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Coaches Offer Feedback on Minimum Play Rules

Responses vary, though many favor a minimum of 50 percent play time for each participant.

Last week’s column covered one of the questions that I asked on our Coaches Questionnaire and the comment section exploded with your responses. It made for a very constructive dialogue, and I thank you all for your input.

 My views and opinions are always evolving when it comes to what’s best for our kids on the playing field. Your comments have made me rethink my view on the handing out of participation trophies at the end of a season. Yup — guilty on all counts. I’ve always voted yes. But for many of the same reasons expressed by several of you and some of our coaches panel, I would now change my vote.

The other issue that created a lot of feedback was the one regarding the division of young kids onto teams based on ability. This coincided with the early segregation of these players, which often limited, discouraged, or prohibited their participation in other sports. This is a topic that we will definitely revisit again soon.

As I was looking over the roster of individuals who took the time to fill out the questionnaire, I was reminded that many of them are not only coaches but board members from their respective leagues. It’s a solid and knowledgeable group and it’s reflected in their answers.

 So let’s move on to our next question:

 Do you think every youth league should have a minimum play rule (per player – per game) in effect?

Coach A. (Lacrosse): “All youth sports should have a minimum play rule. That minimum should be 50 percent of the game. My philosophy is that all the parents pay the same amount for their kids to play so every player should get equal time. This includes playoff games.”

Coach B. (Football and Baseball): “Yes. In the lower (age groups) leagues it should be at least 50 percent, say up to age 12. Then anywhere from 20 percent to 33 percent, depending on the sport, up to freshman year of high school.”

Coach C. (Football and Lacrosse): “I like the minimum play rule especially with the younger athletes. I am a proponent of reducing the minimum plays as the athletes get older.”

Coach D. (Football, Lacrosse, and Basketball): “To an extent, yes, but it has to vary by sport, age group, and league/team philosophy. Rec leagues, intramural leagues, yes, a minimum play rule based on age and sport. Travel teams and high competition teams do not need minimum play rules (such as the A team for lacrosse) because the players have to make that team and thus have to earn their playing time.”

 Coach E. (Football, Lacrosse, and Basketball): “While I do believe that there should be a minimum play rule for any sport, I also believe that as kids get older (5th - 8th grade), that those kids who put in the time and effort should get rewarded with more playing time.”

 Coach F. (Football and Baseball): “Yes, I think a minimum play rule should be in effect — unfortunately, it is to make sure the coaches do the right thing. I think in a perfect world coaches would use good judgment and manage playing time based on the team, game and kids. I think it should be 25-30 percent. I am basing this on a more competitive environment that I am used to (travel team with tryouts, etc.). I think in the traditional rec league, all kids should play at least 50 percent.”

Coach G. (Football and Baseball): “Why in the world wouldn’t you have a minimum play rule? I’d like to see each player participating in about 40 percent of every game. This could mean sitting the better players a little more, but it can be done. What makes one 10-year-old more special than the next? Is it that he can throw harder or tackle better? Think about that for a minute. And the responsibility doesn’t even have to fall on the shoulders of the coaches — recruit a parent or an older sibling to track time or plays. Of course there needs to be some flexibility built into the rule for unexcused practices, lack of effort, and poor behavior. But if a league really focuses on making this a priority and the cornerstone of their youth program, it can certainly work.”

Coach H. (Football): “Yes, say 20 percent.  It is impossible to have just an average though. A team with 16 kids vs. 30 kids cannot be required to have the same (amount of playing time per player). You also can’t compare baseball to football, where the percentage of active vs. reserve players can be so different.”

Coach I. (Hockey): “No. This is complicated, but this depends upon the level, not age, of the team. Each level needs to have a different level of playing opportunities that conforms to the development of the kids. In hockey, it can be difficult to keep playing time at a specific level since many changes are done during the game and not at a whistle. Plus, keeping track of 15 different players time on ice would be a nightmare while coaching at the same time.”

