The Battle Over Playing Time

Playing time is a loaded subject. Part of what makes it such a hard topic to tackle is that it includes feelings, opinions, choices and pre-conceived ideas of basically imperfect people. And these imperfect people include the coach, parent, player and teammate.

They all search for the solution to a problem that rarely has only one right answer and that answer holds incredible potential for disappointment and anger.

Softball is a team sport and for any team to be successful, team members must embrace team dynamics. We are all too often focused on the highlights of the big games and never notice all the hours that are spent in the cages or on the practice field. We have to understand that the decisions that coaches make are always trying to do what they feel is best for the team, whether we always agree or not.

Everyone has a role in creating a good team dynamic. What each of the “groups” do will go a long way in determining whether a team will be successful or not. The willingness of players to accept certain opportunities and challenges will decide whether a team has a good culture or a toxic one.

When you are a starter, you have to respect and support your teammates who are not playing all the time. If you spend  more time thinking about your teammates and less time thinking about your personal performance you are going a long way to create a positive team atmosphere. When you play a lot remember that everything is a gift. If you act like it, everyone will be happier.

When you are not a starter, you have to come to grips with a couple things. First and foremost, remove the word “fair” from your vocabulary. The fair is the place where they hand out blue ribbons to prize livestock. Nothing about sports or life is fair, so the sooner you stop thinking about it, the sooner you’ll be happy on your team. Your coach selected the starters because they think that gives the team the best opportunity to succeed. Just like they chose to put you in a reserve role, to help the team win. Your role is different but no less important.

Parents think about their kid’s role on their team like they are writing a Hollywood blockbuster and in the script they are imagining their kid is the star of the movie.  They fall asleep at night dreaming about their kid getting the big hit or striking out the other team’s big hitter to save the game. When our kid isn’t the star of the movie, we’re almost always confused, angry, frustrated or down right disappointed. How we react will tell the tale. If your daughter is confused about her role then encourage her to speak with her coach to gain the coach’s perspective. Get feedback, ask for suggestions and then go to work. Emphasize what your daughter can bring to the team.

Coaches need to manage expectations and keep their players’ desires to play in perspective. When you think that a player asking about her role is selfish or undermines the team, you have to remember one very important fact: Their want to play doesn’t mean they don’t care about the team, it often means they care enough to want to know what they can do to contribute. You should want all your players to have the burning desire to play. If you have a team full of kids who are happy sitting on the bench, you might not have a very good team.

Playing time is important. Very important. Now let’s work to manage our expectations so we can all have the success we so badly want to have.

Comments? Questions? Suggestions?