Playing Time


If I were to count up the number of conflicts over my coaching and administrating career, I would guess that 90% of them involve playing time. This is not a complaint towards parents. Actually I want to start by defending them. As it has been said many times, it is so much easier to deal with conflict when you see it from the other’s perspective. Let’s see it from different perspectives.

All students are seeking for their identity. Remember that students from grades K through 5 have been a part of a collective class. Let’s do a sample scenario with sixth graders. We will look at Johnny (best soccer player) versus Tommy (average soccer player on a good day). Now Johnny started playing soccer when he was in 1st grade. Tommy has not played in a league or for a team at all. While in the 5th grade, Tommy can see that Johnny is better on the playground but they all get to play and no one is really judging Tommy for not being as good as Johnny. Some classmates might judge but mostly they are all playing as a big group, and unlike my public school days, our teachers are teaching students to be kind and pass (share) the ball with others! So now they enter the sixth grade and the infamous word, “tryouts,” land with a fear for Tommy because now, for really the first time, he may now be confronted with the idea of how he is not as good as others. Not just Johnny but all who are better. Tommy makes the team but as games begin and continue Tommy does not get to play. Tommy now complains in the car that, “I never get to play! The coach does not like me!” Now that Tommy’s identity has been shaken, his parents feel they need to act as they worry for him as he finds his place.

Now let’s see it from the coach’s perspective. A coach has 2 weeks to get ready to play games at the beginning of the season. The coach’s main job is to build a team, not build individual skills (this is done in the off-season). The coach looks at his team as starters, rotational players, and reserve players. Based on his opinion, Tommy is in the final group, the reserves, in considering Tommy’s skills and ability to help the team. The coach does his best to get Tommy in, but he cannot compromise the team’s ability to win the game. We are competing to win, even at the middle school level, as opposed to playing recreationally for fun or to play to just develop. He is not ignoring Tommy or is not disliking Tommy. He is simply doing part of what he is hired to do, build a team that is working toward a team goal.

So it is easy to see why there is conflict when you consider different perspectives. Everyone wants every player to contribute and feel as they are essential to the team’s success. Everyone wants Tommy and Johnny to grow as young men learning life lessons from a biblical worldview.

Let’s look at some helpful thoughts on how to help everyone deal with this situation.

  • Coaches need to be honest with players about where they stand on the team in terms of their role and define it at the start of the season. It is not just the position they play but the role they play at that point in their life. To be told that you are a starter, rotational player, or reserve is not mean, it is truth. Coaches need to communicate regularly with parents this honest evaluation of their student AT THAT POINT IN TIME. This does not mean forever. It just means for this season. Coaches should also tell the player that when they do get in the game that they should do something to impress them. They are not playing because the coach has not seen them provide additional value. If the role changes a coach should let the player know. Don’t assume they know. Sometimes a player moves up one place from reserve to rotational or rotational to starter but normally not two levels. Coaches need to evaluate players at the end of every season and tell them what they need to work on in the off season. They need to hear strengths and challenges. Coaches need to encourage players to find an off-season team to play on if they are passionate about the sport. Coaches should never put reserves in for the last minute of a game. This is pity, and no one wants that. If they cannot provide value, don’t put them in the game. But, I have to believe they can play some during the game, even if it is for short time periods.
  • Parents need to help students in moments of conflict by reminding them that disappointments are an opportunity to develop mental toughness and overcoming failures of set goals. Failing does not make you a failure! Parents should encourage the player to talk to the coach directly instead of trying to solve the problem for them. They need to fight their own battles. Parents should only encourage their students when they complain by telling them (in a loving way) that they are sure the coach likes them and makes decisions based on what they see from the child. They should remind them that the coach is to be respected as an authority figure and that it is the child’s job to show the coach they should play more by their actions. Parents should remind the student lastly that coaches love great attitudes. The coach really does feel bad that Tommy is not playing but does not know how to balance the need to compete with the desire to bless the child. Great attitudes go a long way!
  • Students should take all of these thoughts above to heart and remember that they are responsible for their actions and attitudes. Facing a failure to get what you desire is not the end but rather the beginning. This is just a moment of truth that has revealed an opportunity for growth—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Learn to love these moments as it refines you. Remember that the boys that went into and faced the fiery furnace were most likely very uncomfortable due to the heat, but the end result was what bound them being burned off to give them freedom! And they didn’t even have to carry the smell of smoke with them!

Till next time…


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