similar sentiments to the One Sport Voice article. The MomsTeam article also includes several reader comments that express varying views. It's a worthwhile read. The article's main anecdote highlights an instance of questionable coaching behavior that touches on several issues including: The Coaches Kid Always Plays, coaches who are too win-oriented (and consequently distort the intent of playing time guidelines), and not reducing playing time for those who consistently miss practices. But I would disagree that the remedy for these instances is across-the-board equal playing time in all youth sports programs.

Finally, one "equal playing time" practice that I didn't see mentioned in these other articles, is mandatory substitution stoppages. These provide coaches with a reminder and easy opportunity to get players into a game. This practice works well within the participation oriented basketball leagues in which I coach. In addition to asking coaches to substitute players at the end of each quarter, play is also stopped half-way through each quarter. In the younger leagues, coaches are not permitted to substitute players except at these points. This helps ensure that players stay in the game even when things start to go bad.

The above approach can also improve substitution patterns in more competitive programs. A variation of this practice is successfully used in my YMCA's more competitive middle school basketball league. (Coaches can freely substitute players in the 2nd and 4th quarters.)

Do you have any thoughts on the best approaches to playing time in youth sports programs?

Copyright © 2012 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

The Joy of Youth Sports
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Copyright 2009-2012 Jeffrey S. Rhoads; All Rights Reserved


CoachScott said...

Wow Jeffrey. So many of my 16 years teaching youth hockey and lacrosse you have captured in a few words. Thank you. There are a couple of disturbing trends I've seen on these issues. 1) Kids are more likely to question their participation time, or complain to their parents about it; 2) Parents are more likely to watch (clock) their son/daughter's game time and take issue with it; and 3) Youth coaches are more likely to bend to those concerns.

This has created a terrible cycle that by the time the kids are in high school (pretty competitive levels) they are conditioned to EXPECT equal playing time (or at least fair playing time) regardless of skill level or age. I've seen several good hockey players walk away from the HS team because of 'playing time' issues.

Being up front with kids and parents - then following through with the player development plans for both practices and games might be the safest route and the most productive for youth coaches.

Thanks again.
Scott Meske
Waunakee WI

Wendy LeBolt said...

Jeff and Scott, I am glad you waded into this issue. I am learning from both of you.
I think the playing time issue was the hardest thing for me about taking a travel soccer team. I was really of two minds about it. Stronger players could be rewarded with extra playing time, but how do weaker players get stronger when they don't get enough minutes in challenging competitive/game situations?

I actually called together a meeting of some of the players' parents to just air concerns and thoughts on the issue. In the end (and I'm still not sure this was ideal) I did go with unequal playing time. Starters and subs who played quality "blocks" of time.

I would add to this discussion that some girls, and that is where I primarily coach, are very aware when they are over-matched and/or not having a good day. To leave them in the game under these circumstances is unkind (and thus not good coaching). As you say, Jeff, they know they are ruining things for the rest of the kids.

The other example (very sad) is when a girl actually thanked me for taking her out of the game. It was clear she was only playing because her mother insisted. (and the mom was my assistant coach - so she could spend "quality" time with her kid) The week this mom was away, I subbed this girl out. She thanked me and sat happily on the sidelines for the rest of the game. Watching and cheering and smiling.

Kids will really teach you some things, won't they?


Jeffrey Rhoads [Inside Youth Sports] said...

Thanks Scott and Wendy for offering you insight and experience!

Scott: As a youth hockey coach, I suspect you have a tougher road than I do coaching youth basketball. We've all heard stories about hockey parents!! :-)

Wendy: You offer a great example of the challenges involved. I enjoyed your perspective of how girls sometimes view participation and playing time. (By the way, I'm going to post a follow-up article within a week on "Why Competitive Girls Should Play Sports with Boys." I hope to hear from you!)

There are so many competing forces when it comes to distributing playing time in youth sports including: fun, fairness, fees (pay to play), winning, different age and skill groups lumped together, providing the best individual paths to success (player development), the need for players to understand and willingly play roles in team sports, and the way in which any one player's ability/performance can dramatically impact his or her teammates' enjoyment.

When you couple these factors with others such as the availability of good coaches (many of whom are volunteers), parents who are invested heavily (sometimes too much so) in their child's sports successes and failures, and the different perspectives everyone brings to the table, that’s a lot of stuff to deal with! And naturally, it’s a recipe for dissatisfaction.

Given all of these disparate forces, the complaints about playing time likely aren't going away anytime soon. As Brook De Lynch of MomsTeam tweeted to me about her 11 years of experience with this issue, "Nothing new. Same old same old with this situation. Sad." She also tweeted that MomsTeam receives a continual stream of complaints about the politics of unfair play.

So the question remains, "What's the best way to deal with it?" Absolute equal playing time for all? Trust in coaches to balance the above factors as best they can? Reduce the emphasis on organized sports and promote more opportunities for kids to engage in self-directed play? Some other solution?

As I said in my post, I don't prefer the absolute equal playing time approach; I believe it tends to dumb down (and sometimes hurt) the development process.

Possibly with some selfishness, I view the coach as somewhat of an artist—an individual who ideally balances all of the variables and constructs individual experiences and team ones that have a lasting, positive impact on his or her young players. An imperfect individual; but nevertheless, one capable of creating a great youth sports experience for children.

And finally, as I also mention in my post (and as my regular readers know), I support the remedy of more self-directed play. Among other benefits, pickup games can help restore balance to the youth sports ecosphere.

Anonymous said...

