Allocating playing time

be fairThis is a subject many youth football coaches often struggle with. The head coach is either a win-at-all-costs coach who cares little about getting all the kids in the game or he’s a guy that lets the soccer mom Nazi parents pressure him into playing all the kids the same amount.

I don’t think either approach is right. This is youth football, if a player comes to practice, pays attention and does his best, he should get some playing time in every game regardless of what the score is. However playing all the kids the same amount, makes no sense to me either. If Tommy comes to all the practices, pays attention to the coaches and tries his best, and Joey misses practice, is inattentive and rarely tries very hard, the two should not play the same amount of time. What message do you send to Tommy?: That excelling is not rewarded. What message does Joey get?: That slacking off has zero consequences. In this example, neither player is being done any favours, they are both being set up to fail in life, thanks to the soccer mom Nazis.

I’ve coached in youth football leagues that had minimum play rules and those that didn’t. The minimum play rule is set to require coaches to play kids a certain amount in every game. As a youth football coach I have always had a minimum play standard, whether there was a rule or not. I’m a firm believer in getting kids into the game regardless of their ability. Now we are going to play to win, as I have both an offence and defence that can accommodate the minimum play player and not significantly impact the scheme in a negative way. But the weaker kids are going to get in and I strategically sub from the opening gun.

The way we address this with the parents and players is through a mandatory parents meeting the first day of practice. We let the parents know that each player will play X plays per week if they attend practice, listen to the coaches and hustle in football practice. But we also stress that just like in life, we will reward those that are paying better attention, playing harder and excelling, by playing them more than those that do not. We also stress previous years statistics that show we play our kids more than any other youth football team in our league and that we spread the scoring around quite a bit as well. We also stress the playing time will vary based on the game, and the players effort for the week and some weeks they will play more than others. But everyone knows they will always get the minimum standard we set, regardless of the score and that our best players will start.

I let the parents know this policy is not negotiable and if they feel uncomfortable with it that there is nothing wrong with that, but maybe we aren’t the right “fit” for their child. I always have pieces of paper in my pocket with the names and phone numbers of competing youth football programs in my pocket. I let the parents know if they are looking for better “fit” options, to come and get the phone numbers of other programs from me before football practice starts.

Coaching youth football well means setting proper expectations with your coaches, parents and players. Don’t be ambiguous, don’t surprise anyone week three of your season with your playing time policy. Let the parents know how it will be day one. That way the parents have no legs to stand on if they decide to stay. It will make your life SO MUCH EASIER getting it out of the way right in this fashion right off the bat. It’s kind of like taking that band-aid off in one quick swipe. It’s always much less painful doing it that way.