Another comment on Parents and Playing Time

One of the most-read articles we’ve published through the years is, understandably, our piece, Parents and Playing Time. Below is a recent question we received, and our response:

I saw a letter you wrote online about Parents and Playing Time.Can you give me a suggestion on how to handle a situation?

I am a 1st year little league coach. I stepped up to coach because there was not enough coaches. Instead of having 8 teams with 12 kids we would have had 6 teams with 16 kids. So I stepped up.. We are in the intermediate division; real baseball now. 9 outfields instead of 10, 70 feet bases instead of 60 and the pitchers mound pushed back as well and pitchers throwing 50/60 mph.I have two parents that are complaining about playing time for their sons.

Each of the sons have never picked up a baseball until this year. Can’t hit, field, throw and do not pay attention during a practice and many times not in the game.

I play the kids that can field in the infield. I play the kids who can’t in the OF. I rotate the 6 in and out each inning. I also will move on of the guys who can field to CF and will sit him as well. BTW my son is also an OF I rotate as his is not very good. I do occasionally move a player who can not field to 2B as well to give then a chance to show if they can play the position. I have put each of their sons at 2b. One did not move any time as ball was hit his way. The other one the coaches had to ask him to stop dancing and play the position. When we put him in the OF he does not pay attention. He throws his hat in the air and chases it.

I don’t want to put a kid who can’t catch at a IF position when he could get injured.

Greatly would appreciate your insight?

Our response:

Thank you for your note. I would need some more information before really being able to help. I’d need to know what age these players are, how much emphasis is there on winning, etc. From what I can glean, you are sort of in the transition stage between the level where everyone plays and where it gets more competitive.

I do find it odd that you have exactly six players who can’t field and then the rest of the team can. And clearly, your job as a coach at this level is to try to improve players so that they are able to make plays in the field. With your being a first year coach, I can tell you that having one of our CoachDecks would definitely help you in that regard.

As for the two kids’ parents, if the way you portray them is true, then I recommend you suggest that their parents come to practice and help out. You can have the extra helpers rolling ground balls and tossing pop-ups to the less-skilled players giving them much-need repetition. The other benefit to this is that, hopefully, these parents will see that their kids don’t pay attention and will understand their limitations. If they say they can’t or won’t come out to practice then you can let them know that things probably won’t change much because their kids need extra attention you aren’t able to provide yourself, and it isn’t fair to the players who do focus and try to improve at practice to have them lose their playing time just so that everyone else gets equal treatment, regardless of merit. (By the way, I wouldn’t recommend you use the “we are not playing a kid in the infield because we are afraid he’ll get hurt” excuse. They may make errors and cost you the game, but they aren’t any more likely to be hurt by a batted ball than a player who is skilled).

But the bottom line is this: At this age you are not there to win games, but to help players improve and have a positive experience. The way to grade yourself at the end of the season is not in wins and losses but in how many players come back to play again next season. Whatever you can do to help every kid enjoy practices and games enough to want to do it again next year would be what I’d recommend.

 

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New wrinkle to Parents and Playing Time

One of our most-read posts just garnered us question we haven’t heard before. For all the good of social media, there are downsides as well. Parents, don’t use Facebook to complain about your child’s coach. Send and email or pick up the phone. Would you want someone posting a complaint about you at work for all to see? Especially if you didn’t get paid to do your job?

The reader writes:

I just read your article about dealing with parents because one of the mothers of my kids I coach posted a lengthy message on Facebook about her boys playing time.  She was upset that her son had set out 2 innings during our practice game Saturday and that I told him to get his glove on during practice yesterday.  She mentioned on Facebook that he might have a jammed finger but I was unaware of this at practice and nothing was said to me or the other coaches about an injury. 
 
Do you suggest letting this go or should I contact the mother directly?  I had even thought about sharing your article on Facebook without pointing anyone out.  
 
I just want to do what’s best for my team.  I spend countless hours and money trying to make these kids better and have fun.  
Thanks,
Our response:

Thank you for your note. I appreciate you reaching out.

Usually when I receive these types of inquiries I always say that I am only hearing one side of the story and that I’d need to hear the other side to be able to make a fair assessment. So I don’t know enough about what type of league this is, whether two innings is standard, and don’t know what this mom’s issue is with you telling her son to put on his glove.  You say the post was lengthy buy only mention two complaints so since I haven’t seen her post I can only assume there is more.

With that said, however, I can answer your question: You absolutely should contact this mother directly and very firmly tell her that her posting a grievance on Facebook was completely inappropriate. Let her know that in the future, you’d appreciate it, if she has an issue, that she  communicate with you privately and that you’d be willing to speak with her about situations that way but that you are not going to address anything via social media. In a perfect world she understands that she shouldn’t have done that, apologizes, and then you can have a conversation from there. My concern is that she doesn’t feel she was wrong and defends her actions. My advice would be to not get into any back and forth on Facebook and if she persists using that as a forum, get the league involved.

