Athletes Need Equal Playing Time Until Age 14

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When I asked Dr. Nicole Lavoi , Associate Director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sports, what aspect of youth sports she would immediately address, she told me, “Mandate equal playing time up to age 14 for all levels of sports. Both at the recreational and competitive levels.”

I thought that was a curious response until I realized that too few youth sports teams implement this policy.

I am continually amazed that the directive to allow equal playing time for EVERY athlete up until age 14 is such a hotly contested idea. Abiding by this policy, and I mean REALLY ABIDING by this policy would solve a number of problems that plague youth sports teams.

“But everyone knows a coach can keep a team from winning by putting in a lesser athlete. Everyone wants to win. Why can’t a coach try to win an important game? The kids all want to win too.” This quote is from a woman who attended a sports class I taught, and at first blush, I agree with her. Coaches should have the right to try to win tough, important games. It is part of the aligning expectations that makes this conversation so difficult for some people.

Parents have expectations, athletes have expectations and coaches have expectations. Until we align the varied perspectives we will continue to see frustration, bitterness and anger associated with youth sports.Because the one common denominator for the three groups is winning, decisions to keep lesser athletes on the bench seems justified. After all, everyone who has gathered has come with the hope of winning the game.

Coaches deserve a chance to coach a team to a big victory, and that should be one of the things they want. It’s part of what the parents want too. They want their children to experience the high of winning, they want their children to have success, and they want their children to be treated fairly. Athletes want to win too. More than that though, and echoed over and over in conversations I had in living rooms across this country, kids want to play.

We need to seek wins, but we need to seek wins without sacrificing kids along the way.

During one of my research huddles, Tony said something that has stuck with me. “The best coaches get the most out of their worst players. Anyone can coach the best kids–only a good coach can improve the worst kid too.”

Why do we need to care about the lesser athletes? What do they have to offer the team in the final minutes of a game? They have their own lessons to learn right?: “Tough love is better.” “Life is tough.””Not everyone is a winner. They will learn the harsh realities of the world eventually, why not now?”

The harsh lessons learned are inevitable, but let the game be the teacher. Let them learn lessons because they made the bad play and lost the game. Let them learn the lesson that they need to pick up a teammate who has made a mistake and learn to encourage someone who is down. Those are the lessons we need to be teaching children. The last lesson we need to teach them is that they are not worthy.

The damage that is done to children under the age of 14 who find themselves sitting on the bench is not worth one more win on the stat sheet.

The cognitive development of children needs to be a part of coaching decisions. Period.

Before adolescence, children are primarily concrete thinkers. For children, the world is more black and white than grey and fuscia. They cannot conceptualize the world in abstract thinking, and they are working to develop a sense of self at the same time.

Without telling a child on the bench they are a less-than, they immediately know they are a less-than. They know it to their core, and it becomes a part of who they are. They don’t understand the abstract concepts of “sacrificing for the team” or “it’s the role you have to play right now.” Too many kids internalize this message and make a decision right then and there about who they are going to be. Or even more tragically, who they will never be. “I am not good enough.” “I am a bad athlete.” “I don’t measure up.”

This fixed mindset is more detrimental than a win is beneficial.    ****read that last sentence again**** A fixed mindset is more detrimental than a win is beneficial.

One could argue, “The non-athletes need to figure out early enough that they are non-athletes and move on to something that better suits them.”

WHAT?!? No one is a fixed athlete, and to do anything that might convince a child, ANY child, that he/she is a non-athlete before their bodies have even grown any real muscle is deplorable.

We need to decide that  youth sports is about teaching. Coaches can take control of how lessons are taught, but the best teachers are the ones who worry about whether every kid in their class learned something worth carrying with them.

What do you think? Should youth teams have bench players?                fb                                twitter-logo-1

Copyright 2013  Meagan Frank                                      Choosing to Grow

56 replies »

  1. Meagan, this is a great post and one that every parent, coach, and youth sports organization should read. There are so many valid points made throughout your post that are often over looked when everyone is heading out the door to the field, rink, or court. One of the biggest challenges we face is lining up the perspectives, as you mention. Coaches feel pressure to win so that their sports organization can be “successful” and continue to grow in size. If they don’t win, parents will be unhappy and look elsewhere. Unfortunately, it’s true because you are going to always have youth organizations that will want to win at all costs.

    What’s interesting is that I’ve had many conversations over the past few months about the psychological implications of playing time and the stress we (parents / coaches) are placing on young athletes – it’s making parents unhappy to see their children suffer. Yet no one is willing, or has determined how, to make a stand for change. As a coach, I can change how I interact with my players, but it is done on such a small scale. As a parent, I struggle with knowing that my decisions and opinions don’t impact me, but rather my daughter. While I can hope that one day she will understand why I made the decisions I did, she may have to suffer the near-term consequences as the youth athlete. These are only a few of the roadblocks to change.

    How do we get back to the core concepts of playing sports – an opportunity to be physically fit, to challenge the body to develop physically, and how to be an integral member of a team (regardless of playing time)? I wish I had the answer.

    The other added challenge we face is that the vast majority of individuals out there coaching the young athletes are volunteers who have had little to no training in coaching and/or child development. They, most likely, do not feel empowered to make a stand against a parent who becomes irate after losing a game because the coach implemented equal playing time. They feel it is their job to make the parents happy and thus lose sight of the importance of playing a sport for the fun of it and the importance of developing the child (physically and mentally).

    So, to answer your question, no. I do not think youth teams should have bench players. As athletes approach age 14 and beyond, playing time will not be equal, BUT there should never be a player that see ZERO game time. Period. As for the younger age groups, equal playing time should be a given and not something we need to mandate.

    As always, thank you for the thought-provoking post and here’s hoping we can make a positive change in the youth sports landscape.


    • Katie,
      You bring up some excellent points. Depending on the culture of the organization, the pressure to win is pervasive. We need to consider what acceptance of this culture is doing to our kids. It breaks my heart to see kids so stressed about performance, living up, needing to win that they become physically ill or they get so sick of the environment that they quit well before they should be done competing. We can only control our own decisions, and on a micro level your choices as a coach ARE making a difference for kids. It does get more complicated when our decisions impact our own children, and I too have run into this with our kids. It is going to take a concerted effort to continue learning what the best decisions are on a case-by-case basis. Thanks for being invested in growing with me through this, and I too hope we can have a positive impact on kids.