Equal playing time is always a bone of contention in basketball. Ideally, teams would consist of 7-8 players. Not realistic in school settings but possible in travel team situations. With a smaller roster I always aim to give players quality playing time but do not monitor the minutes. If we end up in a close game, the better players will play more. I think we have made "winning" a bad thing. I realize that competing hard and losing can still be satisfying but we should not be ashamed of trying to win. Is it fair to take playing time from a player who works on ballhandling and shooting everday because they love the game and give it to a player who never practices outside of team practice? I do not think that is fair. I encourage all my players but I think we send the wrong message to kids when we reward them with playing time that they have not earned.
Obviously, if I am in a league that requires equal playing time I honor that rule. What is nice about basketball ( at least in our area) is that there are a multitude of options available from recreational to highly competetive.

Anonymous said...

I see most of the responses to this blog are from coaches, but there nobody claimed to be the parent.

I have an 8 year old son, playing youth football. He's 8, just started his 3rd year playing for the same team (same coaches). He was the starting defensive end last season, but for some reason, this year, he hasn't been assigned to either offense, or defense first teams.

I understand playing the most competent players, but there are only 19 kids on the team, providing 8 substitutes for 22 positions.

The past 2 years have been solely for learning the basics. Wins and losses were not tracked, and there were no playoffs. However, this year is more competitive, with more emphasis on winning.

I know that it's said way too much, but maybe it's because it's true, btu what's interesting, is that all 6 coaches children play ironman, starting on both sides of the ball. In practices, other children (not just my son) will beat them in blocking skills regularly. Positions are awarded on nepotism, rather than skill. There are other questionable assignments, like playing the starting quarterback at starting linebacker. The backup QB is also the starting defensive end. These "skilled" position players are being put in danger of injury by their own fathers.

Parents notice these things becuase they go to watch their children play. We don't go JUST to watch the team play, we want ot see our child develop, and become better's hard ot do that when they only get on the field for 7 plays in a 60 play scrimmage. A scrimmage that is supposed ot be used to evaluate the skills of the children. Did those 7 plays give them a good idea of what my son can do? Did the 60 plays that their children play give them a better idea of their talents?

Can youth sports parents be annoying? Absolutely. Are there coaches out there that don't give the same opportunities to some children on the team? You betcha! Sometimes the parents can actually have a good argument. Afterall, they paid for their child to be part of the team, bought equipment, participated in fundraisers, deicated to bringing their child to every practice...just to watch them sit the bench, in a league in which learning and fun are paramount?

Sometimes I think that coaches, even volunteer coaches, need to realize that it's not their job to turn their kid into a pro athlete, it's their job to ensure that each child on the team understands the fundamentals of the sport, the basics of the theories involved, the conditioning and skills required to succeed at it, and most importantly, that it's a fun activity that the children will grow from being part of.

Anonymous said...

Well said.
If you want to learn how to swim you have to get in the water.
Sitting on the bench will not teach young players anything.
An adult telling a child that they cannot play because they are not "good enough" is absurd.
In a perfect world, yes, a good coach would evaluate the appropriate amount of playing time for each player per game. However, in reality this does not happen. The raw human emotion of winning at all costs takes over and "weaker" kids stay on the bench.
Coaches cannot be trusted to ensure fair playing time. Direction must come from the top. Leagues must mandate playing time for teams.
After all, the majority of today's top European soccer players were not child stars. They were simply afforded the opportunity to develop when they were young and not pigeon holed as weak players.
We are losing far too many young players due to high drop out rates in sports who potentialy can achieve great success. I cannot say that I blame these players. Who would want to work their butt off at practice (regardless of skill level) and then have to continually warm the bench at games?

Anonymous said...

I am an asst. coach for a youth u8 girls soccer travel team. The girls on my team who receive less playing team are fully aware they receive less time. The are fully aware the head coach has favorites. Although, I understand and agree with some players having more time. I also believe up to u10 there is surely a learning curve and all should play at least 50% of the game.

In regards to youth soccer in my state - u8-u10 travel soccer promotes child-centered development above winning. No championship trophies awarded or game standings listed for these age groups.

Unknown said...

Sorry your comment didn't make it through my spam filter! I certainly didn't not post it on purpose. Great post here. _Nicole

Anonymous said...

The following is from the UN website:
"The UN recognizes play as the right of every child. Play is NOT a luxury".

Steve Desjarlais said...

I coach baseball and soccer and I watch on the sideline when my son plays basketball. To me, equal playing time is not Players 1-10 getting 50% each game; rather, playing time is equal to the amount of hard work and effort a player brings in practice. I'll take a lesser talented kid who gives 110% over a superstar who "takes plays off" or goofs around any day of the week. The message to each child is clear after a couple of weeks and the effort overall increases.

Your basketball example, Jeffrey, is a big problem with today's youth sports. Coaches are "afraid" to take out the best player because they "assume" their team will fail. Does this mean losing a lead? Not playing well for a stretch? Seriously, if this is a concern for the coach, then he/she is simply not a good enough coach. As for losing self-esteem, I guarantee a player who sits is losing more self-esteem than if they are in there giving their all. Remember, these are kids. Adults need to stop acting like they are teaching them life lessons by sitting weaker players for the betterment of the team. Maybe the kids should be teaching the adults that games are more about having fun and playing.

Once kids get 12 and over, then sports takes on a new role in their lives and many drop out naturally. However, I guarantee that there are many kids in this age range out there who would be highly successful in their sport had they kept playing, but quit because of coaches that over-played more skilled players.

Lastly, parents pay for their kids to play sports, not sit on the bench. If this were a try-out team or league, then the argument shifts. I ask you, if you paid to play in an adult basketball league, went to all practices, shot hoops in your yard for hours a day, but then only played 3-4 minutes a game, wouldn't you be a bit upset?

Anonymous said...

