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There reaches a point in youth sports when equal playing time is no longer assumed. Once kids reach the age where playing time is not automatic, the fight will ensue in every sport, every season, on every team.
Talent does not guarantee playing time, and vice versa; if your young athlete feels like he or she is less skilled than fellow teammates, sitting on the bench all season is still not a foregone conclusion.
Has your child faced a playing time challenge yet? If so, here’s some ways that you can help them fight:
Little Things Count
There is not just one thing your young athlete can do to make progress in this fight. There are many things he or she can do. The little things will add up to be a big thing. If your young athlete starts doing the little things consistently, don’t be surprised if someday, the coach looks at your young athlete and thinks, “I really want that kid on the court or field.”
Your young athlete may think the little things are insignificant, but they aren’t. The coach is watching, even if your young athlete feels invisible.
Coachability is Noticed
Coaches love kids who listen and follow instructions. If your young athlete is serious about improving and getting more time, he or she must be willing to do what the coach asks and even go the extra mile by staying after practice to work on weak areas.
I’ve seen my daughter stay after volleyball practice as the coach suggested so he could hit balls to her. I’ve seen my son stay after football practice and throw extra passes, and I’ve seen my softball daughter spend extra time in the batting cages. Each one was fighting the playing time battle by doing what their coach asked of them and looking for ways to improve on their own time.
Leadership is Appreciated
Often when your young athlete is neck-and-neck with a teammate, one thing that could give the edge is leadership. Not bossiness, mind you, but a willingness to speak up by helping and encouraging, as well as leading by example. We always told our kids to be someone that the coach did not want to take off the field or court. Someone who made a difference when they were playing. Often that difference was in their leadership.
Team Players are Valuable
Coaches don’t like to hear kids complain about their playing time. But more than that, they love kids who are willing to do what is best for the team, whether it’s passing the ball to a better shooter or giving their position to a better player and playing another spot.
Consistency is Rewarded
Coaches look for athletes that they can depend on to do their job. Help your young athlete see that he or she doesn’t need to be the hero, the home-run hitter, the star. The best young athletes play their position and do their job to the best of their ability every time.
Sometimes the playing time battle is not fair, even if your young athlete is doing all the right things. Unfortunately, politics sometimes muddies the picture. But your young athlete will know that she has given it her best shot. Hopefully that dedication will reward her with the game time she’s worked for.