    • I can not begin to explain and express myself as well as Katie said it but when I read something and it makes me choke up, get goosebumps and be on the verge of tears, I know this is hitting home. I have three children, all that play competitive sports and this subject has been weighing heavenly on my mind. Quoted by Katie, “While I can hope that one day she will understand why I made the decisions I did, she may have to suffer the near-term consequences as the youth athlete,” is how I am feeling each day. I KNOW what I would like to say and do. I would love nothing more to try to make these coaches see things from my perspective and to talk about the damage that I think they are possibly doing to my child but at what cost? Will my child NEVER play? Will my child be treated differently? Will my child be dropped to a lower team b/c I chose to speak up? It is an awful for me to to think about and be responsible for.

      • Stephanie,
        I appreciate so much that you commented. Thank you for taking the time. It is these decisions as parents that drive us crazy. We want to be good parents. We want to do what is best for our children. And we especially do not want the decisions we make to adversely affect our children. I have suffered through this with our two oldest so I totally get it. If I am being honest with myself, the emotion I feel when faced with these decisions is fear. It is the overwhelming emotion I heard from parents I interviewed too, and I hear it in the questions you are asking yourself. This is such a worthy conversation. What are we all afraid of? We are afraid our kids won’t be able to participate, we’re afraid they’ll be told no, we’re afraid they’ll be hurt by vengeful coaches and we don’t want to be the reason they feel that. I think my approach has shifted a bit as a result of the research I’ve done for this book. Speaking up is something I can control. Helping our children through fallout from voicing my opinions, something else I can do. Seeking out a place for them to play, not because it is the highest level team, but just so they have a place to play… I can do that too. We need to start identifying the places we can each institute small levels of control to guide our kids to adulthood, but we have to let some of the emotions they will feel belong to them. We have a choice about protecting them from harm (driving ourselves crazy to do that) or preparing them for harm and guiding them through it. I choose the guidance role, but man is it tough sometimes. I sense this should be its own blogpost…stay tuned.

  2. I agree that equal playing time should be a practice in youth sports; it’s the age breakdown that I’m not sure I agree with. At age 14, kids are entering high school and so BAM, they are suddenly hit with the fact that they have to fight for everything. I think that by 7-8th grade, which is more around age 12, kids should be gradually introduced to the reality that they will have to work for their playing time; it will not be given to them. Otherwise, high school sports will be a culture shock for them.

    • Janis,
      You make a good point. I’m conflicted about the middle school years…mostly because middle school years are so problematic in the first place. There is so much cognitive development happening for kids ages 12 and 13 that we have an opportunity to have an enormous impact on them as people. Can they be taught some of the “dog-fight” experiences and learn from those experiences? Certainly. The issue is, how do we decide which kids need to learn that? Would a gradual introduction to playing time woes include all athletes, or just the select few who are toward the bottom of the pool of talented kids? I don’t know. In an ideal world, what would it look like to gradually introduce middle school athletes to the reality that is coming in high school? You give me great food for thought. Thanks for weighing in.

  3. Thank you for all the great posts. I would ask this question however…. Is the issue so much about equal playing time or fair playing time. I ask this question because as I read the above posts I can very much relate. My heart is breaking for my child as his u15 lax team is approaching the final game for the state title. For much of the season all kids played in all the games, not necessarily equal time, but fair time. For the semi final game the coaches played only the starters with the remaining six kids getting maybe five minutes each. Shortly after the game An email went out stating how great this was and what a rare opportunity for the team and the town. Followed by the following statement which led me to this site and others like it. While all children will have the opportunity to play in the final game, it is our obligation to the team and the league to win as these opportunities are so rare. My son came off the field after the semis, and while many of the kids around him were celebrating, he was ready to burst into tears as he did not, at that moment, feel part of the team. I have coached for many years, both as a parent coach as well as prior to children. My emphasis was building a team framework, and encouraging kids to strive to be the best they could. I so wish that coaches would understand that although it is great to win, it is more important to develop the kids as players, foster a love of the game, create a “team” philosophy, and build up their self esteem. If coaches could do that they may find that they would still be able to win games. They might also stop asking why as kids get older they choose to drop out of that sport.

    • Linda,
      Thank you so much for your comment. I think you make a really valid point “equal” vs. “fair”. Adding up minutes does not necessarily provide kids with the “fair” opportunities of competing in the closing minutes of a game, or when playoffs are on the line. I am sorry your son had to deal with the decisions of his coach and hopefully it is something that can build great character in him. That character-building can happen with patient support from you and it sounds as though you are doing everything you can to guide him through it.

      Thanks again for commenting! You gave me great food for thought.

  4. Does not a coach who must play everyone become a better strategic coach? I have fought this battle many times.

  5. 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.

    • Gwen,
      This post is written from more than the perspective of a parent seeking equal playing time for her kids. I write as an athlete, coach and educator. Likely the biggest influence of the arguments I make is that of an educator. Do I think all kids should win? No. Do I think all medical students should pass just to make it fair? No. Do I think children (mind you this article addresses the mental and emotional needs of CHILDREN under the age of 14) should have a chance to play? Yes…absolutely and without the distinction of “competitive” or “noncompetitive” teams. I feel badly for the children you term “weakest links” and it is that attitude that drives seemingly less talented athletes away from sport entirely. As they are developing, they will and should make mistakes, but they should not be punished for not achieving . If we did that in our classrooms, we would simply stop teaching the kids who didn’t get the math stuff the first time around. “Johnny, I’m sorry. You didn’t get that math problem right on your test. You need to go sit in the other room while I teach the kids who are doing it right.”
      I don’t believe in giving every child a trophy when competing in games or tournaments. They need to learn how to win and lose. I do believe in wins and losses but in a team arena, too much damage can be done to kids if winning matters more than developing each and every child on the team. I also believe in encouraging effort and rewarding effort. The kids will eventually figure out, on their own, how they stack up to their peers, but I don’t think it is the job of adults to plant seeds of worthlessness as the children are LEARNING to play and compete.

      • Meagan – I think you are missing one important factor. Motivation. I dont think anyone suggests that sitting the bench is or should be used as punishment – at least I hope not. However, why should one unmotivated player have as much playing time as a motivated one? Why should Sally play just as much as Mary, when Mary practices at home, and gives 100% effort and Sally does not? I think alot of what you say is true, but you are not considering the “emotional” impact of those players when they ask their parents, why do I have to sit the bench as much as Sally? And trust me there is an impact. I am sure there are 100’s of books on the psycology of children – I have read, well just a few of them. But there is on thing that is true and you dont need to spend 1000’s of dollars on books to figure out. Self Reliance – you can’t teach it in a book, it has to be learned. As I stand here today, a person who sat the bench…I learned at a very early age that my Parents were not going to complain to the coach which is so commonplace today. I had to figure it out – I had to practice in the backyard – I had to go to the coach and ask what I needed to do to play more. THAT IS THE MAGIC Megan – and that magic is lost in our youth, and its the Parents Fault. If there was one lesson our young athletes shoudl learn, it is that one – not how to throw or kick a ball. The complaining adults get too caught up in the complaining to see it…and unfortunatley that complaining mentality has taken hold of our society, and our youth. Certainly players of a young age should not be “Benched” – Ever. However, there should not be “Equal” playing time for all. And by the way I stand here today a person who was passed over years ago at my Job…only to find that the several people who I was passed over for…now report to me :).

