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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Still more about playing time and parents

We continue to get questions sent to us about our article about parents and their kids’ playing time. Below is one received yesterday, and our response. We can only hope that the parents of this coach-pitch level boy are slightly exaggerating the behavior of this coach. We have a feeling they are not.

I just read your article on playing time and while I agree, in theory, with your point about parents not intervening regarding playing time – what do you think parents should do if a coach is really out of control?

My older two boys (15 & 12) play travel and high school baseball. My husband and I have NEVER discussed playing time with their coaches. When they were or weren’t getting playing time – we have left it to them to earn more or talk with their coach. My husband has coached for years, my brother is a high school coach, and we have fantastic friendships with our other boys current and past coaches.

My eight year old is on a team this spring with the same coach he had last year. For the first time in 10 years of having kids playing youth baseball we requested a different coach and somehow ended back with this guy. Quite frankly – he is a jerk. Yesterday was the first game and he had his kid and his kids two best friends play 6 innings in the infield while there were other kids on the team who played two in the infield and two on the bench (which is actually against league rules). Last year he let my son play short stop while his kid was taking a bathroom break and when his kid came back he pulled my 7 year old out mid-inning and said loudly enough to be heard by the audience “X sit down – X is back now and he is better than you”. He laughs at kids when they make errors. This is in an instructional/recreational (not travel) coach pitch league with a five run limit per inning where the final score is often 25-25. Nothing is at stake except the kids feelings and development.

My husband and I are trying to figure out what to do. Do you think that when an adult is behaving this badly and the kids are this young – parents should still do nothing? I am really struggling with this because while I believe kids need to learn to navigate these situations themselves – it seems that parents should protect kids from adults who are abusing their power.

I am assuming that you have gotten feedback from your article so I would love your perspective on if it is ever appropriate to say anything to the coach or even the commissioner?

Our response:

Thank you for your note and your comments. You are correct, I do get a lot of feedback from my article. Very often my advice is probably not what the parent wants to hear, because I “read between the lines” in their complaints and can tell that the reality is that the coach really isn’t being unfair, but the player is simply not deserving of playing time based on performance and/or effort, isn’t working hard enough, etc. But in these cases we’re talking about older kids than yours.

The fact that you have older sons playing, your husband coaches, and that you say you have not ever complained about playing time leads me to believe that this is an unusual and difficult situation. My article was aimed at the parents of older children. Of course, I would not say that an eight year-old should have to talk to the coach about his playing time. Especially if this guy is as big a jerk as you describe.

At that age, all kids should be rotated around to all positions. Maybe the positions shouldn’t be 100% equal in distribution, but no one should play the entire game in the infield, nor the outfield. And no player should ever sit out a second inning until everyone else has sat out his first.

So the part where I provide advice is a little tougher. I have a feeling you don’t want to be the complaining parents, that this isn’t your style. And if the coach were following the rules to a T, but was just a snide, unpleasant guy, I’d almost say you’re going to have to put up with it. However, if he is breaking the rules in terms of playing time and/or positions, it absolutely should be reported. Again, I can only take you at your word about how big a jerk this guy is, but from your description it seems unlikely that having a conversation with him will bear fruit. I would definitely report what he is doing, (the rules part) to the commissioner and I think I’d fill in the other details about his demeanor as well. You may want to ask that the commissioner not mention who reported the information so that there is less chance of retribution against your son.

Of course, the best-case outcome means that the coach will have to follow the rules to the minimum standard, which still might allow him to be unfair about rotating player around, (just not AS unfair) and it is unlikely he will stop being a jerk. So the only three options beyond this I can think of would be to see if your husband can volunteer to help as an assistant, (which this guy may not accept), or just make the best of if or, if it gets too bad, pull your son off the team.

I’m sorry that this is happening and wish I had more to offer. I hope this helps and thanks again for writing.

Even more on parents and playing time

Wednesday, we published an email a travel-ball coach sent to us about concerns his team’s parents were having with playing time. You can read that email and our response here. We got another email from this coach explaining his stance. We provided him with some new advice on a way to possibly address a parent who seemed greedy about their child’s time in the field.

(Coach’s email response):
Ironically, every boy on my team plays at least 2-3 innings a game depending if we are in the field for all 6 innings and I bat my entire lineup.  However, there are individuals that do play an entire game based on their ability.  
I understand.  I’ve been on both sides of this coin many times since I have multiple children in travel sports and know that a parent always wants more for their child, but an email that I received today just set me off and I am desperately trying to collect my thoughts and respond to the parent rather then react.  
This child, that I received this playing time complaint about is one of my starting pitchers and when he isn’t pitching, he plays the OF.
One can never please everyone all the time.

(Our reply):
Sounds like you have a fair system. It might be wise to ask this person which child they feel should have to sit out so that their boy can play more. That might put it into perspective for them.

More on parents and playing time

We received the following email from a coach of a travel baseball team. We thought we ‘d share his question and our response:

Dear Sir,

I am having some issues with parents and complaints of playing time for their sons thus far in our season.  Everyday I find myself in a dilemma on trying to win games and “being fair”.  We are a relatively new travel baseball team at the 10U level, and I do understand that the financial commitment is significant at this level and I do try to play all of my boys every game, but I still hear a lot of rumblings about playing time.  Each game, I prepare by attempting to place the best team that I feel can put us in the best position to remain competitive for all six innings, regardless of the outcome.  However, there is still complaints.  I was wondering if I may use your statement that you say that you have used to address playing time on your teams.  I feel that this is the best, most straightforward statement I’ve come across in trying to quell their issues with my ability to coach their children.  