Coach J. (Baseball): “Yes. Every youth sport should have a minimum playing rule. A fair minimum is 50 percent of the game.”

Coach K. (Football): “Yes, 25 percent.”

 Coach N. (Older dude – not sure what he coached): “Yes, a 50 percent rule or add teams to allow that to happen! Minimize the team sizes. This builds stamina and even removes the bench-riding fear.”

 Me. (A Sporting Dad): I received an email (By the way, feel free if you are the shy type or want to keep your views just between us) questioning my role as a youth sports “expert.” For those that have read this column from the beginning, you may already know my answer to this. I am an “expert” in knowing what I think needs to be fixed. I am an “expert” of my own observations collected from many years of watching, volunteering, and immersing myself headfirst into the depths of youth sports. These are strictly my opinions. But this is our forum. You and I get to toss, and bounce, and dribble these subjects back and forth and see where they land. And while we can debate until someone takes our ball away, I have to insist that everyone on this page be respectful of others’ comments and viewpoints.

Christopher January 13, 2012 at 01:25 PM
A 50% rule should definitely be introduced. Not only because of some of the reasons already mentioned (i.e. parents have all paid the same, etc.), but also because of a much more important reason. It's well documented that the majority of "talented" players tend to be segregated at a higher level from the rest based upon birth month. A child born in January vs. a child born in November of the same year may be on the same team but the child born in January has an 11 month growth advantage of both physical and mental dexterity. Coaches may perceive the January born child as being more "talented" than the other when in reality he may not be. He may only have a larger body and/or a more developed aptitude based upon his 11 month advantage. The mistake is when more playing time, more focused coaching, etc. is given to that earlier born child than the younger one who may actually have more "talent" but the focused is shifted from him. If this pattern is continued for the next few years, by the time they reach upper lever sports the January born child has a much higher playing advantage and therefore much more experience than the November born child. Whereas, if they were given the same playing time throughout the November child may have had more "talent" from the onset that was never actually given a chance to flourish. It makes you wonder how many really talented athletes have slipped through the cracks because of this.
Keith O'Reilly January 13, 2012 at 01:46 PM
While I agree that 50% would be ideal, it really DOES depend on the league and levels of competition. Also, the physical conditioning of some of the children nay not allow them to compete for that long. If little Johnny has Asthma, he may not be able to handle playing 4 innings of Baseball in the hazy, hot Summer days for instance. Or if little Jimmy is obese,he may not be able to play 2 quarters of Football or a half of Soccer without passing out. While I agree that things are far from perfect, there has been much improvement over the years. In the 70's, I was on a Park Dept. Baseball team as an 8 year old with most of the team being between 10 and 13 years of age. Some games I got to play 1 inning. Some games I never left the bench. Today, and 8 year old would never be on a team with kids that old regardless of his/her skill set. What each individual league needs to do is set guidelines and assure that the coaches stick to them. And as far as anyone questioning the qualifications of the author of this wonderful column, I truly DO believe that 15 years of being involved in every level from coaching to directing to just being on the sidelines cheering on his children would qualify him as an expert. Thanks for another great article Ron,And I will see you next week.
Robert Hepler January 13, 2012 at 02:10 PM
I think that in the case of "instructional" or "bantam" leagues, that it is in the best interest of every player to understand that we are a team. Minimum time is this case is okay. Mentoring inexperienced players or players that have less talent than others should not always be done by the coaches. The more experienced players should be "coaching" their teammates, as well. parents can also make a huge difference. Spending a few minutes each day with their child can be the difference in their desired level of participation. I agree with the coaches that said that as the kids get older, minimum playing time should not be guaranteed or required. That is not to say that only the best players get playing time. I will give any player that truly gives 100% during practice more than an adequate amount of playing time. I've never had a parent express a concern about this. I have also had no qualms about reminding players that they are not giving it 100%, or advising their parents of the same. Better to be tactfully honest. It will either make the player understand that more effort is required or make them realize that they really do not want to, which in the long run is the best outcome for everyone.
