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Equal Playing Time: Should It Be the Rule, Not the Exception?


How To Ensure Equal Playing Time: Making A Grid

To ensure equal playing time, your child's coach should:

  • Prepare a detailed substitution pattern or "grid" before each game. Trying to keep track of how much each child has played during a game is next to impossible. It is much easier to do it the night before, when the coach can set up a balanced lineup with a mix of more and less experienced players. Writing out the lineup in advance also makes it easier to move players around so they can play different positions and develop different skills. Locking players into set positions for every game may increase the team's (coaches') chances of winning, but as I learned with one of my own son's in his first season of T-ball, it can take the fun out of the game in a hurry! Little soccer players waiting to go into game
  • Tell the players before the game starts when and what positions they are going to play. The coach should make sure that everyone gets to start an equal number of games.
  • Stick to the game plan, even if the team is losing. The coach should resist the temptation, in the heat of competition, to scrap the substitution grid if her team is losing to keep the "best" players in the game in order to try to win the game. Remember: Most kids play sports to have fun, not to win.

Equal Playing Time: A Winning Formula

Deciding on a substitution pattern in advance, and then following it during the game, creates a win-win situation for players, parents and the coach:

  • Players (except, perhaps, for the spoiled star who feels it is his or birthright to play the whole game) because they will have more fun, won't be resentful or jealous of each other, will play together more as a team, and be less selfish;
  • Parents (again, with the exception of those who feel their son or daughter is so much more talented that they are entitled to more playing time at the expense of the weaker players, or those who value winning above all else) because they will know that their kids are being treated fairly, so there won't be any need to confront the coach after the game or on the phone about a lack of playing time for their child; and 
  • The Coach because (a) she can concentrate on watching the game instead of thinking about the next substitution, or worrying whether she has forgotten to give Judy enough playing time; (b) the players on the sidelines won't be constantly pestering her to, as the John Fogarty song goes, "Put me in, coach. I'm ready to play"; and (c) she won't be tempted to show favoritism towards her own child.