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Equal Playing Time


Some thoughts from Sport for Life

The Benefits of Equal Playing Time for the Youth Athlete:

  • Avoid contention among players. Youth are sensitive to and intuitive with favouritism regardless of the intention of the coach. Perceived favouritism demoralizes players, creates resentment, and they fail to try their best. In the worst-case scenario, they give up the sport. Team wins at the experience of individual self-esteem are in fact, losses.
  • Minimize player fatigue. If the top players get exhausted due to too much playing time, and the other players have limited game experience, it could cost the whole team in tough physical games.
  • Maximize player development. People learn by doing and without access to playing time and game-specific situations, players cannot learn. “Competitiveness” of sport should be about self-improvement and setting attainable goals. Winning is inherent in sport and is difficult to de-emphasize. However, winning at the cost to the individual impedes player, team, and club development as well as the advancement of sport.
  • Active for life. Players may choose to play soccer as a purely recreational activity regardless of their level of ability of disability. Soccer can be enjoyed as an integral part of any personal lifelong wellness plan. Adult players can also become active in the coaching and administration of the sport. The recruitment and retention of players, coaches, referees and administrators is key to the ongoing development of both grassroots and elite soccer in Canada.

The Benefits of Equal Playing.Time for the Coach (in addition to those listed above):

  • Avoid contention/confrontation between coaches and parents. Parents will not objectively judge their own child’s ability and coaches should not expect objectivity from parents. If each team member is shown respect, fairness, and given the opportunity to play and develop, parents will not need to judge.
  • Simplify coaching decisions. Exposing players to all situation means that coaches do not need to guess about who can do what or handle what. Knowing what your athletes can do in a game situation makes coaching easier.
  • Improve team chemistry. Focus comes when players perceive that everyone is being treated fairly and working as a team. Plus, athletes who are having fun have better games and practice attendance.

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Coach Responses

Do you integrate equal playing time with you team? If so, how do you do it?

Does it alter during big games or championship weekends?

Share your tips and best practices!

Joe Benedetti – Softball – Hamilton – 30+ Year

“I see this issue as supporting the value/principal of “equal opportunity” Many studies have shown inconsistencies among coaches in their ability to do accurate skill-based assessments. Coaches often even disagree about what constitutes a skilled athlete So maybe the best strategy is to “just throw them out there” and see what they can do. A softball tournament that we used to host had a continuous batting order for the first 3 or 4 games. I have heard of basketball games where “bonus points” were added at the end of the game and the final score adjusted if 5 or 8 or 10 different players scored at least one point…”

Fawn Mulholland – Soccer – Ottawa – 4 Years

“Absolutely, with grassroots players. Giving equal playing time to the players also gives reasoning to trying players in different positions, which they may otherwise be reluctant to do. I use an app called SubTime which allows you to drag and drop players, it tracks their minutes on the pitch and off it.”

Marty – Hockey – North York

“…my 7 year old son was devastated when in his house league soccer game the coach shortened the bench. My husband and I could never get him to play soccer again after that. It was a lesson for me as a coach to know the negative impact unequal playing time can have on a child’s self esteem. As a hockey coach of 11 year old rep players, I make it as equal as possible. Expectations are made clear at the beginning of the season regarding ice time. Poor attendance at mandatory practices will affect playing time.

Players need to show their commitment and dedication. We also discussed as a team when in playoffs, championship game, what they think is fair in terms of playing time. All players agreed they want everyone to play, no matter the situation. We created an environment of inclusion and support.”

Lee Reath – Volleyball – Ottawa – 20 Years

“I would contest the last bullet point Equal playing time does not equal Fair playing time. It breaks the Effort Vs Reward connection. Disparities in effort always leads to strife amongst teammates. In volleyball the fair play rules have kids that didn’t play the first set must play the second set an cannot be subbed out. That has a couple of terrible impacts:- Less kids get to play. A lot of coaches now carry less than 12 athletes in order to retain ability to make substitutions at some tactical level…”

Terry Olaskey – Baseball & Basketball – Georgian Bay Athletic Association – 48 Years

“In many of our leagues, whether baseball or basketball, winning league games was crucial to either seeding or indeed, making the playoff round. Equal playing time doesn’t mean “equal” in every game… as player development, player self-concept and player safety are key factors in deciding the line-up in each game. My best technique was to prepare a seasonal plan which included a number of exhibition games or “friendly scrimmages”.