Susan January 13, 2012 at 02:35 PM
Having watched my son, who's a pretty good player and loves the game (Baseball) sit on the bench for more than 3 innings of a 6 inning game it is very hard to be objective. I think if you are willing to pay, your kid shows up for every practice and he show good sportsmanship he should e palying in the game. I have watched kids be bad sports and get played every single inning because the coach wants to win. Sadly those will be the kids that never learn how to deal and have issue later on.
Anthony Fiorino January 13, 2012 at 04:28 PM
some interesting thoughts on this, even though the question is fairly general. Would some of you coaches be willing to discuss this on my radio program some saturday morning? lemme know.
Erik Blazynski January 13, 2012 at 09:34 PM
Play to win and play your best players. Setting mandatory 50% play time would just be silly. Competition creates character and teaches the requirement of a good work ethic. Self esteem is created by celebrating accomplishment. Not by watering down talent getting a kid in the game and telling them they did a great job when they actually didn't.
Mark Kalina January 13, 2012 at 10:03 PM
The problem with organized sports it creates a funnel effect in which fewer and better players continue to play the game. Less talented or interested players fall by the wayside over time. Unfortunately at a time when people want children to keep active and try to keep fit an obvious channel to do so is cut off. My son fits into the category of less interested about baseball. He thinks baseball is boring and has difficulty staying focused during a game. He therefore tends to gravitate to Lacrosse and Soccer since the game is more or less constant and he is a runner. Only 1 in 200,000 children go onto play major league sports, so I have no illusion about his skills and chance to take it to the next level. I do want him to participate for fitness and the fun and camaraderie a team sport engenders. Winning while an import gauge of accomplishment, is merely secondary or tertiary in my opinion. The key is to get out there and play and "do your best".
Ron Goralski January 13, 2012 at 10:51 PM
Erik, I'm going to start with stating that I really hope that you are not coaching youth sports. Your perspective is everything that I find wrong with youth sports today. Having fun also creates character in a child. Kids gain self esteem by getting better week by week and noticing their own improvement during games. Stop focusing solely on winning and cultivating an army of grade school studs and concentrate more on letting kids develop their skills and play with their friends.
Ron Goralski January 13, 2012 at 10:58 PM
Thank you Mark! The funnel needs to be blown up and replaced with a six-lane tunnel.
Ron Goralski January 13, 2012 at 11:01 PM
Susan- somehow winning has become more important than teaching teamwork, good character, and fairness. You are right about the stars of the teams sometimes behaving poorly and given a free pass because of thier skills. I've always said I'd rather coach a team of nice, well behaved kids with mediocre skills over highly skilled, obnoxious brats.
Ron Goralski January 13, 2012 at 11:07 PM
Not every coach is as fair with handing out playing time as you are Robert. That's why I believe a minimum play rule needs to be spelled out ahead of time. I'm a big fan of the leaders of the team taking the younger, less experienced kids and helping them to develop thier skills and learn the game.
Ron Goralski January 13, 2012 at 11:09 PM
Tony- I watched several of your shows on YouTube today. We have much in common regarding our philosophies. It's a fantastic show!
Ron Goralski January 13, 2012 at 11:12 PM
Thanks for the vote of confidence Keith. Just think- some of those same 13-year-olds probably can't even run 20 yards today.
Ron Goralski January 13, 2012 at 11:22 PM
It's the whole issue of segregation/seperation at a young age. There are more variables than most of us want to admit. And even when kids do get placed on elite/travel teams, they are often told right away that playing time is not guaranteed. I'm appalled by that mentality. The supposed cream of the crop can make it to the highest level at age 10 and then sit on the bench? What in the world are they gaining by being placed in that situation?
nancy January 14, 2012 at 12:12 AM
