Tips For Managing Playing Time
Balancing a win at all cost mentality with equal playing can be tough, so here are some tips to help
One of the most challenging issues facing a Responsible Coach is the allocation of playing time. You, as a Responsible Coach, want not only to win, but also to use sports to teach youth athletes life lessons. And, warming the bench will not provide all of the life lessons that sports can teach.
Playing time issues are a matter of keeping the sport fun so that players work and play hard in practice and return season after season to reap the physical, mental, emotional and social benefits of sports. These issues also concern the value of "meaningful minutes" (i.e., time in the game while a win or loss remains at stake) so that all players are immersed in the joy of competition.
No matter how much your players learn about the game and about life in your practices, there is nothing like meaningful minutes to show players what they're made of, what they can achieve, and how hard they must work to succeed. Appropriate use of those minutes will help your team win more games and develop your youth athletes as players and people.
Here are a few ideas that will help keep players and their parents engaged and supportive of your playing-time allocation — even if they are not the stars of your team:
Set the table. In your pre-season meeting, let players and parents know your approach to playing time. If reduced playing time is a consequence for missing practice, for example, say so. You might also want to explain your philosophy for balancing the pursuit of scoreboard wins with your attempts to get everyone a reasonable amount of meaningful minutes.
"Reasonable" will vary depending on your community's standards, players' ages, and quality of the competition. Considering those factors, be honest, especially with yourself. We might all like to think we'd allocate minutes evenly even in a close game, but you will spare a lot of grief by explaining, for example, "I hope to give every player substantial playing time in every game while the game's outcome remains in doubt. However, our travel team places a higher value on winning than house league, so if a game is close at the end, I am likely to stick with the players most capable of getting us the win."
Assess your team's schedule. If you know at the start of the season the quality of competition you will face in each game on your schedule, you can identify certain games for allocating more playing time to substitutes without risking a scoreboard loss. In practices leading up to those games, you can give your substitutes more reps and experiment with different combinations of players in your line-ups.
You may be pleasantly surprised with chemistry that develops, and you can keep those combinations in mind for future development. That way, you are improving your team's overall performance and finding ways to maximize the benefits of playing time for more of your players.
Ask parents and players to identify schedule conflicts in advance and let you know. That way, you can prepare for that one game against top competition where you know that you will be without key players; in games leading up to the one where you will be short-handed, you might take extra care to find the playing time necessary for the players who will substitute for your soon-to-be-absentee stars.
Help players earn playing time. In practice, set up contests where players earn playing time. That way, you commit publicly to adding more playing time for certain players in the next game, and you are more likely to live up to that commitment.
The contests themselves should reward effort or an intangible, such as communication, rather than rewarding skill, because the object is to find more playing time for your lesser-skilled players. If, for example, you want your players to yell out plays so their teammates can hear during games, you can run a scrimmage in which the player who best yells out the appropriate strategy earns additional playing time in the next game.
This helps the whole team by reinforcing a key task that lends to improved game performance, by helping the player who wins the contest recognize an important way to contribute to the team, and by keeping all players mindful that you are a Responsible Coach, who keeps practice fun, improves the team and gives everyone a chance to earn playing time. This is in line with the Responsible Coaches code of Honoring the Game, where we respect the sports rules, opponents, officials, teammates and self.