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.

My son’s coach isn’t treating him fairly

We get emails like these all the time, from parents telling us that their children are not getting fair treatment from their coach. We welcome these comments. But before sending one off to us or to your local league’s President, stop and ask a few questions first:

  • Have you been at every practice and game to know for sure that your son or daughter is giving as much effort as everyone else?
  • Are you certain that they are as talented as others who you believe are getting “preferential treatment”?
  • Has your child had any attendance issues?
  • Does your son or daughter do extra work on his or her own to improve?
  • What would the coach say if you were to ask why your child isn’t playing as much or where they would like?

There are always two sides to every story. There are always more players than spots on the field. Sometimes taking a step back and trying to be objective is better than rushing in to “defend”  your child.

Does it matter where children play?

We received an update from the parent who had asked our opinion about the “jerk” who was coaching her 7 year-old son and not giving everyone equal playing time, (read the original post). We are copying her email, and then our response below. Come on, coaches. Let the little guys all play equally!

I wanted to follow-up and let you know that my husband did say something to the coach. He waited until the third game when he was given the line-up and there were kids scheduled to be on the bench for the third game in a row before three of the boys had been on the bench at all. The coach got super defensive, but my husband just told him he couldn’t be part of breaking the rules.  Given that our kid isn’t a kid who has been on the bench a lot – it was difficult to question our motives.
Hopefully that fixes the playing time issue. We have decided we aren’t going to say anything about the positions – honestly, I am not really sure if it matters where 7 and 8 year olds are playing as long as they get to play.
Thanks again for your input – nice to bounce a sticky situation off of someone who doesn’t know any of the characters.

Our response:

Thanks for the update and I’m glad your husband spoke up. One thing I would disagree with is the importance of where 7 and 8 year-olds play. There is a reason that leagues put a rule into effect about rotating kids into various positions as well. When a kid at that age is relegated to left field every game, two things happen, both of them bad: First, he’s being told in no uncertain terms the coach doesn’t think he’s any good. Next, as you know, at this age, nearly every ball hit is to the infield. Baseball is already a slow-moving and boring game to youngsters. A child playing nothing but outfield might go an entire season and only have a couple balls hit to him all year. Both of these things, (being made to feel you’re no good and being bored all game) may very well lead to children giving up baseball entirely. In my league, with 7 and 8’s we even took it another step and applied fairness to the batting order. There was one order, all season, and it picked up where it left off each new game. In other words, if at the end of the game the #4 hitter was the last batter, then next game the #5 hitter hit first and continued from there. This way every player would get the same number of at-bats throughout the year. I would encourage your husband to stand up for the little boys who are never getting the chance to play infield because it would be a real shame if this guy is the reason some don’t come back next year.

Thanks again for getting back to me and good luck with your boys’ baseball.