Another email in response to Parents and Playing Time

Our article titled Parents and Playing Time continues to be a lightning rod. Below is the latest email we received from a dad concerned about his 11 year-old son’s soccer playing time. Below that, our response:

Good morning.  I just finished reading your article “Parents and Playing Time”.  I thought you did a great job giving the coach’s and parents perspective in youth sports.  My son has been playing soccer since he was five years old and just moved up this season to play U11.  I have been his coach every year, but this year I decided to take a step back to an assistant coach and allow a more experienced coach to take the lead.  We merged my team and his due to the number of players needed at this level.  We have a very competitive team and we haven’t lost a regular season game as of yet.  In the first few games my son played almost the entire game, but since that time he has seen his playing time diminish.  It seems like the head coach has lost confidence in his abilities.  He is a very strong defender, but this coach has been playing him in more of an offensive role.  Because he is learning this new position it seems it has affected his confidence and his play.  He seems out of place and at times lost on the field.  Up until this season, he has been used to playing almost the entire game.  Now he is playing about half of the game (or a little less than half).  My wife and I have explained to him the importance of practice and he has continued his commitment to that.  

I am at a loss as to how to proceed from here.  I am the assistant coach so I am in a little different position than most parents.  I don’t want to come across an overbearing parent, but I feel like my son is one of the better players on the team and should be playing more.  Is this something I should let play out for the remainder of the season and have a talk with the head coach at that time (we play again in the spring as the same team)?  Or, should I call the coach and have a conversation over the phone/in person?  

Any advice would be appreciated.  I want to keep this in perspective; it’s just hard to see your child get down on themselves and lose confidence in situations like this.  Thanks for reading this.

Our response:

Thank you for your note. I understand your frustration and have been there myself. I have a couple comments I hope will be helpful.

First, no I would not recommend you speak with the coach at this juncture or even after the season. In my article I mention that it is better for a child to work his/her own way up the ladder, rather than have his parents assert their influence to help them. As I wrote, let’s say you do cause the coach to play your son more. Is that how you want it to happen? So you and he will never know if he is deserving of the additional playing time? That might make you feel better temporarily, but when does it end? When he’s 13? 15? Sooner or later he is going to have to earn his playing time on his own and it is probably better sooner, rather than later.

The other issue with parents talking to coaches about their child’s playing time is if it gets the results they desire, someone else’s child is adversely affected. I’m sure you would not be happy if I talked to the coach about my son and suddenly he was starting and playing more minutes and now your son was playing less. I don’t think it is fair to a child whose parents are not getting involved to suffer because someone else is in the coach’s ear.

But most importantly, he is only 11. He is not going to lose his confidence unless you allow him to. He (and you) need to understand that it is a marathon, not a sprint. Who knows what will happen as kids grow and get older? I can tell you from experience watching numerous kids who were all-world at age 11 and 12, who peaked at age 13, and were surpassed by everyone they were once better than. We don’t know what kind of athlete your son will turn into, nor how the other kids on his team will pan out. Statistically speaking, many of them won’t still be playing at age 13+. So my advice would be to just encourage him to play his best, and if he doesn’t like the playing time he is getting now, work harder than anyone else with the knowledge that it will pay off down the road. And when it does, it will be much more gratifying. By speaking with the coach and convincing him to play him more you’ll actually be doing your son more harm than good in the long run.

Hope this makes sense.

Thanks again for your message and good luck.

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