Monthly Archives: September 2012

Kids & Sports: A Playing Time Proposal

Over the past 16+ years, our 3 kids have tried their share of organized sports:  t-ball, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, swimming, football, tennis, golf, and karate, and I am probably missing something.  For the most part, these have been great experiences for eveyone involved.  But when there have been disappointments, most have had nothing to do with winning or losing; most have involved playing time.  That’s probably not a big surprise–playing time is often the hottest topic among parents on the sidelines. 

I have seen this from both sides, as a parent and as a coach.  I have enjoyed coaching t-ball, basketball, soccer, and volleyball for my kids’ rec leagues; 10 seasons of varsity high school volleyball; 5 seasons of club volleyball; and even 1 spring of “high school developmental golf.”  (For the record, I am fully qualified to teach bad golf….)

So WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?  Should everyone play the same amount?  Didn’t we all pay the same fees?  Should the better players play more?  Doesn’t the coach want to WIN?! 

As I see it, the deciding factor is simple:  Did each player join the team by simply signing up, or were the players selected through tryouts?

For this discussion, let’s assume that each player comes to practice regularly, behaves well, and gives a reasonable effort.

If everyone landed on the team just by registering, playing time should be 100% equal.  And to clarify, an evaluation to determine WHICH team a player will be on is not the same as a tryout to determine WHETHER the player will make a team at all.  If registration form + check = you’re on the team, then I expect playing time to be evenly distributed.

I’ll admit that I take pride in coaching rec league teams this way….developing a steady rotation to balance playing time.  Personally, I do not believe going undefeated in 6 year old micro soccer or playing all 4 quarters of 7 year old basketball is a defining experience for a child long-term; but I have seen firsthand that kids can be bitterly disappointed when they sit on the sidelines feeling left out, sometimes even walking away from particular sports for good.  And if my kid happens to be one of the best players (which has happened now and then), I understand that (s)he should have the same ratio of playing/bench time as the less-skilled players (which has also described my child at other times). 

But if there is a tryout, parents and players need to understand that the team/league/etc. is competitive by its very nature.  If you have to perform in order to earn a place on the team, doesn’t it make sense that the coaches will judge your performance to determine who plays, and when?

So does this mean a travel team coach can reasonably play some kids 100% while others sit the bench?  In my opinion, NO.  As a parent, I understand playing time will not be equal, but for $500-$2000 per season, I expect my son/daughter to have opportunities to play.  And as a coach, I believe that I have to be able to get EVERY child on the field or court at least 1/3 of the time.  If that is difficult, either I should not have selected him/her at the tryout or I am not doing my job to help that child develop the skils (s)he needs to be successful in the games; either way, (s)he plays.

High school varsity teams are the exception.  There is almost always a competitive tryout process, the cost is usually far less than for a travel team, and at the varsity level winning is a relatively high priority.  For most players, high school varsity will be the highest level they can reasonably achieve, and their senior year may be the last time the play their sport of choice on a team with a coach.  At that point, the days of “no one keeps score and everyone gets a trophy” are over.  But I still believe good coaches look for opportunities to get their weaker players on the court or field, especially when the win is fairly secure.

Not too long ago I wrote about playing time as one of the great attractions of swimming.  But millions of kids–including my own–play a wide range of sports in which playing time is an issue.  If you have thoughts on how to manage playing time in the best interests of kids, I invite you to comment below.

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Filed under Activities & Sports, Uncategorized

September 11, 2001–Explaining Terrorism To A 5 Year Old

In September 2001 our older daughter was 5, a brand-new kindergartener, and her sister was a 3 year old pre-schooler.  For us, like most families, the 11th was a normal Tuesday that became a day we would always remember when hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field near Pittsburgh.

At the time I was an English teacher in a high school.  When I learned during my planning period about the breaking news from the Twin Towers, I called my wife to make sure she knew what was happening and to ask whether a family friend still worked in the WTC.  (He did not.)  We decided our kindergartener was safe and happy in school, so she should stay there–at least for the time being.

At my own school, each teacher’s role became to support teenagers in carrying on with their day until we could get them home safely.  I reminded my students that people often make insensitive remarks and jokes when they are uncomfortable with what is happening, but that I expected them to remember that when (s)he left home that morning EVERY innocent passenger on those airliners had expected to come home to his or her family.  To their credit, every one of those teens handled what was happening that day with exceptional maturity and respect.

Once the high school closed early, I was able to go home to my family.  My wife and I tried to watch TV coverage as we could while shielding the girls from the surreal reports and images.  We decided 3 was too young to face what had happened, but that–unfortunately–5 had no choice.  So after dinner that night, my wife kept our younger daughter inside while I took our 5 year old outside to talk about the terror attacks. We were worried that she would hear other kids talking on the bus or at school the next day and that she would get scared, and we wanted to prepare her so she would feel safe.

Our home is a 45 minute drive from a major international airport, so from early morning through late at night there are always planes in the sky.  As we sat on the front porch, I explained that some bad people who do not like America and the way we live had crashed planes into buildings and hurt a lot of people.  But I asked her to look up, and pointed out that there were not any planes in the sky.  I told her the president had ordered all of the planes to land, but that when she did see a plane in the sky over the next few days it would be one of the president’s planes and that it would be up there making sure we were all safe.  She asked a few questions, accepted my answers, and we went back inside.

Schools were closed the next day.  The kids and I went back to school on Thursday, and our family met with relatives on Saturday night for a candlelight vigil to honor those who had been lost on the 11th.  Eleven years later that week may be a fuzzy memory for our now high school junior; but it is one of my clearest memories out of 16+ years as a dad.



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Filed under Safety, Tragedy