Friday, October 21, 2011

Youth Sports: Share Your Thoughts on Playing Time

Playing Time Dilemma - What do you think?

Here's the situation:

I am the assistant coach for my daughter's 5th grade basketball parochial school team.

The head coach is out of town and we have a big tournament game tomorrow.

We have 10 players on the team.

During the regular season, the parish mandated that all players 5th grade and under must play 2 quarters. That certainly makes any playing time decisions easy.

In tournaments, however, each player must play 1 quarter.

The team is made up of a mix of experienced and inexperienced players. The 3 most experienced players working together can control and win most games. Due to the parish playing time mandate during the regular season, we rarely had all 3 experienced players on the court at the same time and we ended up a .500 team.


If we play all of our girls equal playing time we will likely not advance far in the tournaments (1 to 2 games max).

If we play our 3 most experienced players a disproportionate amount of time, we have a chance to advance far in the tournaments (3 to 5 games).

So equal time for 1 or 2 games or reduced playing time per game for 3 to 5 games.

What would you do?

The Main Point

Player / person development is our main goal. Winning is our second goal. (Positive Coaching Alliance - Double Goal Coaching)

I truly believe that the inexperienced girls will actually get more playing minutes in the tournament if we play the experienced girls more. More playing time is better for player development.

The inexperienced players will also get a better chance to touch the ball in meaningful situations if the experienced girls are on the court breaking presses, drawing defenders and making smart passes. Again, this leads to a better player development situation.

The head coach has played the experienced girls more so far in the tournament and the team has advanced to the semi-finals. If we win tomorrow, all of the girls will win trophies and feel like they were a part of something special.

So I think you know how I am going to coach this tomorrow.

Full discloser - my daughter is one of the 3 experienced players and probably the leading scorer on the team.

What would you do?


  1. My son's basketball travel team was equal play time from 5th-7th grade. Every 7 minutes they subbed in the next 5 kids, no matter what was happening in the game. It was frustrating because it seemed like the first set of kids had just got into a rhythm and they were yanked out. If you're going to do equal play time at least go by quarters. That makes more sense. There were many tournaments that we could have won if we put our starters back in the game, so that was frustrating as well. I can see why you want to develop all young kids, not just those who may have matured earlier... but as my son as gotten older (9th grade) there are only maybe 2 kids that have moved up in the rankings. The rest of the top 10 kids are all the same as in 5th grade.

    On a side note... have you done an article on dads coaching? I think it's problematic with biases they naturally have for their own children. There's also the problem of coaching ability. Every dad thinks they can coach. I feel it's ok with younger ages, but as the kids get better, they need better coaches who aren't dads.

    1. "There were many tournaments that we could have won if we put our starters back in the game, so that was frustrating as well." Get this out of your mindset! YOU ARE NOT THE ONE PLAYING!!!!!!

  2. Thanks for your perspective. I agree neither dads nor moms should be coaches for older select / travel / competitive teams. But it is really hard to find coaches. My daughter has paid coaches for her AAU basketball team and her Select soccer team. My son has paid coaches for golf and basketball - a dad coaches his baseball team and does a good job.

  3. We won 25-15. Our team built up a lead so I kept the playing time even. It started to get close at the end so I ended the last 2 minutes with the top 3 players all on the court to stop the momentum. We advance to the finals tomorrow.

    1. You were up by 10 with 2 minutes to go and you put your top 3 in? The other team only scored 15 points all game, do you really think they'd score 11 more without you scoring one in 2 minutes???? I would have given the last 2 minutes to those who had given the best effort. If it got under 3 possessions, then maybe switch.