Hope this helps and please don’t let one person ruin the experience for you or your team.

Parents and Playing Time (again)

We continued to have folks email about or comment on our article from several years ago, Parents and Playing Time. This time a frustrated mom wrote in about her son, Isaiah, who was a sophomore baseball player in high school who was not selected for the varsity. This was disappointing, but then midway through the season a freshman was brought up to the Junior Varsity team and Isaiah’s playing time diminished. The mom said her son wants to play in college and asked for advice on how to deal with this situation. Below was our response:

Thank you for your note. I will try to help the best I can. Sports like baseball can be frustrating because evaluating talent is so subjective. One person sees a player and thinks he’s the best, another person sees the same player and isn’t as impressed. And, of course, we parents usually tend to see our children’s strengths but not their weaknesses. The thing I can tell you is that it is likely that the coach feels there are better players than Isaiah because he wants to win and if he thought Isaiah could help him win, then Isaiah would play more. This doesn’t mean the coach is right, but I doubt he has any other motives. And we all know that you or Isaiah won’t be able to talk the coach into playing him more. Isaiah will have to do something that makes the coach change his mind.

So the obvious first step is to work hard. He should hit in the cage every day. He should get in the weight room and lift and come back in the fall 10-15 pounds heavier. This will immediately impress the coach. It will also improve Isaiah’s confidence. I would also recommend having him attend some college camps in the area if this is in the budget. Maybe he impresses a college coach and gets an offer to play. If a college coach thinks enough of Isaiah to want him, then the high school coach will have no choice but to play him. Plus, this way, Isaiah won’t really have to worry about high school as much anyway since he knows he’s got a place to play when he leaves.

And, depending on the high school availability you have in your area, another option is to transfer to a different school. Of course if you do this, there is no guarantee things will be better…they could be worse. Oh, and this summer, have him hit exclusively with a wood bat even if all the other players are using metal. When he gets back in the fall and starts using metal again he won’t believe how much better of a hitter he is.

Good luck to him and feel free to reach out later if you’d like.

Note from high school baseball player’s mom

We continue to get a ton of response from our article on Parents and Playing Time. Some things, such as parents agonizing over their children’s sports, will never change. Below is an email we received from the mother of a high school baseball player and our response:

I wanted to let you know how much this article meant to me as a mom of a boy who gets limited play time on his high school baseball team.  I am fully aware that a coach does not want to hear from his player’s mommy (learned that long ago from my husband).  My son is talented, but not real fast on his feet. I have a suspicion he is not wowing his coach during practice either. I am going to encourage him to bust his butt and make an impression everyday. And, if he doesn’t get the pt he would like, I will encourage my son to speak to his coach directly and I will do and say nothing.

Thank you, _______, for your comments. I wish your son the best and yes, the best way for him to get playing time is to earn it. Much more satisfying and a great lesson for the future. It isn’t a bad idea for him to be proactive and ask right away what he needs to work on to earn more playing time so he knows where the coach sees him deficient. Then if he can get to practice 30 minutes before everyone and stay 30 minutes after everyone has left he’ll show the coach he’s serious about getting better.

Thanks again,

 

Nice “thank-you” from a reader

We got a very nice note from someone who happened upon our article on parents and playing time in youth sports. Here’s what they had to say:

Last week I read your article for the first time regarding playing time and thought it was tremendous.  I thought you addressed perfectly this subject which has been an issue forever but is getting increasingly more difficult to deal with due to parents not allowing their kids to take ownership of their “shortcomings”.  I have coached various youth teams  as a volunteer for 32 of the past 40 years  including coaching before I had my own kids, coaching my own kids and now back to coaching kids without any agenda other than to work with kids to be better people through sports.  I would say that your thoughts would also be applicable to kids trying out who don’t even make the team or make the “C” team rather than the “B” team or “B” team rather than the “A” team.  Keep up the good work and stay involved with kids, your ideals are in the right place.

Another letter from a coach about playing time

We get these from time-to-time and they’re all remarkably similar. Here’s the latest from a flag-football coach, and our response below:

I really enjoyed your article.  I’m in my fourth year as a volunteer flag football coach (Matt Leinart Flag in Newport Beach, California).  We have a good team and have made the playoffs each of the past four seasons.

For the first three seasons, it was a dream.  All of my kids go to the same school, so they are teammates and friends.  The kids have a great time and I got no complaints of any kind.  However, last season two separate parents complained about playing time – one of them during a game.

I dedicate about 10 hours/week to coaching, which includes providing drinks, ice, etc., at practices because so many of my parents don’t send that along with their kids and I don’t want our players to suffer because of lack of planning (by parents).  I realize I’m enabling the situation, but it does get hot and I don’t want to risk the kids’ health.

I wasn’t exactly sure how to handle the complaints, other than I did not bend to them and play the kids more due to the complaints.  The complaints were about playing time, which was a result of their sons not putting in effort in practice, despite being given every opportunity to succeed.  I don’t ask a lot, but I do ask that they hustle and give 100% effort, which is something (as you said) they are in control of.