      • Pete I think the point is if a kid doesn’t deserve playing time on the team he/she is on, they should be on a lower tiered team. It makes no sense to place a child on a certain team and then not play them. Where kids decide their effort level is evaluations. After that they are all equal for the season.

    • If you think life isn’t fair or equal, then you shouldn’t be working with children.

      Perhaps you should be coaching a professional team…..provided you yourself can make the cut.

      Many parents have indeed woken up…..they want what is best for their children. We are not living in the stone ages any more…..we have an understanding of the psychological damage done to children with a “win at all costs” philosophy.

      The rewards of playing sports in a positive environment where play is fair and equal is worth the “hissy fit” you describe.

  6. Gwen,
    I don’t think that giving equal play time to children is the same as “everyone wins.” Giving equal play time is about player development, not fairness or booboo kissing.
    There’s a saying that everybody knows, “there’s no ‘I’ in team.” It’s usually directed at players who aren’t using their teammates. You can look at it from another perspective also. It can be directed at coaches who want to play star players to win games at the expense of other players. Giving more play time to the best players hurts the team. By giving the better players more opportunity to play, you’re robbing the players who need more work of opportunity to develop in the game. Practice is a learning environment where plays are drilled and movements are practiced. Playing on a field against another team shows players how the training pays off and cements those plays and movements into the player’s subconscious. To take that opportunity away from the players who need it most, you weaken the team by having only a few really good players among a host of lesser players. A team with star players is only good when they’re on the field. Players quit, move, get injured, or take vacations. A better team would be one that has many good players and can stand on its own without the need for star players. If a preferred running back is missing, there is a whole team of them that know the position.
    It will seem obvious to the coach who wants to win games that you sit players who don’t perform as well as other players, and I will concede that it’s hard to sit a player when he’s playing hot. There are certainly times when the players, coaches and spectators want to see the best tight end catch one in the end zone. But to sit an elementary school child for 90% of the game because he isn’t performing to the coaches’ standard (it happend to my son at his last game) isn’t acceptable.
    Let’s not forget that on the other side of the bench are the spectators who want to watch their own star players. These aren’t stands filled with people who come for the love of the game. They’re not hauling their folding chairs and cameras to distant towns to watch a riveting game of football, or baseball, or whatever. Most people watching the game would not be there if their own star player wasn’t there. Grandma will not come to a game if her grandchild isn’t there. Try and point out parents who are there without their kids. You won’t count very high. As a parent, I come to watch my boy play. When I watch him sit on the bench looking down at his shoes, or I watch him ask the coach if he can play and the coach grabs the kid behind him, it breaks my heart. When I ask him if he had fun at the game, I don’t get an enthusiastic response with details of his daring do. What I get is a shrug and an “I dunno, yeah?” I’ll wager that if he played more of the game he would have more to talk about, and be proud of. As a parent, I would rather watch my child play in loss than to watch him sit on the bench in a victory.
    What should I say to him about it? Do I say that the reason he’s not playing more is because he’s not as good as everyone else? Do I tell him to try harder and maybe the coach will play him more? It may be true, but that’s how kids at the elementary level should be coached. It sends a message that he’s not wanted because he’s not good enough, or if he were better he would be liked more. This business of giving the better players more play time has to stop.

    Players should not be benched for poor performance. It’s not the job of the coach in grade school sports to win games, it’s to develop the players so they can win or lose the games on their own.
    The game doesn’t belong to the coaches, it belongs to the players. Let them play it.

  7. There is only one opinion that really matters in this debate: the voice of the young athletes themselves.

    And anyone who is serious about youth sports has seen the studies done on this topic. And the results have always been clear…..even without these studies:

    Children play sports to have fun.

    They want a chance to participate and learn with their peers. Children care about playing and learning, not winning at all costs.

    Once adults realize this truth, this debate will quietly end.

    Professionals in schools applied this knowledge decades ago, and now schools focus on participation and teamwork. Youth sports organizations have been slower to catch up, but thankfully, there are signs of hope.

    The military too has always understood the value of teamwork. No one is left behind. Every member of the team is equal. No one is special.

    Athletes learn lessons of fairness, sportsmanship and teamwork in an environment where there are no “stars” only team members of varying ability, all striving to learn skills.

    Many adults do care more about giving athletes equal playing time than just winning. .

    But, it takes courage to give the developing members of the team a chance.
    It may mean losing a game. That is why educating parents about expectations is so important.

    Coaches are beginning to realize that their developing players are often more likely to continue on the team. And some are being bolder. I watched one game recently where a youth soccer coach told his team to stop scoring goals……they were winning a lopsided game, and he wanted his team to respect the other coach and players. The same coach lost a game because he played some junior players who let in goals. The parents knew his philosophy, and there was not one complaint.

    The children need to be the focus. As adults, we need to work as a team to get there.

    The coaches are the teachers. Anyone can put star players on the field and look good. Only the best teachers can develop all the players and have the courage to put values ahead of winning.

    It will take time, but if we only consider the children, this debate is over.

  8. I think athletes need equal playing time until age 49… in grassroots, anyway. And then maybe they might prefer more rest time anyway. Here in Australia, in the Beautiful Game (soccer) there are codes of conduct for coaches and for players which pretty much say what Jack says. It’s not the coach’s job to make the team win. It’s the players’ job to make the team win. The coach’s job is to make the players happy, confident and competent, so they can do so.

  9. If you aren’t going to play my kid, don’t take my money or put them on a lower tier team where they will play. I am not here to subsidize other parents, and my kid is not here to be a practice pylon. I think most parents feel the same but those parents who happen to have a top player of course immediately start seeing it differently. However, if the club started charging by play time and perhaps even charging the play time hog parents to pay the practice pylons to show up, once they realize what the fair financial implications of expecting favoritism in play time are they might change their tune.

    So it’s simple. If my kid isn’t going to play don’t take my money and put them on the team. I’ll take a lower tier team where he/she does get to play thanks.

  10. I think kids should have equal playing time until 7th grade because they need to get ready for high school in 8th grade and they can’t find out what the sport is really like unless they get to play more.

  11. This one is a no-brainer if you talk to the right people.

    Of course, if you talk to the adults who are organizing the sports, winning is so important. Its all about winning, the coaches’ son is special, and benching and cutting players is just a necessary function….just like in professional sports.

    The surprising thing we fail to do is to involve the children themselves in the decision-making. Of course, they are only children,so how could they possibly know anything? And they all want to win, of course.