  4. Equal playing time is ridiculous. All players are not equal. I'm sure that the three better players on your team work on their games outside of this pariochal league. With that said the equation holds true for the rest. They simply don't work on their games. Such is life. What are we teaching kids when we tell them that they get two quarters when they won't work for playing time? We are setting them up to believe later in life that sub par effort deserves reward. That is the real problem with these leagues. If I was this author I wouldn't even let my daughter play in this league and I would find something more competitive for her so that she would see the true benifit from her work. Get away from the bucket of crabs that will try to pull her back year after year.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts, My daughter plays on a very competitive AAU team. She loves to represent her school team and play with her school friends. Next year in 6th grade - the best 9 girls from the school's two teams will play in a very competitive environment with no playing time mandates,

  6. Sounds like you figured out your dilemma. One lesson is to not predetermine your path. Sounds like you advanced to the finals and was able to spread the playing time out evenly.

    What would I do?

    The school and the league rightly view your daughter's team as developmental/recreational league. As a parent and a coach I have no problem with the equal playing time edict as long as it's spelled out in the beginning.

    Having been an AYSO coach for 10 years, where one of the guiding principles is that everyone plays (3/4 of the game),I've become a booster of this concept because kids will surprise you in terms of their development when they're given a chance to play.

    Your daughter is in the 5th grade, I suspect when she hits junior high and high school the focus will change, but should it in the non-varsity sports at the high school level. I think freshman and junior varsity coaches should be very liberal in dispensing playing time because they're main goal is to get the kids ready to play at a varsity level at some point in their high school careers. Kids develop differently; as bright as we think we are about projecting athletic talent; there will always be a few surprises.

    I still haven't answered your question about what I would do. First, I would have a team meeting amongst the girls (also communicate with parents) and tell them that the rules of the tournament differ from the rules of league play. Everybody will play at least one quarter and depending on how the game is going, we will still try to adhere to everyone playing equal minutes. Why? If you lose early, you're out and nobody will be playing if our team doesn't advance.

    As an aside, my 6th grade son goes to a school where they combine 6th to 8th graders on teams. That's a tough proposition for most 6th graders to deal with and the athletic director includes this paragraph in his letter to parents:

    "This is a competitive sports program. Unlike AYSO and other worthy organizations, this program does not guarantee playing time. What it does guarantee is the opportunity to earn playing time during practice. Our younger players may see limited playing time during the season, so please take this under consideration as you weigh the pros and cons of whether or not your child should participate."

    I like this letter because it sets expectations and puts a value on practice and competition. How has it played out? My son's team is one of the stronger programs in their league. When they face an equally competitive team, the best players play the majority of the game. When they face a less competitive team, the coach sits the best players after a couple of quarters, and gives the playing times to the reserves. I've got no problems with what they're doing because any middle-school coach with a conscience realizes the psychological value to their team and its players in trying to distribute game-time minutes equitably.

    Good luck in the finals. I place more emphasis on competing than winning. Coaches should be most concerned with putting a team out on the floor that can compete with the other team. Playing time is important,but it you're not able to compete because of your playing time philosophy, that can adversely affect the development of players as well.

  7. You're wisdom is always welcome here - thanks for sharing.

  8. This Brian McCormick post is a great read for those interested in the "playing time" issue at the youth sports level - "Does Every Player Deserve Playing Time?"

  9. I would write a response,however, it would be repetitive to what Clarence has already stated. The way that you spelled out the situation clarifies the path you should take, the one you chose. You not only looked at the situation individually, considering the league rules in the process, you viewed the global aspect of all decisions. A rarity these days.

    I absolutely love Clarence's statement here: "I place more emphasis on competing than winning. Coaches should be most concerned with putting a team out on the floor that can compete with the other team. Playing time is important,but it you're not able to compete because of your playing time philosophy, that can adversely affect the development of players as well."

    In this situation, absolutes (meaning all play equal time or only the best play) would not have been a good thing.

    Kirk Mango

  10. Hey, very nice site. I came across this on Google, and I am stoked that I did. I will definitely be coming back here more often. Wish I could add to the conversation and bring a bit more to the table, but am just taking in as much info as I can at the moment. Thanks for sharing.
    Splint for Mallet Finger

    Keep Posting:)

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