It’s a tricky question and an endless debate to which we
have an answer. An answer that won’t satisfy everyone, but after long research
and discussion, we believe it to be the only reasonable solution.
It’s Not as Simple as You Might Think
What’s more important in youth sports? Giving players equal
playing time or winning the game? More often than not, the two can’t go
together. You have to opt for one and sacrifice the other.
If you give everyone equal playing time, that inherently
means that the weak players will have to play as well. And that often results
in a lost game. However, if you don’t allow them to play and thus learn, how
are they to become better players?
On the other hand, if you focus on winning, many players
won’t get the chance to shine and learn. That will leave you with matches won,
but with a lot of disappointed children and parents.
So yes, it’s a tricky question to answer.
It Depends on the Age
Everyone wants to play the game, no matter the sport. That’s
especially true when it comes to children. If they don’t get the chance to play
in official matches, it will be like they never played at all, and they might
as well be sitting at home watching the game on TV.
When children play sports and join teams, they don’t want to
train merely. Training for them is a means to an end. They have to do it to get
better and finally get a chance to shine in an official match where there are
As youth sports are all about the children, We firmly believe that the children
should have the chance to do what they came here to do in the first place – play the game and have fun. Winning
the game comes in second place.
However, that’s not all. That should be the case for
children up until the age of fourteen and the high school years. At that point,
there needs to be a shift in the way of thinking.
Children at that point are no longer only children, they are
now real players, and as such, they need to earn their time on the field. At
that point, they prefer winning, and they want to keep getting better. Those
who don’t have nothing to look for on the field and don’t have to be there.
As you can see, the answer is not simple, and there can
never be a universal solution for everyone.
As long as kids are kids, they should have fun, and sports
are there to provide precisely that. At these stages of their development, they
should only have fun while developing their playing skills. The only way to do
that is for them to play the game.
When children get older, there should
be a gradual shift towards them earning their place in the game along with a
focus on winning the games. Nothing in life will come free, everything must be
learned and earned, and when your players are old enough, that’s precisely when
they should learn this simple truth. However, they should still have some fun
Equal playing time is a major topic for discussion when talking about youth sports. While some coaches and parents, view it as a way to win games and develop only the most promising players, others don’t agree. They argue that playing sports at the youth level should be focused on the love of the game, not on achievement.
However, even with that attitude, there are definite benefits of equal playing time that make it a positive model of coaching young athletes.
It Creates a Balanced Team
Equal playing time in youth sports, especially up to the age of 12, is an integral part of providing every player with match practice. What they learn during practice and drilling has to be tried out in a real game environment so that each player can successfully adopt it.
It’s also more important for a coach training a team at this level to have the same roster and work with players to develop skills individually. Kids grow at different rates. A star-player with great talent and potential in one season might decline as other players start catching up. But a balanced team can rely on teamwork to overcome specific skill deficits.
It Reduces Fatigue, Burnout, and Injuries
When coaches only use one starting lineup, they run the risk of increasing fatigue and burnout for those players. Potentially, this can lead to injuries for the players with the highest game time, while the benched players might start leaving the team.
With equal playing time in youth sports, kids equally participate in every game. Frequent substitution and rotation of the lineups increases game time, experience level and reduces the risk of injury. It also gives the coach far greater tactical maneuverability when preparing for different games. It is especially useful during the height of the season when kids play both tournaments and regular league matches.
It Develops Healthy Friendships
Friendship is another positive side of the fair play. With everyone contributing to the team, it raises spirits and work rate and lowers jealousy and competitiveness among players. It can also help to create in-game partnerships, which benefit the game of the team.
For example, a partnership between a quarterback and offensive tackle means higher passing or running and more yards gained. In baseball, an interchangeable pair of pitchers and catchers can help the team surprise opposing teams with unconventional plays. While in basketball and soccer, this translates into more assists and shots per game.
What’s more, friendships on the field are quality relationships off the field as well. It helps each child find group acceptance, and helps them develop healthier social behavior.
It Promotes Fun Over Winning
Finally, equal playing time means everyone on the team is playing for fun and not for winning. It is an essential aspect of sports, as it improves the physical, psychological, emotional and social well-being of each player.
The Final Answer
So, should there be equal playing time in youth sports? Absolutely. It means that players receive the same support from their teammates, as the team does from the whole community. This type of sportsmanship among players, parents, and coaches is one of the main reasons League Network will continue to do everything it can to promote and help small youth sports organizations.
As a coach or league member, you’ve likely received a complaint or email or two about playtime. “Johnny sat on the bench for 40 minutes last game!” “Roseanne keeps getting all the field time while my Melissa is a benchwarmer – what gives?!” Your first response is to roll your eyes most likely – these kinds of helicopter parents are always going too far – but they may actually have a point.
Many coaches debate whether or not equal playtimes are actually beneficial to a team or not, but we’re here to tell you that the answer is definitive: they are. Want proof? We’ll back up our argument with five points.
1. Equal playing time help teams grow and succeed.
Say that Rachel is the star of your soccer team and Alyssa is one of the less skilled girls. You like to sub in Rachel more than Alyssa and usually reserve Alyssa for the later part of the second half so she has some field time. Rachel plays a majority of the game while Alyssa spends most of her time on the sidelines.
In this kind of scenario, Alyssa is given no chance to grow or better herself. With more field time, Alyssa can actually hone her skills. This makes her a better player so you’ll eventually have two great athletes instead of one.
2. Equal playtimes help promote team unity.
Children know when a peer is getting preferential treatment, and they also know when someone is getting cast aside. This energy creates a bad team dichotomy within your ranks. The “better” players will assume dominance while the “worse” player will resent them for their treatment. Equal playing time helps promote a more unified team.