    I suggest changing sports from being top-down, adult-driven, and involve the athletes, the children. If you do that, you will find that collectively, winning is less important than adults commonly believe. Most children just want to have fun, participate, and play in a environment with lots of positive reinforcement. They all deserve the chance to play, and if they “make the team” surely teamwork demands that they have equal playing time.

    But of course, we have adults who will nay-say that, and indicate that these competitive children need to be on winning teams. Often these are the same adults who push children in sports to the point of abuse. And we see the ridiculous antics of certain coaches and parents at the games. (Of course, some coaches and parents do not fit this description at all, and their ranks are, thankfully, growing).

    The school system and the governments are already a long way down this road focusing more on participation and healthy living than winning at the cost of the children. Probably less than one percent of child athletes have any hope of playing professionally, and having happier and more cooperative children might be more important in the long run than having unhappy and competitive children.

    I have played, coached, and have children that are athletes. My own solution has been to pull my children from overzealous teams. Other parents need to do the same, and to be vocal about it.

    If the kids were getting paid to be athletes, all the professional sport lingo and philosophy would be justified.

    But they are not getting paid.

    They just want to play.

    And they expect adults to treat them fairly and with respect.

    One day, we will get there.

    • Ken,

      It’s even worse than that. By not developing the whole team the coach leaves the team vulnerable to injuries to their top players or even recruitment by other teams. A coach should not be carrying any players he/she doesn’t feel they can play, as the longer term result will be the collapse of the team. And trust me the top players will get injured. If you go up against another win at all cost team, and you are relying on one or two key players, the other coach will take them out. I know it’s not very sportsmanlike but don’t be counting on sportsmanship. The way to beat a win at all cost team is to have too many dangerous players for their goon to cover, and to do that you have to develop all your players.

  12. I’ve wrestled with this topic as a coach, a player myself, and as a parent of kids who found themselves on the bubble at various times in sports.I wasn’t satisfied in my first go-round as a baseball coach where minimum but not equal play time rules existed. I thought at the time, that I should try to be fair to all players including the more competitive ones who wanted to be on a team that had a chance to win at game outset. I decided that I did owe it to my players that if I were going to give them a lesser role that I personally had to offer opportunity for them to improve their situation. I did voluntary skills practices one evening per week instead of offering the usual go play catch with your dad advice that is sometimes given to the struggling kid. I won’t say the extra practices completely alleviated the inevitable playing time disagreements but I felt I was at least offering something.Even efforts like what I tried to do may come up short, in terms of fairness, it depends on point of view. I think equal play time rules until a certain age might even be a better way to dispense playing time. After such age, I still think the coach owes something in terms of offering a kid a chance to work themselves up other than tacitly encouraging parents to write another check to some skills camp or the like during the “off-season”!

  13. I think that this article is spot on. I always will take the team that isn’t that good over the team that is all about winning. I follow the same words I know I did good job coaching not by my wins and losses but if the kid I was coaching got better at the end of the year. It teach some of the kids that winning is good but learning is better thanks I need to send this to some of the coaches that coach in our club

    • I think another aspect to the winning/learning argument that does not get near enough attention is that whether a team will win more than they lose is usually determined before the season even begins, and has little to do with coaching or individual player effort during the season (assuming everyone is trying their best). Factors like which kid signs up for the club, how well the evaluations are done, and which tier the team is placed in have more to do with it than anything. If a team doesn’t lose a game all season chances are the club placed the team in the wrong tier, and similarly if they don’t win a game all season.

      In adult leagues this issue is easier to deal with because teams usually are fairly consistent from year to year and where they are placed is usually based on past performance. A typical strategy might be to have the top 2 teams in each tier “move up” the following season and the bottom 2 teams “move down”. However this is extremely difficult to do with youth teams as the teams are typically completely rebuilt every season based on evaluations. Many players end up in the same “group” for a period of time but that would be based on them developing more or less at the same pace. Unlike adult leagues, with youth teams the top few players move up rather than the team, so each season you basically have a new team.

      Does that mean coaching doesn’t matter? Well, it’s better to have a good coach than a bad one but most of the coach’s work gets done at practice, not during the games.

      For these reasons many youth clubs focus on player development rather than winning. The easiest way to win all your games is to put the team in a lower tier, but that doesn’t necessarily teach the kids anything.

  14. Meaghan,

    I really enjoyed reading your article and I could not agree more with your perspective. My girls have played softball since they were 7 years old, They are now 14 and 11 and still playing in programs that cost thousands of dollars.. During these past 7 years, I’ve seen it all in terms of the worst in youth sports.

    Some examples:
    My youngest daughter played every inning of every game at age 7, signed on with the same team the following year and really looked forward to playing. We paid the $1000 and the coach was really excited to have her on the team as the ninth player … that is until a better player came along. Long story short – the coach decided to only play 9 players nearly every game (you can play 11) regardless of the score. Of course he did not tell me ahead of time so that I could place her somewhere else and yes I did not learn about this new approach until my $1000 check was cashed. My daughter ended the season telling me that she never wanted to play softball again.

    My 14 year old was playing on a team and the coach decided not to bat her for nearly an entire tournament. We called the coach – after a long discussion she assured me that my daughter would not have to fight for playing time and that she would never be hit for again. Two tournaments later, my daughter did not bat – again after the $1500 check was cashed.

    The local town league sneaked into a conference room and passed a rule not allowing club players to play on the league team (the only town out of 39 that has such a rule). They knew going in that it would only impact my daughter. Not a word was said to me. At the end of the year, they sent several emails inviting her to tryouts only so that they could cut her because of the new rule.

    These are just a few stories I could tell.

    Youth sports in one of the only things that an untrained coach can work with kids and impact them for life. If I tried to open a school to teach kids math – I’d have to be certified. Ditto with day care, If I want to teach kids how to play a sport, in this case softball … here is the bucket of balls. No training, no certification, no coaching skills – just go for it. These coaches think that by watching ESPN, they are qualified to coach youth sports. As Bob Bigelow puts it – you’ve got plumbers, bakers, real estate agent, candlestick makers making decisions on the athletic future of kids as young as 6 years old. Oh, and I am reminded that they are volunteers doing this for free (some actually get paid but are no more qualified). The ones who do it for free aren;t really doing it for free as they get to bring their kids along and assure that they get playing time.

    In short, adults are ruining the sports experience for millions of kids. They are exploiting these kids. There is a nice hot place in hell for 2 kinds of coaches – one who does this profit – and one who thinks he/she is a great coach because he/she wins. Hold up the trophy and let me show you how great I am as a coach.

    Mr. Bigelow defines success as a coach as “if you least talented player wants to come back the following year”. I’d add to that – “every player wants to come back.”.

