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Playing Time or Bench Time

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had several conversations with parents who have been upset and confused about the lack of playing time their child has had on their sport team. Two of these conversations involved high school softball players and the others were about younger recreational athletes. In all of these situations, the parents were upset because they did not feel their child was being given the opportunity to participate. All of these parents were upset because they would come to the games and watch their child sit on the bench, obviously frustrated and then have to deal with their anger as they left the sports complex.

There are several issues involved with this topic. First, what level is your child competing at? Different problems arise at the high school level then the problems that occur in youth sports. And, in youth sports there is a difference between the recreational and competitive level. However, to me, the most obvious issue here is this: Is the competition about the athlete or about coach? In my opinion, too often these problems occur because of the coach’s ego. It becomes more about the coach and his/her need to win than it is about letting everyone be able to participate.

I have talked for years about the importance of the preseason meeting. I think every coach should have this meeting for both athletes and parents. This is the time for the coach to share his/her goals for the upcoming season, their focus on winning and on participation. If you as a parent, have concerns, this is the time to discuss it. If you disagree enough with the coach, then you have to decide whether or not your child should be on the team. Some high school coaches are under tremendous pressure to win and consequently will play their best players most of the time. I think it is a coach’s obligation to explain to every player what their role is on the team. If this changes as the season progresses and your child doesn’t get to play, then they should set up a time to speak with the coach and ask what they need to do to get more playing time. I think it is important for the coach to think about the long term consequences of not letting everyone participate. I have had many conversations with adults who still remember like it was yesterday what it was like to sit on the bench and not get in the game.

In youth sports, I think all kids should play whether at the recreational or competitive level. Most recreational coaches revolve playing time, while competitive coaches typically have certain kids who play most of the time. However, I still believe every coach should explain everyone’s role on the team, and every child should be able to participate. If you have a child playing youth sports, and the coach stops playing them, you have two options to solve the problem. Initially, have your child ask the coach what they need to do to get more playing time. If your child isn’t mature enough to do this, than the parent should set up a time to speak with the coach away from practice and ask the same questions.

Very few athletes who start playing sports as a child make it to the collegiate or professional level. Youth sports and high school sports should give kids a chance to participate, learn skills, learn about teamwork and self-confidence and most importantly have fun. Sitting on the bench and not getting in the game is no fun for everyone involved.

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