You know its really too bad a child can't look up to their coaches as a role model and the way they act I hope my child doesn't. If you can't treat a child equally and fairly then you don't represent or should any sport. Coaches are to teach and mentor their team as they are trusted to do just that. If a child gives all he's got, goes to every practice, practices at home and also their parent(s) volunteer and pay for all things they are responsible to, spends the time they can, and then only for the kid to literally get pulled aside in front of his or her teamates during a game winning or not, will that kid be better for it? will the team be better for it? I say no. They learned sports are for just the few. A sport a child once loved is hated for the rest of their lives. It will not be considered for the next generation in good light. If you didn't want the child on the team then say it at the beginning of the season before time and money is spent. If you don't like their race, height, weight, athletic ability, status, then say it. Otherwise play the team as a team and not as an individual. Coaches now are too caught up to use a team for their own purposes to make their child look and learn better than others. Intimidating a child by putting them aside because you feel they aren't good enough is the same as bullying (Using power over someone to intimidate them.) You may think winning is upmost important but really playing as team is what is to be learned.

Anonymous said...

This is from a parent's perspective and involves team volleyball for a U-14 girls team that practices twice a week and then goes to tournaments once a month. We paid $1000.00 to participate including the cost of the mandatory ankle braces and black knee pads. We are not rich but our daughter loves volleyball and had some success at the Boys & girls club and middle school team. The tournament today was 130 miles away and our team has 10 girls so 6 playing at game time and 4 sitting. My daughter played no more than a few minutes of each match and one game she sat the entire time. I am extremely upset as I do believe she would not lose the game for them and the "team" in team is missing. This club has a policy no talking with the coaches until 24 hours after a game. What I want to know is how is joining this team benefitting my duaghter and what example is this setting for her teammates. Message received: Obviously her game sucks and she is not as good as they are and she is a "loser". Why in the world did I pay money to teach her this? I really can't continue to attend tournaments where my daughter waits on the sideline. I do not ask for equal playing time, I'd like to see a minimum playing time of 1/4th of the total game time? I'd be happy with that and that's all it would take for my daughter to feel that she was a part of the team. The longer she sits the harder it is for her to have confidence in her game and for her team-mates to trust her game as well.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff! Hard work, better results , more opportunities. No different than life. Please remember academics. Your star today may shine for few more years so make sure you farm and recognize everyone' s work. Blanca

BobSF said...

If there isn't a written minimum playing time RULE or policy in place for your child's team, club or league, then I'm sorry but I have to advise a 'buyer beware' approach to parents of un-exceptional athletes who complain about their kid's playing time. MOVE YOUR CHILD TO A TEAM THAT WILL PLAY HIM. Win-at-all-costs coaches ONLY respond to roster turnover and how it affects their team's reputation. Your kid will be so much happier contributing on a less competitive field than contributing playing time to a team's better players'. Before eyebrows go too far up, know that I am the parent of an un-exceptional athlete (above average athleticism, below average competitiveness), and I have accepted this. He was the 11th player of 12 on a highly competitive soccer squad, and on average was played about 25% of each league game last fall. I took the team coaches, and ultimately the club leadership to task, harshly, on the playing time issue - but without ever saying my son's name. The league the team played in, and won, has a very clearly stated 50% minimum playing time rule for each kid, each game. The coaches were polite about letting me know they had no intention of obeying the rule. So I demanded the club shift my kid to another team for the next season, and they very quickly did so. The trick is to NOT make it about your precious kid - make it about the rules, playing fairly, winning by cheating, etc. But if your kid is a weaker player versus his teammates, there aren't minimum playing time rules protecting his experience, then maybe a look in the mirror by you might be in order..?

Jeffrey Rhoads [Inside Youth Sports] said...

Thanks BobSF for your comment. From the other comments to this post, it's clear that parents' experiences and views on the equal playing time issue are wide ranging. I tend to agree with your pragmatic suggestions. As I mentioned in the original post, coaches in competitive programs ideally are transparent about playing time. Parents should choose their child's teams accordingly. In leagues where playing time is specified, parents have reason to complain based on the rules. I would, however, suggest that parents focus on playing time over 2 or more games, as opposed to one.

And once more, parents should promote opportunities for their child to play pickup. These self-directed games help balance a child's sports experience and ensure that each child gets "equal playing time" to develop their skills and have fun. They can be the antidote to a poor organized sports experience.

DBK said...

Great post Jeff. I have another perspective on this. I am a college freshman, and last year as a high school senior. I coached a no-cut 13-14 year old Juniors travel baseball team in Pennsylvania. I had no connection to any of the players and had never seen any of them play baseball before I took the job. I had played baseball and was always a decent player, though never great, and I stopped after my Freshman season in high school. I had been on some teams where I was among the best players and some teams where I was among the least developed players, and the only times I had serious concerns about playing time is where I felt that the coach was playing his kid (or one of his kid’s friends, one of his friends’ kids etc.) for reasons that were not baseball related. I never had any issue with sitting for the majority of games behind players who were better than me, and I’d like to think I had a pretty good grasp of my abilities in comparison to most of my teammates.