    Youth sports programs are driving kids away at an alarming rate. Many kids are now leavinb sports at earlier and earlier ages and never know the benefits of sports. Something really needs to be done. I need to deal with this for a couple of more years but once my kids move on to high school, I plan on pursuing changing the way youth sports are managed. Mandatory training/certification for coaches, playing time rules such as guaranteed 75% playing time for all, required membership in professional organization such as Positive Coaching Alliance, etc.

    I don;t really know how effective I will be but I do intend to add my voice.

    • Mike S – I think you are being a little hard on “all volunteer coaches”. Many of them are quite well meaning and would gladly not coach if there were someone else willing to do it. They are under a lot of pressure, usually from parents, to win. I leagues where there are no boundary restrictions it is common for parents to “shop” for a winning club.

      I remember the first year I coach my daughter’s team. It was a new team and we had a really rough first have of the season. We had to go through a sort of lobby to get back to the changing rooms and the parents would literally ignore me. Then we won a game pretty substantially and I literally had to go through a receiving line of parents congratulating me on a great game. I didn’t do anything differently. We just happened to put it all together finally after weeks of practice and win one.

      Coaches face all sorts of other uncontrollable factors like how many returning players they have who are familiar with the team strategies, who signs up, how accurate the evaluations were (they usually aren’t very accurate beyond tier 1 or 2), and how much support the parents provide in terms of getting the kids to practice and such.

      But I agree there are “those” coaches out there who can only seem to make a difficult situation even worse by favoring certain players, and it’s especially frustrating if they favor their own child. I once took my daughter to a different city to “play up” in a tournament with a higher tiered team. I spent probably $600 on gas, food, and hotel and it took the whole weekend. She played 10 minutes. Needless to say I declined any further call up requests from that coach.

      Other wonderful coaching behaviors include putting too much pressure on the kids, criticizing them, yelling at or disrespecting the ref, or encouraging foul play. But if you hang around youth sports you will see it all. This is why so many leagues have trouble finding and retaining refs.

      But there are hopeful signs out there. I decided not to coach myself anymore and drop my son down a tier intentionally and skip all this extra paid training. His new coach is really good and my son is having a blast. Plus he came out of the gates as the top scorer on the new team so instant acceptance from the other parents. Plus plus he gets called up occasionally so we get free extra games. I worry about it a bit from a development point because he really is better than some of the players on his team but he is not without peers on both his team and the competition, and the coach seems quite sensitive about challenging all the players to their ability level. Was it the right thing to do? I don’t know but it’s only one season and this club does evaluations too so if they deem him to be as good as I think he is he’ll probably get moved up next season anyway. But the important thing is he is having fun and always looks forward to going even when the coach schedules extra practices. I just decided all this “development” was excessive so he should have a year where he could play just because it was fun. Realistically most of these kids don’t have a hope of playing pro so if you aren’t tier 1 does it really matter where you play? Even most of those tier 1 players aren’t going to get a scholarship so most of the time and money is wasted. All you are doing is providing practice players for the kids who do go on to a scholarship, so I changed my thinking to “this should be fun or we aren’t doing it”.

      However it didn’t work out quite as planned. The coach found out I had extensive coaching experience and a valid card so I’ve been tasked with everything from reffing to actually coaching a game when he was out of town for work. I haven’t got to sit and just enjoy watching a game yet, but I am looking forward to it. I enjoy the call up games the best because that’s what I get to do, sit, watch and cheer.

      Anyway, having coached myself, I have every respect for the folks who step up to do it, it is a lot of work and mostly thankless, most of them don’t get paid and those who do it usually isn’t substantial, and there is a lot to think about including constantly monitoring your own behavior, which can be difficult because it’s hard not to get caught up in the game. You are expected to be a role model, which if you think about it too much is reason enough not to want to coach right there.

  15. I agree kids at younger ages should play. I agree player development should be first. I see no place for yelling and screaming. One of the best basketball sports leagues I’ve been in has an expected standard rotation. Coaches put in players, according to skill, but according to the rotation. Additionally, there are six periods that allow for frequent and even rotations. It works well when ALL the teams in the league abide by those same expectations.

    In regular basketball leagues I still try to get everyone in the game at some point as much as possible. Against strong teams I play strong players more. Against weak teams, I play players in need of skill development more. Over the course of a season it works out where everyone played pretty much equally. That should be acceptable.

    However, I’ve had parents who simply cannot see the forest for the trees (ie: the big picture). Their kid could START and play the ENTIRE game against a lesser team, while stronger players sit, then they complain when their kid doesn’t get to play as much against a stronger team. They somehow forget the stronger players sat too!!! This is varsity by the way (9th-12th).

    After the passive-aggressive parents send the predictable nasty-gram, I have little to no sympathy for the kid and work the crap out of them at practice. I stop catering to the “victim” class, whose feelings matter more than facts, and whose parents are living vicariously through their children. This inevitably happens once every season. I refuse to be manipulated by helicopter parents. So all you coaches out there who try your best to be fair, yet get bludgeoned by over-protective parents… I’m with you.

    • MLipenkranz

      I hear you. It’s tough as a coach to balance all the competing factors, especially since you will invariably play teams who play to win and only to win which puts you in a tough spot, and parents who are only lobbying for their own kids.

      I’m not sure where this desire to lobby for your own kid comes from unless you see a grand violation of the club’s policies. I think it comes from the fact that for many parents sports represents a significant expense once you add up all the fees, equipment, time and gas, so they want their money’s worth. But they don’t realize I guess that all the parents are spending the same time and money.

      Parents also get overly invested in their kid’s success. Somebody has to lose but it seems unthinkable it could be their kid. I’m not sure what drives this but I’m sure Freud could explain it.

      So all coaches end up trying to balance multiple factors and you can’t please everybody and most coaches don’t even get paid. No wonder they are so hard to find and clubs have to settle in many cases for “old style” coaches who only coach to win or to give their own child the best opportunities. (For example, my son once drew a penalty shot in hockey, and the coach pulled him off and put his own son out to take it. If my son was injured I could see it but he was not, and he was pretty mad about it after the game. He wanted to take what he perceived to be his penalty shot. And there was no reason to pull him he was high scorer on the team. But anyway I didn’t complain be we didn’t go back next season either.)

      Anyway, keep up the good work.

  16. I am a behaviour specialist for children and families. In my opinion, youth sports should be focused only on the needs of youth, and not adults, be they parents, coaches, spectators, or as organizations.

    If we look at youth sports from this important perspective of children, we will come to understand that their main objective is simply to play the sport and have fun. For them, winning games is a bonus, but never the main objective. If we watch children play without adult interference, such as on school playgrounds during free time, the behaviour is ad hoc play with no one really caring much what the score may be……

    This is not the case with adults, who often place a priority on winning games.

