Youth Sports and Equal Playtime: Right or Wrong?

Youth Sports and Equal Playtime: Right or Wrong?

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.

How a Coach’s Pride and Drive Can Hinder (not Help) a Team

Say that you’re a coach for a youth baseball team. Your team thus far has been lackluster in terms of performance, but they’re a good group of kids who keep trying and are okay with their results despite losing many games.

You, on the other hand, are not too happy with these continuous results. You become frustrated, pushing your team harder and harder. You snap at your players because they don’t seem to be performing as well as you KNOW they could be. You know they make you look bad because you’re supposed to be responsible for their successes, but instead you’re responsible for their failures. The next game is one that they actually win – you feel vindicated and continue with your coaching methods.

Whether or not you’re truly a coach outside of this hypothetical scenario, the problem here should be obvious – the focus isn’t necessarily on the players themselves, but how the coach is perceived and their own feelings.

Why is this so bad, especially if it gives results? Let’s explore the numerous reasons this kind of coaching strategy should be off the table.

Youth Sports Should be about the Athletes
Coaches often fantasize about being glorified; they want to coach that dream team to the finals and have a taste of the glory involved with being responsible for such a success. However, coaches need to realize that this relationship is incredibly symbiotic. After all, they wouldn’t even be a coach without the athletes on the field.

Youth sports should be about the child athletes trying their best to fight and win, even when they lose. A coach is entitled to their personal feelings and dreams, but these attitudes should stay off the field. Their job is to encourage the athletes, not their own ego.

It Can Become Abusive
In nightmare scenarios, coaches can become physically and verbally abusive towards their players – a child makes a mistake for the umpteenth time and their reaction is to berate them with insults because as a coach they’ve been pushed to their limit. Even if things aren’t this bad, if a coach starts to show signs of frustration and ill will towards athletes then it is possible the behavior can escalate.

Pride Can Hurt a Child’s Own Sense of Self
When a coach focuses on a team’s success in terms of fueling their own prideful ego, they take away the focus from the children. However, the harm can go beyond figurative terms. Coaches who pat themselves on the back and berate players for their failures create an atmosphere of disappointment, ridicule and self-doubt.

Athletes perform better when they’re confident, not when they’re unfocused, terrified or hurt. Lifting up a child athlete will allow them to perform optimally, while the opposite will happen when they are verbally abused or neglected by a coach.

It’s also important to remember that children already beat themselves up enough for their missteps – players feel it when they lose a game, so it’s unnecessary to rub salt into the wound because their own pride has been damaged. Try boosting their spirits with words of encouragement and then they’ll truly thrive.