Sanctioned games and competitive scrimmages are the #1 most important player development opportunities for a player. Games give players the chance to put into action what was learned in practice, as well as an opportunity to experience pressure that isn’t present in training drills and exercises. Games last anywhere from 40 minutes to 90 minutes, depending on the age group, and have a set number of players on the field, and since most youth clubs only practice 2 to 3 hours a week, games are a large percentage of a player’s education. Because of this, there is NEVER a good reason (excuse) for any coach to play any one player more than another – no matter what the age group and no matter what the skill level.
Game time is development time, and giving one player more playing time than another means that someone has to play less, and will therefore develop at a slower pace. The only thing that could make this situation even WORSE would be if the coach was obviously playing HIS OWN CHILD more than any other player. Even if the coach’s kid IS the best player on the team, playing him the entire game – while every other player on the team takes turns on the bench – is actually detrimental to the team – in numerous ways.[quote]Giving one player MORE game time than any other player on the team, means that other players have to sacrifice their playing/development time. As sanctioned games and competitive scrimmages are the MOST VALUABLE learning tools available to a young player, denying this commodity to any player is detrimental to that player’s development and self-esteem. [/quote]
A professional athlete needs a great number of mental and physical tools to play at the highest level by the time he’s 16 – 22 years old. The only way to get all of those tools is through hours and hours of training and playing, week after week, year in and year out. Who’s more willing to provide that training than a boy’s own father? And, if you’re the father: What better way to provide that training than to be the coach of your child’s team? If you piss off a couple of people along the way – that’s fine. The end justifies the means.
One of the biggest problems with youth sports is that EVERY coach has his own agenda when he begins coaching, and it’s RARELY to develop great players of the game. For some, it’s proving to the world that they’re a winner. For others, it’s to gain necessary experience to coach at a higher level (pro-coach wannabe). For some (and this is the saddest), it’s for a paycheck (read: The Pay-for-Play Paradox). Finally – for those with sons – it’s to provide a place for his son to gain as much VALUABLE GAME EXPERIENCE as possible. The key words are GAME EXPERIENCE.
You see, every player knows that games are where you learn the most about any sport. You can try to recreate game type situations in practice, but if there’s no adrenaline, then there’s no real learning. Games are where the best learning situations are created, so the more game time a player gets, the faster he will learn. As a youth soccer coach, DEVELOPMENT should be the #1 priority for every child on the team. That means, in order to provide the best learning environment for every player, game-time should be EQUALLY DISTRIBUTED among every player – no matter what their individual skill levels. Unless they’re already professionals, every child at every level (recreation or competitive rec) should be getting equal playing time on game days.[box_style_one]So, aside from the other players on the team sacrificing their VERY VALUABLE developmental playing time so that the coach’s son can have more, how else does this situation hurt the team?
- Morale – No matter how hard any child on that team works, they’ll never be the coach’s kid. The world is a cruel place, but youth athletics is supposed to build esteem – not crush dreams.
- Team chemistry – If the coach’s kid is playing the entire game and I’m not the coach’s kid, I need to be the coach’s kid’s best friend. Once cliques form, you’re either in the clique or you’re out of it.
- Parental support – More than the kids, it’s about the parents. In the currently inflated pay-for-play environment of youth athletics, parents are paying a premium for mediocrity and nepotism.
The one thing that every coach, parent and player needs to remember is that we are ALL on Team USA. The ultimate goal of American Youth Soccer is to develop players that will one day play for and win a World Cup for our nation: No one player’s development should be a higher priority than any other’s. In the current situation of pay-for-play, if all players have paid the same fees, all parents should expect their kids to play the same amount of time as any other player.
Read more on the subject of player development here: “Why your son will never be a professional athlete”
Mike Slatton is a 35+ year player and 25+ year youth soccer coach.