One of the parents actually “kept time” on the sidelines and then informed me of the exact amount of minutes their son was in the game.

I’d be interested in any advice you can provide on how to handle this, as I suspect more of this may come as the kids get older and as the parents take more liberties expressing themselves (now that we’re in our fourth season together)?

Thanks.  Again, I really enjoyed your article.

Response:

Thanks for  your note and for your volunteering to coach these kids. It is a shame that you are being pressured about playing time. There are several approaches you could take and not being there myself to see the situation, I’m not sure which is best. You could just ignore the whole thing and do what you think is best regardless of what the parents say. They can either complain to the league or pull their kids off the team. If you don’t believe that would be the best fix, you can have a conversation with the parents (either just the problem parents or the whole team), and explain that you are not obligated to play everyone equally and that your playing time decisions come as a result of what happens in practice regarding effort and hustle. You could probably do this via email or in person. Finally, you can tell them that unless they attend every practice, you’d appreciate it if they’d let you determine who is playing and how much as you are more aware than they of each player’s capabilities and of who has been trying the most and earning minutes.

Also, I’m not sure if this is the article you read, but in the future, you may want to consider preventative action by sending out a letter such as the one here before the season begins. http://www.coachdeck.com/articles/parents-and-playing-time.asp

I hope this helps. Thank you again for reaching out and if there is anything else I can do for you, please let me know.

You Get What You Pay For

By Brian Gotta

I received two emails in the same week that were related. The first was from a parent who was seeking advice on how to handle her daughter’s first-ever team sport experience in which the coaches only cared about winning and didn’t let everyone play. The second was from a coach who was removed from his soccer team for focusing more on player development than winning. In both cases, I had a similar response:

The parent who wrote me complained that her fifth grade daughter was trying basketball for the first time and, in the first game, didn’t get in to play at all. She said her daughter cried on the bench, after the game and all the way home. Of course, I felt sorry for the young girl. But something about the story didn’t sound right.

I replied back and asked if this was a competitive or a recreational team. The mother responded that it was a competitive team. She said she’d spoken with the coaches after the game, and they’d told her that they would be trying to win every game and that only the best girls were going to play unless they were way ahead or way behind. They recommended her daughter try recreational basketball.

I get these types of emails frequently, from parents who have put a child on a competitive team and now are upset over lack of playing time or what position their child is playing. I always wonder the same thing. Didn’t they think to ask before they signed up? Weren’t they informed that the objective on this team is to win, only the best will play, and time on the field or the court will have to be earned, not granted? Why then do they complain when their child doesn’t get equal playing time with others? They apparently want it both ways. The idea of playing on the best team seems great until it means their child will be sitting the bench. Then it isn’t fair.

If you want equal playing time, that’s what recreational sports are for. Most rec leagues have rules mandating a certain number of innings or time be given to each child regardless of ability so that everyone gets a chance. The emphasis is not supposed to be primarily on winning, but on player development and enjoyment. If your child isn’t ready for the more competitive environment, (as this mother’s daughter clearly was not as evidenced by the crying), then let them play Little League, or AYSO, or whatever other sport, in a recreational setting. While these types of recreational leagues can still be very competitive, they are designed for players of all skill levels, not just elite athletes.

The other email from the coach seemed like a sadder case to me. Judging by his writing, English was not his first language. He told me he’d played as a youngster, had invested his own time and money into coaching this team as well as in obtaining a coaching license. He didn’t even have a child on the team. He was doing it, as he said, ‘because he loved the game.’ I told him that it was unfortunate that the club had taken such a hard line stance because he seemed to be someone I’d like to have coaching my kids. And like in the previous example, the players were preteen. Still, if the club’s philosophy was only about winning and he wasn’t in line with that mindset, there was no advice I could give him other than to find a recreational soccer club and take his desire to teach youngsters there. Youth leagues are always looking for volunteers, I told him, and I even searched through our database of clubs and referred him to one nearby.

So yes, it is a good idea to know what you’re getting into before you sign up. Ask about playing time and positions before you write the check. If the team doesn’t guarantee that everyone will play and rotate to different positions and yet you still sign up, then don’t complain if it doesn’t work out for your child.

And with all of that said, what kind of 5th grade girls basketball team is SO competitive that some girls just are not going to get to play unless the team is ahead by 20 points? I’m not a basketball coach but I guarantee you I could win some games and still make sure everyone got in for a few minutes, no matter how unskilled they were. In fact, win or lose, I couldn’t imagine coaching both halves, making substitutions, and looking at little kids on the bench but never once putting them in. If everything this mom was telling me was accurate, competitive or rec, shame on those coaches.

And as for the young guy who just wants to coach soccer skills and isn’t as concerned with winning, I feel sorry for the club that decided they didn’t need him. Because based on the brief email correspondence I had with him, they lost a good man. It is amazing how often in youth sports we can’t see the forest for the trees.

Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels which can be found at www.sportsbooks4kids.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com