There is one thing upon which we must all agree. Every player has one simple goal when they go out for the team. They all want to play. There will be as many other motivators, but the universal is to get in the lineup and stay in the lineup.
So now that we know all players want to play, we have to agree on a couple other things. First, only 9 players get to play at any one time in most competitive settings. Second, that if a team only has 9 players they are probably going to have some serious issues over the course of the season. Which means we need some extra players, we need a bench, we need some subs.
If you are part of a team where winning is a high priority. College, high school or high-level travel ball are usually the places where we think of winning as a really high priority. You can expect your coaches to play the best players almost all the time in an effort to win every game.
If you are part of a team that is geared towards developing players, such a recreational league or maybe a feeder type team for the school ball varsity team, then you should expect to see all players play. Our goal is to help players become a better version of themselves, become better players and, hopefully, be able to compete at a higher level later on in their careers.
So now that we have a few parameters laid out we can get to the meat and potatoes of the discussion. In a competitive environment, not every player gets to play. Some might still have a role within the team, others might never get to play, but a team needs all the players to be on board and willing to contribute to the success of the team.
Coaches, the ball to keeping this delicate balance working is totally in your hands. You are in control and you have to do the right things to keep the machine moving in the right direction. As a coach, I have failed in this area more than once, so I am hoping you can learn from my mistakes without making them yourself.
Define all the roles on the team and communicate with your players often. Keep your players, and where appropriate their parents, informed about their role. What their strengths and weaknesses are and what they need to do if they want to improve or increase their role. This is one area where you can not over communicate, period.
Now just because you communicate does not guarantee that you will have no problems but I can say for sure that if you don’t communicate these things there is no chance your team will be a success. As coaches, we want to believe that our judgment about playing time is so clear cut that no one should have any questions. I always thought players who were on the bench had to have the same crystal clear picture of why they were not playing. So and so was clearly the better player, right?
Of course they don’t see it as clearly as you do. And even if the player is pretty sure she is the second or third best option at her spot you know her parents have no idea. When we see kids at practice every day we get a pretty clear picture of their capabilities but the people who only see the games have a very different sense to look through.
When parents come to the games and their kids aren’t playing, all they see are the mistakes that the starter makes and because they have no reference to what has been going on in practice they assume that their kid would do a better job. Be a better player. She’s a “gamer” and so on.
The moral to the story is a simple one, you need a bench to keep your team operating and the only chance you have to keep that bench is to communicate with them. They may still be unhappy but at least they’ll be more informed and you have done your job!