    The psychological damage of being benched is significant. Sports must teach children to love physical activity, to love learning, and to appreciate both competition and sportsmanship.

    There are some adults who understand this, and support a cooperative approach that includes positive reinforcement. equal playing time, safety first, skill development, fun, and sportsmanship.

    For the adults who do not understand or appreciate this, there is at least conversations starting which may lead, over time, to change.

    In my mind, this change can not come quickly enough.

    Every child deserves the opportunity to equal playing time. If they are on the team, they should be played.
    Children deserve a better youth sports experience…..and some people are already giving it them.
    We need to pay more attention to these pioneers…….and less to the game score.

    • Ken, thank you so much for your perspective. I couldn’t agree more. I do wonder what you think is an appropriate age to begin the transition to the adult way of playing where benching is part of the game?

      • On the main, I think there is no appropriate age.

        If a player is selected for a team at an older age, the player should have approximately equal playing time.

        Again, amateur athletes participate with the primary goal of participating and having fun, and secondary goals of learning skills, becoming part of a team, and possibly, becoming fit.

        Professional athletes on the other hand, are paid for their work, and as such, it is reasonable to reward only elite performance, although we must realize too that even this is subject to individual professional contract limitations. Professional team’s revenues depend on success, and so….winning is a major goal.

        As a consequence, the majority of professional athletes have a fairly short career, as injuries, burnout, and aging directly affects their longevity and performance.

        Now, it is true that a small percentage of amateur athletes are indeed preparing either for a professional career, or an elite amateur experience. Athletes who are Olympics hopefuls, or those playing on an elite team scouted for professional players are in a special category. In this case, coaches must balance fairness with reality, and must, therefore, have reasonable latitude to manage teams and individuals.

        Does this mean we should accept “benching as part of the game” at these rarefied levels?

        I would say not if someone were being regularly benched. That is an indication that either the selection process was in error, and the athlete should be placed on a more appropriate level team, or, that the teaching of skills by the club is wanting, and instruction practice needs to be reviewed. Even at pro levels, players going through a tough period are often sent to the farm team for some tune-up rather than being benched for long periods.

        For the vast majority of amateur athletes, equal playing time in a positive environment emphasizing sportsmanship, fun and learning is the way to go, regardless of age. Watch a bunch of adult hockey players on a pickup team at 4 am and you can see the delight of athletes staying fit and having fun in their chosen sport……where no one ever gets benched.

        Amateur sports groups often make the error of copying professional organizations or elite amateur groups. In this case, the egos of the adults trump the needs of the athletes. Winning becomes the main objective. Its wrong, it does damage to youth and adults, and it needs to stop.

        And thank goodness, at least we are starting to talk about it.

        What do you think?

      • Ken,

        I agree with your comments, however I would like to make a qualification.

        Professional athletes who are getting paid $100,000’s a year will sit on the bench when told to. They will go on when they are told and do what they are told until their contract expires and they get a better deal if they can.

        Amateur adult athletes do not. Maybe for key playoff games, but for the most part if an adult amateur has paid his money and came to the game and got dressed and then doesn’t get to play he will quit. Maybe they’ll find another team more his/her level but he/she won’t keep paying to come ride the bench.

        Adult amateurs do not tolerate being benched.

        Is it really any wonder our kids behave the same way? Or at least they want to but their parents say “no, you have to stick with it.”

        If you don’t get to play you should quit. It’s not your fault you aren’t good enough but the coach should not have put you on the team because he wanted a practice pylon. If you are good enough to practice, you are good enough to play. If you don’t get to play quit. Simple as that. You aren’t hurting anyone. After all, they weren’t playing you anyway, so they simply do not need you. Quit. Go find a team that does need you or if that can’t be done or you are no longer interested find another way to spend your time.

  17. Someone mentioned having a transition from the “everyone plays equally” to what happens in high school. My belief about basketball for 8th grade is that everyone plays the first 3 quarters evenly. In the final quarter, those that played best, hardest, and with the best attitude get more playing time (usually more than 5 players play in the last quarter). That’s my best attempt at transition to high school. It’s harder in some other sports to figure out how to have a transition to high school.
    Also – I have read that many kids don’t develop enough (physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual) to know what they’ll excel in until about 11th grade. This should affect how much we play kids, what positions they play, etc.

  18. I would add that benching a kid has the following affect

    1) Lowering self esteem
    2) Does not make the child feel like a contributing member of the TEAM
    3) The parent resent the coach
    4) The child resents the coach
    5) Benching to me is similar to bullying
    6) Players on the TEAM will begin to distance themselves from the “benched” kid who’s not good enough
    7) Eventually can lead to bullying… “You are NOT good enough
    8) Child resents sports
    9) Child quits sports
    10) In serious cases, can lead to suicide.

    I don’t mean to be so dramatic but the effects on benching a child so the “coach” can get a medal is the saddest thing in amateur sport in my mind. I think this does more harm than having a bad coach that cannot develop athletic skills and I am always shocked to see parents & associations continue to allow it to happen. I thought sports were for the kids, but it seems parents believe their kids sports are all about them.

  19. I think Marc hit some points that are correct. This just happened with my daughter. She is 11 years old. The coach asked her to be on the club team. Coach told us how much she wanted my daughter to play. After hesitation and after my daughter wanting to play club, I agreed. This is a first year team and all the players are new to club. We didn’t pick this team/ coach. She picked my daughter. Fast forward to now 8 months later. Since the first game, the coach has been playing her favorites. Even at practice my daughter could be seen sitting out for 15 minutes or more just watching. I didn’t say anything and just watched as my daughter sat more and more at the games.

    This last tournament, there were 4 games. She played maybe a total of 7 minutes in the first two. She asked to go home after game two. I made her stay. And then she played zero time in 3&4. She was the only kid who didn’t play at all in game 3 &4. My daughter asked if she could play and the coach said “maybe, maybe not”. Guess it was no. My daughter was upset and as mentioned above didn’t feel she was part of the team. Other players were telling her sorry that she didn’t play much. She said afterward she didn’t want to play and sit again in the next tournament. She said she is a terrible player and the coach will just sit her again. First year, age 11. Ready to quit.

    My daughter attends all practice. I asked the coach why she is getting less and less playing time. Here is what the coach told me “your daughter is a remarkable athlete and a great young lady but she has two very talented girls in her position better skilled thus far in their young Volleyball career”.