For most of my players, this was their 1st or 2nd season playing on the bigger field. The league we were in had a minimum-playing policy of 2 innings (7 inning game) and one at-bat per player per game, in addition, I could sub out and re-enter starters provided they sat for 2 innings and missed their turn in the batting order at least once. My policy was very simple; I thought the minimum wasn't enough and would always do everything in my ability to play kids at least 3 innings. Beyond that, my goal was to win. I felt this way for a couple of reasons. Our team had games as far as 45 minutes away, and we had 2 games a weekend, as early as 9 AM. I understood the commitment the players and families on my team had made, and I respected that and thought it would be a slap in the face to play kids the minimum on a regular basis. I also wanted to give kids opportunities to play at any positions that they wanted to try, and I found that usually(but not always), after doing this, these guys realized that they were better off at the positions they had more experience at. I also wanted to be realistic with the kids. The boys I coached were 13-14 years old, which, in my opinion, is an age where kids start to understand their role in a team, and understand that role may not be as big as one they may have had on previous teams. The vast majority of the other teams in the league played the same kids at or very near the minimum all season. I think for the most part, the kids put more value to winning than their individual playing time, and I had very little issue with the kids who played little, especially because many of them were in the younger age bracket and understood what they were getting into. We also had an issue with practice; the only night we could get field space was Fridays and that presented a consistent conflict for some of our players with school games, which I encouraged them to play in. (I would be upset if one of my players missed my game for another team’s practice.) I was pretty clear that while I expected people to come to practice if they could, but that because of the nature of our league (most of our players played on school teams and got some practice that way), the purpose of practice was to improve, not to prove to me how committed the players were. Most of the guys who came out to practice improved a lot, and saw their playing time increase. However, I got a lot of complaints from parents, not so much about their kids not playing (in fact, the parents who complained generally had kids who played more than most), but rather about how much other kids who never came to practice because of their school team were playing whenever their sons didn’t play.

DBK said...

Overall, my stance is this: the younger the kids are, the more balanced playing time should be. Once kids start to get into leagues where records are kept and playoffs are held, there should be some emphasis on winning, with this gradually increasing as the kids age The problem we have is that kids show up to high-level travel/school teams which are about winning, and because they’ve been in equal or almost equal playing time leagues for their entire career to that point, and they become accustomed to that. I also think that as long as a coach is open from the get-go about his philosophy on playing time, and it is based in what he feels is in the best interest of the team (and by that, I mean not based purely on giving special treatment to certain players for reasons that have nothing to do with the team, such as playing his son more etc.), he is within his rights. Finally, I think it is not the place of parents to tell coaches how to operate their team. While it is completely OK to ask questions or voice specific concerns, parents need to remember that the coach is volunteering hours of his/her time for their kids, and even if they aren’t the best coach, they stepped up and volunteered, and that coach did not. Great post again, I really enjoyed and empathized with your take on this.

Anonymous said...

I have coached youth football for a couple years and we have a minimum mandatory play rule in our league. We "coaches" need to understand that these are kids, and we are preparing them for other aspects of their lives not just playing a sport. I am all for equal playing time and it hurts me to see a player sitting on the sideline not participating. I'm sure it hurts them as well. What kind of confidence are we building by playing a better player over a less skilled player? Even if the player makes mistakes, positive reinforcement and practice will shape the players skills and personality. I hold the coach accountable when a player says thanks for taking me out.

BobSF said...

Coach Jeff, I thought you'd be interested in an update from my earlier post, where I moved my son off of a team that was flouting minimum-playing-time rules in order to win. (1) Despite his practice schedule being reduced by half versus when he played for the more competitive team, he played more than TRIPLE the amount of game minutes versus last Fall, and in a shorter season. His confidence visibly grew every game, and he is now a clear leader on his new team. And looking in that mirror - I have never had a quieter season on the sidelines. Funny, there's no need to urge your kid to try harder and to not 'flinch' when he's out there bringing to the other team with a smile on his face. An incredible transformation, and I would strongly recommend choosing the team that offers a playing time experience versus a better team that offers a bench-warming experience. (2) His former competitive team? They completely imploded this season, with a losing record, and the ENTIRE coaching staff removed mid-season for... guess? ... Repeatedly violating the league playing time rules, over-specializing players at set positions, and making it all about winning, (at age 9). I tip my hat to the club for enforcing their stated philosophy.

Anonymous said...

As a coach and parent of 4 kids who play youth sports I have always believed that regardless of talent, the effort and attention put into practices speak louder than anything.
I would take a less talented player that works his/her tail off every day, then the fastest kid in the world who distracts and messes around during practice.
The reality is that MANY of the kids playing youth sports are there because the parents sign them up, not because they have the desire to learn and play the sport.

I have had countless kids who have no interest in the sport they play once they find out the work and expectations involved during practice. They pull themseleves from practice, whine and complain about everything etc.
I am sorry, but if your child does not want to play- then I am not goint force them to practice, and I am not going to put them in the game to ruin the experience of other kids.
There are many many many aspects of coaching and running a team that parents do not see.

SOLUTION: I would recommend asking the coach after each practice... "hey what can he/she do to get better? What can we work on at home?" Be willing to listen and then help your kid! Engage in the process instead of firing arrows at coaches... could it be that your child is lazy, disrespectful or uninterested? Be a part of the solution- and at the end of the day, if the kid is working hard during practice and being a student of the game, most coaches WILL notice and reward. Athletics are amazing because it teaches about life- and that means wins and losses, being a team player and worrying about what you CAN control- attendance, attention, attitude and effort!

Anonymous said...

Unbelievable reading so many of these comments and the article. So many lack the following
1) First and foremost it should be about the kids having FUN, FUN, FUN, FUN, not till age 12 or 13 but until they get to the high school level.

Any sports supported by the town should be about fun first, 2nd you want the kids to work hard and lastly you want the kids to getter better. If you have a coach that does these 3 things well, then most likely the kids will be competitive (and I don't mean wins and losses).
For town sports whether it be in-house or travel it would be best if most parents don't coach their own childs team, because to be quite honest too many don't look at it being fun for the kids.

It should be 100% about the kids and guess what, kids don't want to sit and play small amount of minutes and all kids want to play at the end of close games.

For those that talk about playing certain kids because it helps all the kids are full of it, all it helps is the team win. Who knows how these kids will grow when the hit puberty and who will be the tallest, quickest, etc. Every kid should get the same opportunity to excell in all apsects of the game, so when they do hit puberty they have worked at all the skills. You can have the tallest kid on a basketball team at age 10 but at age 15 maybe he is average at best. If that same kid is not given an opportunity to use his ball handling skills at a young age in games, and the coach just tells him to get down court and get under the basket, that coach is not coaching properly or doing any of the kids any favors. Quite the opposite, the coach is hurting these kids.

