There is nothing worse than paying for a league, paying for all kinds of new sports equipment, shuttling your child to and from practices and games, and then showing up to watch them occupy the far end of the bench. As frustrating as it is for a parent, it is even worse for the child. He/she can feel embarrassed, confused, dejected, frustrated, and angry about the situation. I remember a time growing up playing on a basketball team and rode the bench while taller, less skilled players played ahead of me. That was my view of it anyway! Looking back, I probably wasn’t as talented as I thought I was. However, this was a very difficult situation for me and I am here to help you navigate through this problem.
In my time as a private coach, I would often ask players I was training how their games went and some would reply frustrated that they did not play a lot or even at all. From my standpoint as a former high school and college coach, any youth leagues from kindergarten to 8th grade should offer every player some playing time. This is the developmental period in an athlete’s career and kids need playing time, especially if you are paying for it! Now, I am not saying playing time should be equal, but if the child is at practice regularly, follows directions, has a positive attitude, and is a good teammate, they should be given the opportunity to play. If your child’s coach does not have a similar ethos, I would look into finding another team. It will be difficult to turn this into a positive experience.
However, there are times when you can’t change teams and those are when we need to find ways to improve as a player. Check out my previous blog on the two top ways to improve your game here. In addition to becoming the best at one thing on the court, I also stressed the importance of playing hard all the time. Effort beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. Here are some ways to help your child be more aggressive and play harder regardless of the sport.
Talk to teammates during the game to make sure everyone is on the same page
Dive for lose balls
Run plays properly every time. If confused, ASK THE COACH!
Do the little things- Finish receiving routes in football, set screens in basketball, sprint to first base even if you pop up in baseball, do whatever it takes to not let your man beat you in soccer.
Work so hard that you have to ask your coach to take you out!
As a high school coach, I stole a team rule from the late Dean Smith of North Carolina, one of the most successful basketball coaches in history. Anytime a player had to ask to be taken out of the game because he needed a rest, he had the opportunity to check back in whenever he wanted. It did not matter whether he was our best player or the 12th man on the team. We just wanted guys that would exhaust themselves whenever they were on the court.
However, if none of these work and you still have a couple weeks or months on the team, here are some ways to survive the situation.
Talk to the coach. This is tricky and as a coach, there was nothing I hated more than talking about playing time with parents. However, there comes a time when it may seem necessary to speak with them. Understand that the coach is doing the best they can and spends more time thinking about their team than anyone else. I have never heard of a coach intentionally sabotaging their team. We all love winning and despise losing! When you speak with the coach, know their philosophy on playing time, be optimistic, open to criticism about your child, and please be respectful. Also, do not talk them about playing time before or after a game or in front of other players or parents. Their mind is preoccupied and it will not end positively. Trust me on this. Leave other players and their playing time out of it. This is about your son or daughter, not someone else’s kid.
Help your child master their role on the team. Not everyone can be a star or even a starter. Every team needs role players. Helping your child take pride in their role and doing it to the best of their ability will allow them to develop a sense of pride in their role. The best teams I have ever been a part of are where each player understood, accepted, and fulfilled their role the best they could. If your child does not understand their role have them, not you, ask the coach. Coaches love to talk with the players, not the parents.
Get better! This is blunt and quite harsh but it needs to be said. I would consistently have players come to me that thought they deserved more playing time. After listening to them and when none of my other suggestions worked, I would give them this advice. “Become so good that your coach has no choice but to play you!” This means that you need to get your butt in the gym and start practicing a whole lot harder than you are. If playing time really means that much to a player, they will do whatever it takes to earn it. Help them facilitate this through reminding them to practice on their own outside of their team practices and work on exactly what the coach tells them to work on.
Sports are a tremendous opportunity for children to experience all kinds of success and frustrations. Our job is to guide them along their way, let them fail, be there to help them back up, and be their biggest cheerleader. If you enjoyed this post, check out our summer camp at nextlevelsportscamp.com. If you sign up now, you can receive $30 per camper with the promo code “Holidays2016.” Hurry up because this offer expires 12/31/2016!