    My first question is why wasn’t she put in a different position if the coach already had two stronger players? And secondly, I didn’t realize this was a career already. I asked what she can do at this late in the season. The coach said she can see if they can move her off to another (lower) team for the last tournament. Prettty much making my daughter feel useless. There are 12 kids on the team, and my kid has spot number 13. So much for wanting to develop kids. I told my daughter that no coach at age 11 is going to define her ability as an athlete. We will go to the next tournament. It will be hard to watch as she sits on a bench again for 4 games; 6 hours, watching her friends play. Watching her team play. I thought girls play sports to improve their self esteem, to have fun, learn to be part of a team, development. Wrong sport for my kid? No! Wrong position? No!! Wrong coach, and wrong club? Yup.

  20. My son is going trough this right now. I was told by the coach it is his choice who plays. My son practices every day to become better. Hit hit in the game winning runs, but is not good enough to play the filed I guess. Once the team saw he was upset they totally gave up in the championship game and gotbeat by 12 runs. It effects the team as a whole as along as someone stands up for their child or someone else.


    • Nicholas,

      That is unfortunate. Unfortunately a great many coaches have things backwards and thing the kids are playing for them, when really that is backwards, the coaches are volunteering to help the kids. All of the kids. Unfortunately that still doesn’t always clear things up because many coaches see the objective as “winning”, not “playing”.

      I have great confidence that if a kid gets placed on a team he/she should expect “fair” play time “I use “fair” instead of “equal” because some kids, goalies, pitchers, catchers, quarterbacks, etc. are likely to play more just due to the nature of their position. A goalie for example can expect to play the whole game and that’s fair because most players don’t want to play goalie and a team is lucky if they have a good one.) The reason I have such confidence is that I have played a lot of sports as an adult. Adult teams if they have a coach it is usually one of the players and it is unthinkable that on adult teams players will show up and then not play. They find another team if that happens or take up tennis or something.

      So if we know for fact adults who have their own agency would never accept such terms, why do coaches think that sort of situation can be imposed on minors?

      I once spent $1000 and a whole weekend taking my daughter to an out of town tournament. She played a total of 10 minutes. I made sure she never played for that coach again.

  21. As a thirteen year old basketball and volleyball player, I can speak for us when I say that equal playing time for all child athletes isnt necessary or fair. Fair does not mean equal; what is fair is the players that give their best effort and show that they are trying, to get playing time. And I generally spend my share of time on the bench, but the bench teaches players a lesson too. It teaches that if you dont give 100% to the game, you dont need to play the game. And when I do give it my best at practice, I get to play. That is how it works. Thats how it should work. If a parent is looking for a league where their child gets eqal playing time with all the other kids, they should find a non-competitive league. Because equal playing time for all just takes away the need to work for what you get. If I got equal playing time as the girls on my team who were always at 100%, always ready, always giving it their all, I would feel bad for them getting cheated of what they deserve. And I would feel like my coach wasnt doing his job for the team and jeaporadizing the game. Really, this isnt a fight for adults in any way. Most parents dnt understand that FAIR IS NOT ALWAYS EQUAL, and s they think its unfair for their child to get unequal play time.

    • You make some valuable and important points. I agree wholeheartedly with rewarding the behaviors of effort, attitude, commitment, etc. I think the biggest source of contention would be when all things are equal, except for skill level, the majority of coaches will reward skill level for the sake of winning without worrying about the damage they do to those who deserve their shot too. You have a mature perspective that many your age do not yet share, and for those who are not developmentally at the place you are, coaches owe it to them to explain their playing time policy completely and encourage (and reward) the behaviors they deem most worthy. My hope is it is not always most worthy only if the athlete can help the team win. Thank you so much for your response!

    • Emma,

      There are situations where unequal playtime is justified, for example injury, sickness, poor attendance, poor effort, etc. Also there are situations where it may be in the entire team’s best interest to put there top scorers out for the last shift to try and get into the playoffs or something like that, so the coach should have some discretion. But unless kids are playing at the top level (so high school basket ball, etc.) where winning is the prime objective, everybody who pays their money and puts in the effort should be expecting play time. If the kid isn’t good enough to play, they shouldn’t be put on the team. It is a rare club that doesn’t have multiple tiers so if there are kids on the team that aren’t good enough to play chances are the problem lies in the evaluation process, not in the kids themselves. If it is a small club and only has one or two teams in a certain age group, it is somewhat backhanded to take the kid’s money because you need players and then sit them on the bench. I’ve seen it time and time again, kids who don’t get to play usually don’t come back next season. They either join a different club, or where there are zoning restrictions in place they simply drop out. Kids sign up for sports because they want to play, not to watch.

      I remember one tournament I took my daughter to, it wasn’t her regular team she had been “called up” by the coach because he didn’t have enough players. I spent $500 on gas and hotels, plus a whole weekend, and she played 10 minutes. It was just a fun tournament, it did not affect the team’s standings in their league. You can imagine what I said the next time that coach tried to “call up” my daughter.

      • I believe that scoring should always be the number two priority, with making sure all players have fun being number one. But I’ve never seen kids get upset if they played only one or two quarters of the game unless their parents bring it up and make it a big deal. In a no scoring league, fine, equal playing time works. But when they are actually playing for points, the best players should have more playing time, and thats coming from a girl who spent three years mostly on the bench. All the players who got less playing time knew that if we practiced more, worked harder,and got better, we would get more playing time. Our coach explained that to us every season, and every season he held true to that. But he also made sure that we all played at least one whole quarter and that we all understood that sitting out one game didnt mean we had to sit out forever. Instead of trying to get everyone equal, we should teach all athletes how to earn things,such as playing time.

  22. It’s our jobs as parents to teach our children to not internalize sitting on the bench as “I’m not good enough now so I’ll never be good enough.” We need to teach our children to use this as fuel for the fire and work harder so that they can become better. It should be “I need to work harder and improve my skills so that I can earn more minutes.” You don’t improve during the season. You improve in the off season when everyone is taking a break and you are training to make your game better. My oldest (now a 7th grader) sat on the bench for 2 years and this last off season she decided she was going to train like a mofo (more than anyone on her team) because she wanted more minutes and to help her team win Championships. She’s better than most of them now but our new assistant coach is going to play even minutes. So she has to share minutes with others who didn’t put in the work, and we’re pulled up from the B team. They lost a championship this last weekend by 2 points. Because everyone played even. Last year My daughter would have been happy to sit if it meant we got the ‘ship. This year she’s mad because she sat, while less skilled players played and we took second. But at least everyone played equal minutes.

    Oh also, she started for the first time this last weekend, but her joy at being rewarded for her hard work was overshadowed by the fact that in the second game, he started a girl he brought up from our b team over her because she was crying on the bench because she didn’t get to start.

    Maybe she should cry every time she doesn’t get to start? Maybe she should stop working hard because it doesn’t matter, she gets the same as everyone else anyway.