The 2 (imo) greatest basketball players of all time (russell & jordan) couldn't make their varisty teams as sophmores and russell was only kept on the jv team because the coach liked his hustle.

Stop worrying about wins and losses and start worrying about the kids having fun.

90% of kids 20 minutes after a loss could care less anymore, the other 10% if they do care is probably because of their parents.

It is sports!!!!!

The ones that care about wins and losses go stick your kids in AAU programs

Anonymous said...

Play the kids who can play. Many kids spend time practicing on their own simply for the chance to play in games, but because of resentment from players and the parent's of players who are not willing to put effort into getting better, they are forced to play the same amount of time as players who don't spend any time practicing or trying to get better. You don't get better at a sport by playing in games unless you are already good. You get good or better by practicing. In a basketball game you may get 5 to 10 shots, in 30 minutes of practicing on your own you can get 50 to 100 shots. In a baseball game you might get 4 or 5 swings and 2 or 3 ground balls, in 30 minute hitting off a tee or in a batting cage you can get 100 swings and 50 ground balls. Equal playing time is a bunch of crap that comes mainly from parents who were never good enough to play whose kids don't care about the sport and are there mainly to screw around with their buddies who also don't care about playing. Can you imagine if Kobe Bryant's youth basketball coach had told him he needed to come out of the game because it was Joeys turn to play even though Joey had been sitting on the bench not paying attention to the game, screwed around all practice, and played video games to during all of his free time? Kobe probably would have punched his coach.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for generating this discussion. I just finished my three-year tenure as volunteer volleyball coach for my daughter's elementary school and am trying to figure out some problems that occurred this year on the varsity team. For the first two years, everyone (parents) seemed pleased with how the teams played relative to the talent and competition. This year, the parents of the "C team" (4th and 5th Graders) and "B team. (6th and 7th graders) seemed quite pleased with how I approached the matches and managed playing time. For our varsity team, we had five 8th graders that had to play at the varsity level since they were in 6th grade due to lack of players. Obviously our varsity teams were not very competitive those years so I was able to play everyone without any real consequences to the matches. I think I must have got a reputation of being a "nice" coach who played everyone because this year I had quite a few girls including several 8th graders who joined the team for the very first time. This created a serious imbalance -- I had girls who had been beaten badly for two years who were now competitive and girls who did not know how to rotate or pass a volleyball. No other parent who was willing to commit to learning the game offered to assist. So practices became a mix of basic technique clinics and finding time to work on advanced techniques like libero replacements. The regular season games went OK. The problems came in the tournaments which I assumed everyone understood would be more competitive and substitutions dictated by the needs on the court. Confrontations occurred which negatively impacted the program. I was a benchwarmer in all sports during my school days, so I understand the frustrations. However, parents must know that anyone who is willing to coach your child's program very likely has an innate desire to build a winning team -- even the "nice" coaches. If someone had asked me to simply sit on a bench for three years and keep a chart of the players and rotate them in and out in equal fashion, I wouldn't have done it, and therefore there would have not been a team. However, given the opportunity to "coach", I accepted like so many do. It took it three years to build a team that could compete and advance in the state tournament but did not due in large part because of parental confrontations about playing time. But once again, participating in sports reminded me that life isn't fair, and that the sports arenas are still excellent places for all of us to keep learning that fact.

Anonymous said...

I find the points in this article the typical response to playing time by most parents. On a competitive sports team, no matter the age, playing time is earned. If parents want equal playing time, then there are non competitive leagues that your child can join where everyone gets equal playing time. The 'everybody wins' attitude is what is wrong with our society today. Do you think a medical student who isn't cutting it should be passed because it's 'fair'? Some might argue that the article is talking about children, not real life. Children need real life lessons. Not lessons that teach them that working for something less will still get you the same results. The children who practice and genuinely want to get better will if they are encouraged by the parents to do so. Parents who take on a 'woe is me/my child' attitude will raise children who think life is equal. These children grow up and are slapped in the face with the real world.
The argument of 'how will they get better if they don't get playing time'... coaches evaluate players based on practice. If a kids shows improvement at practice, then they get more playing time.
I personally want my child to sit the bench when he is not performing well. Why punish the rest of the players if my child can't get his act together on the field? He earns his time. I recently saw where a team was in the running for the championship. The weakest link on the team played very little the last game. It was well known by most of the players that the kid caused multiple goals throughout the season. The parent threw a hissy fit because her child didn't see much playing time during the championship game. The kid was fine when the team won... UNTIL the parent threw a fit about it. Why punish the rest of the team who did what they were supposed to? Parent's need to wake up and realize life isn't fair or equal. The sooner your kids realize this, the better they and society will be.

Scott B said...

I am a baseball and softball coach of 24 years. I also hold a board position with my little league, not because I want to or need to, but no one ever seems to “step up to the plate”. I hold clinics in my town for all levels of play. If you ask any of my players throughout the years how important is practice, they will tell you “more important then the game”. My son asks me every free minute to practice him. The players who are at a higher level tend to have fathers, brothers, sisters, or mothers willing to spend that hour before or after dinner throwing the ball around. All season long we have the “equal playing time rule”, except for safety issues where a particular player cannot react to a ball hit hard, there are only 3 outfield positions. The other players, who just show up for games, are not there for the same reason, and can't play more then the others who are at every practice. That brings us to the Tournament season that starts in July, and runs through the first week of August (we are in that right now). I presented the board with a fair way to pick tournament teams two years ago, and we used it again this year. The players pick the summer team by voting for the best players on their regular season teams. It works very well, the only down side is that our league is very small. So the top 8 players are very deserving of the uniform, the remaining four fill the openings on the roster. It is explained in the parent meeting before the start of the summer season that “some players will only see the minimum playing time, (as per Little League rules) the team plays to win, so the stronger players will see the most playing time. If this is not acceptable you might want to reconsider signing up”. With some parents living vicariously through their children, the reality of their skill level is clouded. Like Lincoln said, “You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time some of the people all of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time.” The disparity between my 8 good players and my 4 weaker players is a lot. At what age do we start telling kids not everybody gets a trophy?