3. Equal playing time build a child’s self-esteem.
As mentioned above, the children on a youth sports team know where they fall within the eyes of the coach if you treat them differently as compared to others. Athletes that are reserved to the spot of “benchwarmer” begin to feel worse and worse about their skills and eventually themselves. This is never a position which a team member should be in. However, playing all children equally means they build confidence as well as sports skills.
4. There’s a question of money.
Imagine that you’re the parent of a youth sports league athlete. You paid $200 for participation and a uniform – only to see your child play in about 10% of each game. When you look at a situation like this from a context of value, you can obviously see the problem.
It’s also important to note that some families will have to scrape and save money in order to put their children into youth sports leagues. Do you want them to see their child played for 10% of their games when they worked so hard to get them involved?
5. Sometimes it’s the rules.
This may not be the case in your league, but some actually state that equal playtime must be enforced by referees or a team may be penalized. These kinds of rules were put into place in order to create a fair game. Know the rules within your league, and consider creating a similar rule if you’re in a position to do so.
Stronger, faster and more skilled than their peers, these talented young athletes are their coach’s pride and their school’s star athlete.
Their parents and coaches wonder if it’s best for that child to play at a higher age level to unlock their full potential. They may feel the pressure to encourage their kids to play up, thinking that if they don’t, they are holding them back. Or to fulfill their own ambitions, they may push the young athlete for their own vanity. Sometimes it is the young athlete themselves who want to explore the challenge of playing at the next level of competition.
Regardless of who is pushing the young athlete to play at a higher age level and whatever the guidelines are with the league the child belongs to are, take into consideration these factors before insisting your talented young athlete play up:
Are they emotionally ready?
Kids develop at different rates; some mature much faster than others. So while your teenaged athlete may already look like a full-grown adult or your middle-schooler looks ready to drive, realize that the level of their maturity is only external. Mentally and emotionally, they may not be ready for the pressures of an older, more mature league.
Remember that a lot of mental strength is essential to compete at higher levels. The kids in the senior division may be just as big, just as strong and equally skilled but hold the advantage because they are more emotionally mature.
How much playing time will my child get?
Your young athlete may only be excelling in their age group because they are bigger, stronger, and faster than their peers. If you play them up to a higher level, you may realize that when playing with other kids who have the same level of physical maturity, that your child may not be that talented after all.
Consider the possibility that your child may not be awarded as much playing timeas they did in their old league. In this new league, they are no longer the star player. Coaches are more likely to concentrate on their league’s seasoned players who have earned their place as starters.
What skills will my child learn?
The most skilled player is usually placed in a leadership role by their coach. In your child’s current league, your young athlete has probably been awarded the title ofcaptain or team leader because of their outstanding athletic performance. They are role models for their peers. These positions will teach your child responsibility, discipline and teamwork.
If you want to move your child to a higher playing level because you think their skills will be sharpened, expect that they will most likely go from role model torole player in their new league. Their new team will already have a captain or a starting set composed of their more experienced players.
Because your young athlete will no longer have that competitive edge over their new, older peers, they will most likely not get as much playing time nor will they learn any new skills. And they will probably not be taking on leadership roles just yet.
Do you feel like your child doesn’t get enough playing time? At some point, parents will feel this way with many brushing it off thinking it is their imagination. However, other parents may begin to suspect their child is being snubbed and not being given the opportunity to play a fair amount of time as the others. Parents who feel this way may now know how to approach their child’s coach.
The majority of the time, coaches will have a valid reason why they are not playing your child as much. Before you decide to approach your kid’s coach, it’s best you ask your child how they feel about how much playing time they get or if they feel that they are not getting the same opportunities as their teammates.
The Kid Approach
If your child doesn’t know why their coach is playing them less and also expresses that they wish they had more playing time, then you know it is time to approach your child’s coach. Now that you’ve opened up the conversation with your child, ask them how they feel about speaking to their coach about more playing time. The advantage of your child talking to the coach before you do is that the coach will gain respect for your kid for stepping up and it will also show that your child is passionate about the role they play for the team.
The coach may be able to give your child some tips or better yet, make a deal with your child about what they need to do to get more playing time. It may be a matter of your child showing the coach improved performance or a better attitude towards drills at practice. A good coach will not take your child’s request to give them more playing time as a personal attack. A good coach will see this as the opportunity to correct any misbehavior’s or performance issues that led up to why your child received less playing time. Here are some tips your coach might give your child:
● Don’t just be present at every practice, be on time.
● Know the rules of the game.
● Stay alert. Being on the sidelines doesn’t mean you should stop paying attention.
● Work hard. Prove yourself during practices. Do the dirty work required to get better.
● Don’t mess around during practice. You could potentially hurt yourself or injure your teammates.
● Respect your teammates. Don’t bully.
● Listen to instructions. Follow instructions.
● Improve your skills.
The Parent Approach
However, if your child is uncomfortable about approaching the coach themselves, then it is up to you.
Be prepared for the truth. The reality is, the coach may have some valid reasons for why they are not giving your child more playing time. Your kid’s coach may open up to you about your child’s behavioral issues towards teammates and authority. Or that they have skills that are so underdeveloped that they worry about your child’s safety if they were put in against the opposing team’s best players.
However, if the coach denies giving your child less playing time with no team stats to back it up, you should challenge it. First of all, youth sports leagues are meant to be developmental for kids. But the reality is that there are some coaches that because of their win-at-all-costs attitude will only put in their most skilled players. Or worse, deliberately gives less playing time because they have something personal against that particular child. If the coach is unable to provide you with valid reasons for why your child is not getting enough play time, then a much more serious conversation will eventually need to take place.