    • Thank you for your response. You bring up a good point about layers of opportunities we have, as parents, to teach life lessons. It’s awesome your daughter was able to use the fuel of being benched to work hard in the off-season. It’s a lesson in grit and determination she has learned with your guidance. Not all youth kids have the same lessons taught at home. Parent philosophies about youth sports varies and for some kids benched in 5th or 6th grade, without guidance from home, might be done playing, and that would be too soon. So your daughter was lucky she received the message when and how she did and it says something about her that she responded the way she did. Now you are all challenged with a new lesson, given the scenario you mention about equal playing time. What can you teach your daughter about her role on a team like that? Should she stop working and fold her arms because she is letting someone else have a chance to learn? Can she recognize that the contribution that she can make in the minutes she is give actually matter more now? Can she be a good teammate both on and off the court and encourage those not working as hard to adopt the level of work ethic she has gained over the last year through motivation? Basketball is one of those sports that can be quickly affected by the personnel on the court and it is likely there are players who lack the confidence or the skill your daughter has earned through her hard work. How does she help them?

      The balance is to teach athletes who play team sports to both compete and cooperate. She is maybe a little further ahead of her teammates on the scale to compete, but she has an opportunity with this other philosophy to work on the other really necessary part of being on a team…cooperation. If she keeps playing, she’ll be surrounded more and more by the competitors and her experience will mimic more of her early years where playing time won’t be equal. Tools she gains now about being a good teammate will serve her well along the journey. Good luck! (as for the girl who cried and was started in response, you are right to note that may not have been the best coaching move, but there is still an opportunity to talk with your daughter about how that isn’t what you would have done and now get ready for the next game/practice.)

    • Pahoua, you are right and so wrong. Yes, we do want the kids to work hard, learn, and test their abilities. No, the best kid on the team doesn’t get more playing time. For 2 reasons. The first is that players who get benched will leave the sport, and older kids who don’t have any experience will not join, so you are killing you own team. Hogging game time means you will eventually be playing with a small group of kids who also want to hog game time.

      Second, your kid isn’t that good. They may be that good right now, but next year maybe you move up a tier or some other kids move up a tier, and guess what, your kid sits. They aren’t that good.

  23. As a father I’m now going through with what so many others are with their child. I’m going to expand on the idea of equal play time. How about meaningful play time? Putting kids in a game with 2 minutes to go, only if you’re up by 20 points, does little or nothing for them. How about starting a kid that doesn’t normally play? Most kids thrive when challenged. If coaches aren’t challenging all their players, how do they know what their real skill level is?

    My 5th grade daughter is on a travel team. First off, she had to try out, obviously she made it. Secondly, we have to pay large fees just for her to be on the team, not to mention the travel expense, etc… I’ve never pushed my kids into any sport, I tried to let them find their own way. We’ve done the typical sports most kids play like T-ball, gymnastics. The last couple years she’s done Lacrosse and cross-country running. So, she’s non un-athletic by any means. I do get it that some kids are more athletic than others, some have also had more opportunity than others too. As far as her skills go, she’s only marginally behind the girls that have been playing for 2 to 3 years. After all, the same girls play in gym class, on the playground, and in my driveway together. She puts in a lot of work, and we go to all practices and even open gyms and extra practice. Her improvement over the last couple months is noticeable.

    So, this past weekend we had a 3 game shootout. She played 4 minutes total in the first game, nothing the second game, and 2 minutes the last game. We do 18 minutes halves, if you do the math that’s 108 minutes of possible playtime. We got 6 minutes. Only getting 6 minutes of playtime doesn’t bother me as much as not getting any in the second game. Like I said before, she isn’t the player on the team, but in reality none of the other girls have such a high degree of skill to warrant them playing 25-30 minutes or even the entire game. I did mention they’re in 5th grade right? Further more, I can’t see any reason why you would leave a kid out the ENTIRE game.

    Now, she isn’t the only girl on the team that is getting treated like this. There’s 4 others that have similar experiences on this team. When the “benchwarmers” do take the court, they play a really good game. There’s no glory hounding or selfishness, they actually play and do what the coach wants. When I watch our opponents play, their coaches actually will clear the bench at certain intervals. For the most part, the other teams are better teams. The same thing can be said for these teams,T girls actually play good together and play like a team. There isn’t any glory hounding or showing off. They actually enjoy themselves.

    My daughter is taking it pretty well, at least from what I know. As a parent, it is very frustrating. I’m not trying to build an athlete, but rather a person. It’s very difficult to teach kids to be inclusive, not bully, etc… when they have experiences like this at a young age.


    • Hi Chris,
      I am so sorry to hear you are being asked to endure this type of decision-making by coaches of what I would consider to be a pretty young team. I am curious what policies exist for the basketball organization for which your daughter plays. Do they list any expectations for teams and coaches as far as playing time? Some sports associations will list a philosophy about playing time and I’d be curious if your daughter’s coach is in line with the association expectations or not. If there is no listed policy, I think it would be important for a reasonable parent voice to bring that to the attention of the board. You have signed your daughter up to experience important life lessons about teamwork, cooperation, competition, inclusivity, etc. (paying money for that development) and you are right to be frustrated with how it is being played out. Attention should be paid to the developmental aspect of these sorts of decisions. You are a consumer in this situation and if this basketball association cannot provide the product you are interested in buying, it would be worth some leg work to see if there is any change you can effect or if there is another basketball opportunity that would better serve you and your family. Keep supporting your daughter to learn what she can from the hard parts too and follow her lead to help her process feelings that come up. Likely you are “feeling” this at a deeper level than she is yet. Best of luck!

  24. Absolutely not. At 13 or 14 the best players should play, not lose interest or feel like all the extra work they do is for nothing. Just like the kid that studies half the time does not deserve the same grade as one who works hard and does extra work.

    • The assertion is that the best players play and those struggling learn to play. I should quantify the argument and add…if all other team expectations are met equally, then the equal time applies.. Up through age 14, if the attendance, focus, commitment at practice is equal across the board, then the playing time should reflect that. Any work kids do on their own will make them more valuable when they are in, but until it is cut-throat-ultra-competitive-jobs-on-the-line-for-wins (High School and older) youth sports needs to work harder to serve all kids who show up to take part. Not letting kids play is like telling them they fail a test they never get to take. Educational and age-based argument for this one.

      • It should also be added that if there is a huge disparity between the kids on a team, there was probably something wrong with the evaluation process. But the way to fix that is through improved evaluations, not by benching players. If you made the team, in theory you have a right to play.

        I often test my theories on how to treat kids by asking how an adult would respond to similar situations. If we look at adult recreational sports, what happens is that adults who don’t get to play just stop coming to the games and maybe find a team in a lower tier if they wish to continue to play. Nobody sits on the bench.

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