Anonymous said...

I coach a 9 year old basketbal team. At this level each player should have meaningful playing time, not equal playing time. Meaningful playing time is enough time based upon the individual players endurance and ability where they can develop their skills in the game. The other factor I take into consideration is the effort and attitude they have at practice. Meaningful playing time could mean a 4-6 minute run for a weaker player that is uniterrupted even if they make a mistake. Overall the weaker player may play a little less than the stronger player but so long as the experience for both helped in the development of their skills it is what I consider fair. Parents who stop watch their child's time on the court and demand equal playing time unfortunately do a disservice to heir child. It doesnt teach a child to work harder, just complain so everything is equal--who cares how that impacts the player who has earned more playing time.

Anonymous said...

I am a child behaviour specialist.

I have also coached team sports.

How anyone can make an argument that allowing a child an equal chance to play is somehow a disservice is simply beyond my comprehension.

Thankfully, as Bob Dylan once sang, "the times they are a-changin".

The parents have it right this time. If their child makes the team, the child is part of the team.....100% part. Coaching is not about figuring out how to squeeze the last drop of performance out a child or group in order to perform or win......coaching is about teaching.

And children who have less game time have less chance to learn and develop.

So, lets become better teachers.

It is true that professional sports does not work this way. But, are we professional coaches? Would we make that cut?

Most children do not become professional athletes, and most coaches would not have much luck either.

All children do want to play, and keeping them from equitable playing time is hard on their self-esteem, and certainly does not teach them sportsmanship or team spirit.

Great coaches are in it for their athletes....not just the most skilled at that moment, but all members of their team. They know that children develop at different rates, and that some children will surprise everyone once they have the skills. They give all the children an equal chance....equal playing time, and they understand that this may cost them a win.

I guess everyone has their own point of view, but mine is that if the win is never more important than the children.

And in these changing times, the parents, wisely, see it that way.

And so should we.

Anonymous said...

To Scott B. - With all of your coaching and Little League experience - what should a player or parent do about these types of coaches, as baseball player/now coach DBK stated - "The only times I had serious concerns about playing time is where I felt that the coach was playing his kid (or one of his kid’s friends, one of his friends’ kids etc.) for reasons that were not baseball related. I never had any issue with sitting for the majority of games behind players who were better than me". This is the standard in our town Little League. Our All-Star teams are also rostered they same way - fathers and friends with their kids (add in a couple of kids who will not outperform their kids). It might be easier to swallow if the team had decent results, but that is not the case at all. There are plenty of other parents who would happily manage/coach. The local LL board decides who coaches, with a lot of "back scratching" every year. You don't dare complain. One family, child with a strong player, great attitude calmly brought this situation to the board's attention. The child was basically blackballed. No one wanted to stand up to these guys.

While practices are extremely important, most players who love playing the sport want to play in a game.

Thoughts anyone? Thanks.

THE BLOG said...

I agree, it's great to win...however....
When you're in an Elementary setting, Fair Play, Equal Time should ALWAYS come first. I get that you would transition in to a competitive environment once you hit high school and that's okay but it's not okay in elementary. Elementary should be where they learn the skills, achieve better accuracy and most importantly feel like they belong to the team.
Can you honestly say that a kid that played a total of 6 minutes for an entire season walks away feeling like he's learned something? Ah, NO!
Well actually he has learned something, he's learned that he's not good enough. I mean seriously guys, in high school they're a little older, more mature, and better able to deal with this but not in elementary. I hope the opportunity arises for you to have your child come home upset and crying because coach put him in for the last 36 seconds of a game they'd already one. Practicing skills in practice is NOT the same as feeling the pressure of a "REAL GAME". Kids don't get better in these situations when they're not given the opportunity to learn how to use their skills in the real environment. Just sayin......

datapilots said...

It only gets worse the closer kids get to those tantalizing college scholarships, junior teams, alluring hopes of professional contracts, however far off and small the chance of that being a real option.

Anonymous said...

Well, I agree with Scott B. and a previous poster about life not being fair, and that not everyone is equal. Our daughter plays ringette and tiering starts at U12, so everyone knows that it is somewhat competitive although it is suggested that players are placed with those having similar abilities so they do get similar opportunities to play. The only problem is that when they reach the next level at U14, there are usually less players. After the top tiered team picks the best players, the small group of the weakest are then dispersed amongst the other teams who have been playing for at least two years at a noticeably higher level. Like someone mentioned before, the better players tend to be those that enthusiastically attend all practices, enroll in related camps to improve, and practice at home as well. They are usually the most committed - in our personal experience anyways. Like those parents, parents of better players also want to see their kids to continue to improve and develop. However, this is difficult if weaker players cannot complete the strategies and plays as planned. In that sense, they do hold back the stronger players who are not able to drive hard to the best of their abilities because the puck, or the ring in this case, stops at the pass to the players who always miss it. Yes, it is about fun, but losing all the time especially when most of the team played so hard and well is not so much fun.

Another point I'd like to raise is that in our community, most of the heart and hustle awards are usually given to the weakest players to "encourage" them. However, what is done to recognize and reward a skilled player who goes out to play hard every game and also happens to be effective?? Who is to say that just because a player is strong and pushes hard, he/she does not deserve to be rewarded. And, yes, players or people who are able to achieve the best results will be selected more often in life – that’s just how it works. And, it does not everything came to them easy to be the best.