Strategically placed between league games or qualifying tournaments, playing time was given to those players who had recently sat for a game or who needed playing time in a non-stressful situation. In many cases, our coaching colleagues are “in the same boat” as us and gladly participate in these competitions by benching their best 5 or 6 players to give either the rookies or less-skilled players the opportunity to start and finish a game! I kept careful records of the number of innings or quarters each player played and tried to make it “equal” by the end of the season.”

Dave Hill – Water Polo – Kingston – 42 Years

Equal is not a goal but fair is. When an outcome is not based on a score, but on a shared experience, then dividing time equally is justifiable. This would be based on the effort and input at training also being equal.
If you coach elite athletes andselect a team based on proven skill sets then equal time can be a goal to ensure maximal performances if each.

In all other cases the objective should be to give athletes equal opportunity to thrive and demonstrate their skill developed in training. That would rarely be equal and equality would interfere with the objective. Very few sports are set up with multiple participants having exact roles ie football punter vs quarterback or baseball relief pitcher vs shortstop. How can equal time be a factor? If a soccer team has 8 midfield players they will all have different strengths applied in different games. Equal does not factor into it.

The main issue for coaches should be communication, making parents aware of philosophy and process (in youth setting with fee payments etc). Then, making sure athletes have roles and expectations so they judge their participation based on those instead of “minutes”.

Louise – Volleyball – Ottawa – 20 Years

“I agree with equal playing time, definitely for the points mentioned above. The only draw back to equal playing time is that all athletes know they will be getting playing time so they may not put the effort in that they should.

I know when choosing your team you look for drive and focus, but it is tryouts and everyone is showing their best. It is hard in the short time you have to review players during tryouts to know if that drive will be sustained throughout the year. I do want to mention that there is a big difference between competitive players and high performance players. High performance learn from an early age that they are fighting for a position on the court where as competitive players are focusing on development and in most cases the type of development that will put them on a high performance team.”

Andy Maroudas – Soccer – Niagra – 27 Years

“In the sport of soccer, the debate about playing time is always an issue. From early house league days to the beginning of travel and through to the highest level of competitive youth soccer, this becomes a place of contention. The way I approach it is not simple but rather based in an understanding that all youth soccer, with the exception of MLS academies, should focus on development first. Time on the ball, time in the match is directly related to atheletic and technical development and cannot be separated.

That doesn’t mean 100 % equal playing time at all times however. From early beginnings applying equal time is paramount and as players rise through various levels of competitive play these their playing time can be revised based on ability. The real trick is providing adequate time to maintain steady development and keep players engaged, happy and relevant. I advocate a guaranteed minimum playing time and number of match starts for all levels of youth soccer regardless of the level. If a coach feels that they cannot give adequate time due to ability then that player should not be rostered on that team but rather on a team that would best suit the player’s ability.

A 30% rule is in my opinion a very feasible option that ticks all the boxes. Players are provided with 30% of the total play time, start 30% of the matches , continue to develop and more importantly stay engaged and in the game. As for championship games, at this point if the 30% rule is followed then the team chemistry and dynamic will be able to shoulder a little insufficient time here-or-there.”

Darren Lowe – Soccer – Surrey – 9 Years

This year I coached the U14 silver soccer team. Some parents believed that players should be competing for playing time, and for positions on the field. I read that 13 years old is a common age for youth to quit sport. Therefore, I kept track of who started on the bench each week. Players on the bench one week, started the next. At the beginning of the season I asked players where they preferred to play. I started with this, but moved players around. Every 1/8 of the game (9 minutes) I would put all of the subs in.

Some people believe that only 2 players should be subbed at a time. Even in playoffs I continued to give everyone playing time. When it was time to register for spring, of the 18 players in the fall program, 16 wanted to return. When Division 1 had 12 players for spring, we gave them 5 players, and then we selected 5 players from the house program who had been training with us once a week. We did not make it to the District Cup Playoff game or the League Cup Playoff game. Maybe we could have if we only played the 11 strongest players during playoffs. But what would that give us. Would we have 16 players returning for spring. Would the players become coaches as adults, and tell the boys about how they sat on the bench and never played?”

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