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

(Name withheld)

Hi ____,

Thank you for reaching out. I am not sure which line you refer to, but sure, you are welcome to use it. I do, however, have a little concern with your comment about “trying” to play everyone  on your team each game at the 10U level. I believe if you read more of our articles on playing time etc. you’ll see we feel very strongly that at that age level there should never be a game where every player doesn’t get to play at least a couple of innings. That doesn’t necessarily mean that every player should get to pitch or play any position they want, but regardless of the financial commitment, if I had a 10 year-old who went to a game and didn’t get in the game at all, I’d have a problem.

Thanks again,

Who do you believe?

We frequently receive letters from parents and coaches asking for advice. Below are representations of two such letters, written about the same child: One from the child’s parent and one from his coach. You will notice, the two authors see the same situation from completely opposite perspectives.

“Dear Sir: My son’s coach is so unfair! Let me give you some background. My boy began playing competitive basketball when he was eight years old. He is now eleven. He has always been one of the best players on the team and has been used to getting lots of playing time. This year we moved him to a new team that is supposed to be in a more competitive league. Even though he is one of the youngest players on the team, he is still clearly as good or better then anyone else, including the coach’s son. But guess who suddenly is sitting the bench while the coach’s son plays nearly every minute? When he does get in the game he is so nervous because he knows that if he makes one mistake he’ll be yanked and put on the bench. Some games he hardly plays at all. This is devastating to my son and I’m concerned that he’ll lose the love of the game and not want to play anymore at all. Other parents have even come to me and said they think he’s a great player and they can’t understand why he doesn’t play more. It is everything I can do not to confront this man but my son doesn’t want me to. The team wins most of its games so that is probably why no other parents seem angry. Do you have any suggestions for how I should handle this? Should I speak to the coach even though my son begs me not to?”

Signed,

Parent of a great player.

“Dear Sir: I coach an 11-12 year-old basketball team in a competitive league. I am not a paid coach and my son, who is twelve, is on the team. Lately, I’ve been having difficulty with one of the players, or maybe more specifically, his parent. The boy in question is eleven and he is a nice kid, like all of them are at this age. The problem is that, in my opinion, he isn’t ready for this level of competition. I think his parents pushed him to be on this highly-competitive team more than it was a case if him really wanting it himself. As I said, he is younger, and one of the smaller players as well. He is a pretty good defender and shooter, but needs to work on his dribbling, and he struggles grasping our offensive scheme. I try to give him extra time at practice, but I find that takes away from the other kids. I can see him getting more and more discouraged and his attitude is suffering. He pouts at practice and  especially at the games if he’s on the bench. In our last game, when I put him in, he got the ball three times and all three times he turned it over. First, he dribbled off his foot out of bounds. Next, his pass was stolen and taken the other way for an easy lay-up. Then, he was trapped in corner by two defenders and held the ball until he got a five-second call. Finally I called time out so that I could get someone to take his place before we gave up our lead, plus I didn’t want him to be totally embarrassed. I could tell that his mother in the stands was furious but I don’t know what else I can do. Any advice would be appreciated.”

Signed,

Coach of a not-so-great player.

Isn’t it interesting how two people can view the same circumstance so differently? So where does the truth lie? As usual, probably somewhere in the middle. And since they asked for our advice, here it is – for both sides. To the upset parent: Is is possible that your child might not be ready for this level of play, and that you are seeing his talents from a strong bias? If this coach is unfair, why aren’t other parents complaining? And since this is a competitive team that cares about winning, if your son was good enough to help the team, don’t you believe the coach would play him more? How much time does he spend on his own trying to improve? Putting aside our thoughts about the wisdom of ultra-competitive teams for eleven and twelve year-olds, this is what you signed up for. Rec leagues are designed so that everyone plays and the emphasis is not on winning. But you can’t have it both ways. If you want him to play with elite competition, he has to work hard to earn playing time and not just expect it to be granted.

And to the coach: I understand you believe this child may have been pushed into a situation he wasn’t ready for. But your job as a coach is to try to find a way to get the most out of each player. You say he is good at certain aspects of the game. Why not put him in situations where those talents will be utilized and his deficiencies will be minimized? At practice, it doesn’t take any extra time to praise a player when he does something good. That will usually get them to stop “pouting” and maybe make them more likely to want to play harder. And, I understand that this is a competitive team, but calling time-out to take a fragile eleven year-old player out of the game might be taking the desire to win too far. In our opinion, your greatest accomplishment as a coach would not be to run the table and win the championship, but to bring this player out of his shell and turn him into a positive contributor who wants to come back and play again next year. If you can do that and win the championship, more power to you.

There are always two sides to every story – two perspectives. The letters we get rarely recognize this, probably because we tend to get so emotional about our kids and youth sports in general. When we’re feeling angry or mistreated, both coaches and parents would be well-served to put themselves in the other’s place. Walking a mile – in someone else’s shoes – might be the very best way to calm down and gain perspective.

Brian Gotta is President of CoachDeck LLC (www.coachdeck.com). He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com.