Anonymous said...

Let's face it: It's a dirty, greedy BAIT AND SWITCH life lesson on a kid that is carried out by adults. "Weaker" kids try out and are chosen so that their parents can share in the burden of the team costs (hundreds of dollars per season per family) while affording the stronger players extra playing time -- that of the "weaker" player who spends the season on the bench.

Anonymous said...

If you won't play my kid, we are going into skiing and tennis. If he made the team he deserves to be there and if I have to pay for the hotels he deserves to play in the tournament. If you won't play him you loose a player and you have to pick up somebody probably with less experience. Quit coaching if you don't understand that everyone assigned to the team who's paid their money deserves to play.

Anonymous said...

It's just this simple coaches and evaluators. If you are not going to play my kid don't put him on your team and don't take my money.

Unknown said...

Exactly, well said!

Anonymous said...

I've coached youth basketball and I've always capped my team at 8 players specifically for this. I know that's not an optimal number for practices or when one or more kids don't show up, get injured, get into foul trouble. However, it has worked very well for me and for all the kids.

I see too many comments here from coaches justifying why the best players need to play. No problems with that. Every league has a team fee. Pay that team fee with only the good players you'll play in a game. Too often I see coaches using other kids only to get their money to subsidize the team's fee, but when it comes to playing time, then the coach suddenly has a myriad of excuses. Hypocritical much? BTW...of the 8 players in my team, 3 to 4 were terrible. All of them have improved tremendously due to the increased playing time. Sitting on the bench or just participating in drills, would never have allowed them to improve so much.

Anonymous said...

As a parent In a small town, I am realizing it is like all politics, " who you know" or perhaps blow. We noticed on the basketball team they needed my child, but just were told not to throw her the ball. Now in basketball, same coach, has put her last on every batting line up. She gets maybe 2 outfield plays. The worse part is there is 2 teams, both mostly same players except they excluded my child n one other on the other team. Yet the same people are playing same positions on both n getting more batting n outfield time.
The funny thing, my child is just as good a player, but they are denying her the learning experience.
so my answer is we will practice on our own continually. I am also going to start coaching. I will be sure all these 10-12 yr olds get to learn the positions as at this age it is about developing skills not winning. I am not even sure I want my child on a team where she is practically shunned. I almost wonder if some of these parents aren't just big bullies. So disgusting!

Anonymous said...

Nepotism is horrible amoung the youth football program my son is in. If the parent is not on the "board" for the organization the child does not get positions they deserve. My child works hard and also trains in the off season, goes to practice early everyday, doesn't cry or throw temper tantrums and has dedication and passion beyond words.. So with that said. The kids who have parents involved in the organization as coaches or otherwise are afforded the opportunity to practice the positions they are "handed" and develop. Most children are left behind. My son gets teased. He is lined up with the starting running backs and rotated in only to block and watch the coaches son and other kids of the organization run the ball. These "favorite" kids do what they please, fool around, cry at the drop of a hat and cry when they get hit/tackled. they also walk around like they own the place, have bad attitudes on the practice and game field but stlll are captains of the team. It is very sad. Also frustrating. My son is a seniority player who in 4 years has never missed a practice or game. He wants to quit because he thinks he isn't good enough and is sick of playing with kids that get no consequences for their terrible behavior. He is a good, fast, skilled athlete, and leader. Sadly he does not have a parent who is a coach or on the board of the organization. I volunteer, and do many extras for the team during the season, not because I want my kid to play based on what I contribute but play because he is an important part of the team, but it doesn't really matter they still only play there "clique" of kids. Sad, very, very, heartbreaking.

PK said...

This is a very interesting thread. I am a new Little League coach of 11 year olds and I'm facing this situation. I think a coach at that age has a responsibility to do what he or she can to help all the kids improve their skills, learn about playing together as a team, and have fun.

After two games, I'm not sure if equal playing time accomplishes that. I have been trying to split the infield and outfield duties fairly evenly rather than hiding the weaker players in right field.

But what can happen is that you get a pitcher who is already struggling see ground ball after ground ball go through a very weak player and into the outfield. Everyone gets demoralized, including the player making the errors. But on the other hand, you want to give these kids a shot at that age of trying out different positions. It is definitely true that the decline in informal, self-direct play games it harder for these kids to build skills outside of a league setting, which is too bad.

I should add that I am coaching in a fall league which is meant to be low-pressure, which is why I have been so democratic. But they do keep score, and the kids do get down if they lose badly.

JFHRI said...

I enjoyed reading BobSF's post. I completely agree that if you child is not getting the playing time they want - move them to a team that will give them that playing time. My daughter had a significant "bench warming" experience on a competitive soccer team for 2 years at 10U level. She was a younger player, playing up on an older team. I watched her mentally implode on the sidelines every week. She was so discouraged by her experience she never wanted to play soccer again. I removed her from that team and encouraged her try out for another competitive team, at her appropriate age range and skill level. She spent a year thriving on this new team. Although the skill level was lower than the previous team, she was one of the better players, and the experience she has allowed her to regain confidence and her love of the game. The following year she had the confidence and skill to try out for an even better club, with an amazing team. She is now U13 and has been playing on a very competitive (age appropriate) team, contributing significantly as a starting player, and they have a successful record. Mostly, she feels good about herself, has confidence, and is enjoying the competitive play. This would not have happened if she had not moved to a team that gave her the playing time that was appropriate for her skill level when she needed it.

Alessandro said...

I coach competitive soccer at the youth level, and my response to the child behaviour specialist is this, you're wrong.