I think the best part of this column is that you changed your mind about trophies just for showing up and playing. I love people who have open minds. I really think we should go back to earning trophies. Yes, there should be minimum play. Like others have said, they all pay the same amount. The problem might come when you have some kids that are there and are serious about the sport. And then you have the kids that are not serious about the sport. My son was as serious as could be about football when he first played in either kindergarden or first grade. Well, the coach had to keep having the kids run around the tennis courts because they were misbehaving. It finally got to the point that my son quit, it just wasn't fun for him. It was unfair to have all the kids run rather than just the ones misbehaving. I explained to the coach why he was quitting and the coach completely understood but there wasn't much else he could do since the parents were never there.
Chad Smith January 17, 2012 at 04:31 PM
While I agree with mandatory playing time, I do believe it has its down side. First off I don't think the issue of winning and losing should be lost in the debate over playing time, nor should it be seen as a bad thing. Playing time does in fact contribute greatly to a kids social well being and self esteem... However, on the flip side, losing fosters a negative view of sports. Losing gets old just as quick as sitting on the bench does. The other downside to mandatory playing time is that it further promotes the already rampant entitlement mentality of todays youth. In the long run, the message we're sending our kids is this..."All you gotta do is show up and you get to play. Nothing need be earned or worked for. You can walk while the others run during practice. You can fall down instead of blocking or tackling" etc....This in no way represents anything in real life. Furthermore, how is this fair to those kids that bust their butts during practice, and during the off season? We're rewarding apathy and punishing hard work. I coach youth football and our particular league requires a minimum of eight plays per game (not counting special teams). That's a considerable amount of playing time for a twenty eight minute game. So we give the same amount playing time to kids that do little, if anything to earn it that we do to kids who work hard and DO earn it? In what universe does this make sense?
Ron Goralski January 17, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Yes I have been accused of being open minded on rare occations. It's an uncomfortable feeling and I'd rather keep that between us. I'm not sure that I understand or agree with the entire team paying for the stupidity of a few misbehaved players. Often the whole team will run if they are not performing well as a unit - but singe out the troublemakers and let them run until they're too tired to misbehave.
Ron Goralski January 17, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Chad - 8 plays isn't even a fourth of the game. That's two plays per quarter. If you ask me it's pitiful. A lot of coaches use that number as an excuse to sit hard-working, lessor-talented kids once they've hit that mark. You can't use a handful of slackers as an excuse to lower the minimum play number. Have a discussion with the parents and the child and explain that more effort means more playing time. So maybe the 50% rule doesn't work for this reason because you need room to reward kids that show more effort - but for goodness sakes give the kids enough playing time so they know they've been in a game. One child playing 8 plays while another plays 40 is just wrong. As far as winning goes. At 8, at 10, at 12 years-old... I've seen kids way more satisfied as contributers to a losing team than benchwarmers on a championship team.
Chad Smith January 17, 2012 at 06:43 PM
Ron - I originally included the issue of playing time for those kids that arent necessarily the best athletes but do make the effort to improve, but I exceeded the minimum number of characters allowed per post. My overall point was that I have issues with kids being rewarded with playing time when they do little to earn it. Good player or bad player...playing time should be given when the effort is made. You shouldn't just be guaranteed playing time just because you show up n
Susan January 17, 2012 at 10:58 PM
The best coach my oldest son ever had put him on the All Star team. My son broke his arm second week of regular season but still showed for every practice. And every game. He had to sit but he cheered and was there. He got his cast off a day before the last game. Coach put him on All Stars for sportsmanship!
Ron Goralski January 18, 2012 at 02:55 PM
I don't disagree Chad. The problem I see is that you cannot trust every coach to be fair with playing time unless you have guidelines. And believe me, even with guidelines some coaches will play the same hard working but lessor talented kid as little as allowed. Some coaches only want to win. And in youth sports that is were everything begins to crumble and eventually bury those kids. I know you've seen it. We all have.
Ron Goralski January 18, 2012 at 02:58 PM
That's what it's all about Susan!

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