Playing Time Conundrums

All kids want to play. All parents want their kids to play. And the promise of playing time is often the lure that gets a player or parent to buy into the idea of joining a team.

Coaches want to win. No matter what anyone says about developing players or preparing them for the next step on their softball journey all coaches want to win, or at least like winning a lot more than losing. And here lies the problem. Coaches want to win and will often play the players who give them the best chance of doing so, while players and their parents want to play more than they usually care about winning.

Now most of these same parents believe that the idea of winning and their kid playing all the time because their kids are clearly the best players go hand-in-hand but that is another blog all together. The real question is why are there so many unhappy players and parents when it comes to playing time?

Coaches, this is for you!

You preach hard work, but…. If you as a coach are always preaching the importance of hard work and you’re constantly telling the kids that you would go to war with a bunch of lunch pail hard working kids who grind every day over a bunch of talented lazy kids, they believe that if they work hard and play hard, they will be rewarded with a prominent role and a tone of playing time. Then if you play the laziest kids who are super talented because they give you a better chance to win, what’s the message?

Do as you say or you will have a bunch of unhappy players.

You think it’s obvious who should play. We as coaches often think that the players on our team should clearly see their place in the food chain as clearly as we do. They should already know what to expect as far as playing time goes because they can see from what happens at practice every day. Wrong!!!! They don’t see it and you need to explain it to them. They should know before they get to the ballpark what to expect. If a player knows they’re the backup, they can prepare for it and deal with it. When they show up expecting to start and end up on the bench, they’ll be confused and very unhappy.

Remove the unknown and explain their roles.

You’re not transparent. You need to be clear with your players about how you’re making decisions about who plays. You can use whatever guidelines you want, but they need to be transparent. If you like older, more-experienced players and will play them ahead of younger players, that’s cool. Just let everyone know. If you like speed over power, no problem, just let everyone know. If you are going to play your kid or your niece or the other coaches kids all the time because you can, no worries, just be up front and explain it to everyone. Just be sure they know how you are making the decisions and that you will be consistent in that policy.

Expectations aren’t clear. Every player and their parents go into the year expecting to see a level of improvement and growth which will then translate into more playing time. They can see that they are improving and because of that improvement expect to see the payoff. If that improvement doesn’t lead to more playing time they will end up very unhappy. Now they may have started as your 12th best player and are still your 12th best player because everyone else also improved, but we already know that most players and parents are not able to see where they fit into the pecking order.

We need to be clear about expectations and keep updating both player and parent along the way.

Coaches, if you can keep these concepts in mind as you progress through the season you are much more likely to have a successful campaign and a lot more fun. There is no way to make everyone happy all the time, but keeping these challenges in mid will go a long way to solving problems before they happen.