Monday, April 12, 2021

Is equal playing time important in the development of young players?

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So much has changed in my 20 years of coaching sports. Concepts. Kids. Parents. They’ve all changed. Some changes are for the better and some are not.

Parents are now visible at games. This is great to see once they know how to behave but unfortunately, some don’t and it causes stress for their child and, sometimes, embarrassing situations. Some will give their opinion of how you should have won the game even if you weren’t trying to win it. ‘Weren’t you trying to win it?’ they’ll quiz.

Yes, some coaches actually rate winning as the least important part of the game for young players. I’ve subscribed to this way of thinking. It’s controversial and it’s not going to fill a trophy cabinet for a sports club but there are reasons why it must be the thinking for all coaches who are interested in developing their players into competitive athletes as young adults and then adults.

Are you giving each player quality game time? The reason I say ‘quality’ is because 15 minutes at the end of a game that was won before half-time is not quality.

Firstly, there are exceptions. Knock-out games, for instance, have to be won. If you don’t win it the season could be over. Most school sports are knockout or have restrictions on the amount of games you can lose if you want your team to advance so if you are a school’s coach, stop reading because you’re off the hook.

My main focus here is on clubs. A lot of sports clubs, especially here in West Cork, have small numbers due to smaller rural populations. Their biggest issue is retaining the numbers.

That leads us to the question: why do children leave sports? To answer that, you must reflect on a number of factors, the most important one being game time.

Are you giving each player quality game time? The reason I say ‘quality’ is because 15 minutes at the end of a game that was won before half-time is not quality. By then the standard of the game has dropped and everyone is looking forward to the buzzer or final whistle. The player has learned nothing except that he or she is different. Kids must be treated equally. This has to be a non-negotiable for a coach.

In rural sports clubs there is going to be a massive difference in ability from one to 15, one to 11 or whatever other variances there are. We need to accept this. In the past I would have been all for keeping the weaker players on the line until the strongest team that I had out had the win in the bag. What a fool I was. I’d love to get a head count on how many people I ‘coached’ left the teams I was coaching because they weren’t getting a game. We live and learn.

Image by Player Development Project

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