Thursday, August 18, 2011

Youth Sports: What to do if your kid is not a starter

Typically a team carries more players than positions on the field, so logically everyone cannot be a starter. Regardless, every parent thinks that their kid should be a starter.

I believe that everyone on the team should be given a chance to become a starter, but a starting position should be earned on the practice field, at home in the driveway, in the weight room and during games.

So, what should you do if your kid is not starting? Before you call the coach consider the following.

Lou Holtz once said,

“Ability is what you're capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”

You need to evaluate your kid's situation through that lens before you become THAT parent who complains to the coach or conspires behind his / her back.

1) Honestly assess your kid's physical ability vis-a-vis the other kids on the team.

Is your kid fast enough, quick enough, strong enough or coordinated to standout as a starter? I'm not talking about polished skills, we will discuss skill later. I am just talking about physical ability. If not, think about strengthening or acceleration programs. But as a strength / acceleration trainer friend of my once said, "I guarantee that I can make anyone faster, I cannot guarantee that I can make everyone fast."

Once you honestly evaluated your kid's physical potential, decide if the chosen sport is really the best choice. Maybe there's a sport more suitable for your kid's physical abilities. But be careful, you need to have some foresight because physical abilities change as your kid matures.

For example, my older son was a small, agile finesse soccer player when he was younger. He was a pretty good player and fast enough to compete on B level teams. He had enough skills to make the 9th grade team of the very competitive HS he attended. He grew to 6'3" and lost what little speed he had. He was cut from the team after his 10th grade year because he didn't have enough speed. Competitive soccer is about speed. Perhaps volleyball would have been a better sport for him.

My youngest son has a heart condition. (Read God Loves Baseball to learn about his heart issues) He has played some endurance sports like soccer and did very well, but looking forward to longer games on bigger fields, he would not have been able to keep up. He gave up soccer to play football where every play is less than 30 seconds. He excelled at football, but didn't like it. He won two city championships then stopped playing football to concentrate on baseball and golf.

2) Honestly assess your kid's motivation. Does your kid really like the sport? Sit down with your kid and determine that. Perhaps there's a sport that your kid would be more interested in. Consider that a sport that matches his or her physical abilities might be more motivating. Let your kid decide which sport he / she would enjoy. Lots of parents push the sport that they know or played as a kid. That would be the parent's motivation, not the kid's.

I loved baseball growing up. Still do. I could not wait to teach my first son how to play baseball. He had an outstanding arm and was a good fielder, but was literally scared to death in the batters box. I made him play for a few years thinking that he would eventually get over the fear. He never did. He loved playing the outfield and pitching, but didn't want to hit. That really is not an option in little league. He decided to quit baseball and play soccer year-round. I was ok with it. My second son was born with the baseball bug and plays baseball at the highest level every year he has played. He loves it.

3) Honestly assess your kid's attitude regarding the sport. Is your kid working as hard as the other kids on the team. At the end of soccer practice when the team is doing wind sprints, is your kid in the front of the group or the last one. When your kid gets home after a basketball tournament, do they go in and sit on the couch or go right from the car to the hoop in your driveway? Does your kid whine about going to practice or are they always eager to go? Do they seek out the coach for extra reps or ask you if they can work with a professional trainer? Is your kid really interested in improving his or her skills to get better so that they can earn a starting sport and keep it?

My daughter recently played in the AAU Division 1 Basketball National Championships in Orlando, Florida. Her team entered the tournament as the best team from Ohio by dominating almost every 4th grade team they played against. It was a different story in Orlando. The teams competing for the National title were faster, bigger and stronger that most of the competition we had faced prior. To make matters worse, the refs were not calling any front court fouls and my daughter, who is not very big, had a very tough time maintaining possession. Actually all of the smaller guards on our team struggled. The coach decided to go with a big line up and the team started winning. My daughter was upset that she didn't get the playing time that she was accustom to getting. I explained the situation and what the coach was doing. I told her that she does not have to be big to be strong with the ball. She is one of the best shooters on the team because she shoots every day. I told her she needs to work on her ball handling as much as she does her shooting. I went on to tell her that it does not matter how good you can shoot if you cannot create space. The day we got home from the AAU championships, the climax of a long 67 game schedule, she didn't want to take a day off to rest. No, she wanted to go to the gym to work on her game. She was embarrassed that her grandfather came to the game and she did not play a lot. She has the right attitude.

The Main Point

There are kids on every team that have the physical abilities, the right motivations and a determined attitude. Most likely they are the starters. Your kid has these elements and starts or doesn't and sits. If they are not, then you need to address Lou Holtz's criteria for success before you approach a coach and complain.

Of course, politics can play into the determination of starters. The coach's kid my not have the physical abilities, motivation or attitude needed to standout, yet start anyway In that case, I would have your kid work hard during the season and look for a better team for the next year. Complaining to the coach is a losing proposition. You will be labeled as the problem parent and believe me coaches talk. You can talk to rec and club coaches about what your kid can and should do to improve, that is OK. You should never talk to a HS coach, your kid should do that.

Other reading on the subject - Read the post on the site called So your child is not a starter, oh no. I agree with much of what he said there except
"Don’t allow your child to join a team if they are not good at the sport, it’s unfair for everyone involved." 
If you ever saw the movie Blind Side, the story about Baltimore Ravens star offensive lineman, Michael Oher, you would agree that although Michael was not a very good at football in the beginning it was a good thing for everyone involved that he came out to play. Michael had the physical abilities and the right motivations / attitude to become a standout HS starter, a college scholarship stud and a professional phenom.


  1. I have 13yo twins who have been playing with same team for 6 years. We are (were) a AAA class team that was on the crest of moving to Major. After this season - taking a break before Fall Ball. We get the call that my boys have been cut. reason I was told is that they didn't progress to move to the next level and they are being replaced. it was kinda of a cold - thoughtless way to go about it. My wife and I are already looking at other teams - but how do I tell me kids they've been cut. Especially since a lot of them are real good friends and school mates.. Help




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