The vast majority of the parents on my team understand this, the more talented kids get more playing time. Want to get more playing time? Take the initiative and get better, whether it's through joining a futsal winter league to improve your technical skills, finding a trainer which you can find at your own price range which are reasonable or pull up some videos on Youtube and go off of that. You know what my top players did on my team? They joined our local futsal winter league to keep getting better during the off season, the lesser skilled players didn't bother and it was only $20 to join because we got a discount.

Want more playing time? Improve your skills and show that you want that time. Want to get into the starting lineup? Show me how much you've improved and earn that spot.

If you want equal, then don't tryout for a competitive league and go to instructional. Parents who played competitive sports growing up should know better than to complain about their kids playing time. There are plenty of those who tryout for competitive soccer but never make it year after year and would just love to be on the team, but yet you have parents who complain because their kid isn't getting the same playing time as the top's not going to happen. If you don't like it this way, someone else will gladly fill that spot.

Parent said...

Simple. Each league should state their policy on playing time. If you do not like it, don't join. But if leagues are not being transparent about it, it is wrong to tale someone's money and more importantly, time. I would never play my kid in a winning is everything program as that is not what I want them to learn from sports. I want them to have fun and be a good teammate- which means work hard, commit, and help others on the team.

Anonymous said...

I am in the same situation work hard keep positive switch organizations and beat the hell out them next season stop daddyball

Unknown said...


Unknown said...

Exactly!! My 7th grader is doing much better in academics because he wants to play football and no basketball, last year in 6th he didn't have that motivation.

It is sad to see him on the b or c team when he shows up to every practice and is keeping his grades up, because parents of kids on the a team are guaranteed to see there kids play every game but some schools in our area don't have b or c teams so they aren't guaranteed to play and when the do play it's always after the a team and most of the a team players and parents leave, but if the other teams don't play they are supposed to dress out and support the a team.

Anonymous said...

BEAUTIFULLY said. I am a mother of a 10 year old son who works his tail off to get better at basketball and who has done a great job at it. I see moms come to games and complain that their sons aren't getting enough playing time and "how can he learn if he's not playing?" PRACTICE AT HOME! That's what makes you better! Not being in an hour game! I get SO angry. It's much easier to coach from the stands than the bench AND there are bigger babies IN the stands than on the bench!!

As for "I paid money, my kid should play" omg... Puh-lease! Just because you bought a Jersey doesn't mean you are guaranteed playing time. If I buy a Bulls jersey, show up at their practices and travel to all their games, should I get to play with them? If you don't want to take that chance, don't spend the money or go elsewhere. I'm so sick of the b****ing from the stands.

Real life isn't "equal" and "fair". We are doing no child a favor by allowing them to expect equality. Work hard, practice hard = playing time/promotions at work. Do nothing, EXPECT everything to be fair = less playing time/no raises or promotions.

We are raising the biggest whiners, sissies, and entitled jerks when we adopt the "everything should be fair" philosphy. It's disgusting.

Anonymous said...

I agree with some of the above comments about elementary kids -- give them some quality playing time, even if unequal. AND coach them up during practice and games. The highest quality coaches TEACH as they coach and support ALL players in their development, not just the kids that happen to be bigger and stronger at age 8.

Anonymous said...

What about kids not getting chances to play positions where they would thrive? My 12 year old son is in a competitive soccer team where he has been playing defence for 3 years in a row, although he is a natural striker. He does not do well in defence. In the meantime the coach's son (weaker at the start) has been given umpteenth chances to play striker and score all the goals. Because of that he is then constantly called up and plays with stronger players who are even better at getting the ball to him and naturally he continues to develop. 3 years later because this coach's son has played in his preferred position and has 2-3 times as much game time as my son, he is full of confidence while my son has lost all confidence playing as a defender and it not being his natural inclination at all. He is not enjoying soccer. The couple of times he was given a chance to play striker, the other team was so strong the ball never even got past the halfway line so he hardly touched it. So the coach has never seen what he can do in the right circumstances. It's a cycle of missed opportunities.

He has tried talking to the coach who has told the players they are not allowed to ask if they can play certain positions. It is up to the coach to assign positions. I just wonder, if he should just suck it up and continue to play defence. It just feels he has not gotten the same chances to prove himself as the coach's son, which I guess is to be expected.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely agree.

Anonymous said...

There is a reason your kids are not playing as much, they are not good! I'm not a fan of bench players, most of the time their time would be better spent pursuing other interests. If your kid is working non stop to get better and improve, then by all means let them keep chasing their dream they will realize it, if they don't pick up a ball in between practices, might be time to move on.

squimbs said...

Sometimes it is frustrating as a parent when other parents complain about position or playing time because often the position or playing time comes from another player whose parents don't complain because they understand why a coach makes these decisions. Complaining to a coach, who then bends to those complaints is a form of entitlement in some cases. Example: my son plays right mid in travel soccer because it is absolutely his best position and all coaches and parents have remarked about it. He plays about the same amount of time as everyone else on the team. A parent complained about their child playing defense, so guess what? My son played defense the next game with no prior coaching on the position. Next game, a parent complained about playing time. Guess what? My son played less than half of the game. The team is on a losing streak and I actually overheard them saying, "OMG why are they moving him there" and "OMG why are they taking one of the team's best players out while we are down?" You know why? Because parents complained. It's good to advocate for your child, sure, but know that it comes at the expense of others and sometimes the team too.

From a parent that doesn't complain to the coach.

Anonymous said...

Like alot of thing with kids,it starts at home.Why should a kid that is late for practice or does not show up at all(because of parents)get the same or any playing time compared to the kid that practices every day at home,doesn't miss a practice and is more advanced because of it?This is what's wrong with America today.People want thing even though they don't put in the effort.I teach my kids to listen and learn from coaches.if you want to play more then do something about will not be handed to you.also at this age its not about winning but learning and having fun..with that said ask any competitive kid if it was fun to lose

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