“The Playing Time Problem”
Read time: 6 minutes
Everyone wants to play. Most of the time players would choose to play the whole game without subbing out if they were allowed. And yet, on most teams, there are 2-4 players who don’t play as much as the others, if at all. So how are young athletes supposed to deal with not getting the playing time they want? How can they go about trying to increase their playing time throughout the season? And what can parents do to help their children overcome these inevitable challenges that come with playing sports?
Up until age 12, players in Ontario are protected to a degree from having to think about this topic because there are rules in place to provide a somewhat balanced division of playing time within a team. However, even with these rules in place, there are always still some players and parents who are upset about the amount of time the player actually spends on the court. It is a very natural reaction! But after 12, when those rules are stripped away, is where the waters can become more complicated to navigate.
So what is the best philosophy an athlete can adopt toward how many minutes their coach gives them? Understanding that playing time is merit-based and has to be earned not only minimizes the emotional lows that accompany not getting the desired amount but also teaches children how to not give up when placed in challenging circumstances. Dealing with these issues is complex and there is no one right answer but it is also very possible to let personal bias cloud our otherwise sound judgement when it comes to our own kids. I can already feel my own bias toward my kids growing and they are only 2! Let alone if a coach were to not treat them fairly…
The process of overcoming the challenge and earning more playing time through effort can lead to real personal growth. Using my own experience as an example – when I was a freshman at the University of Portland, I played only 43 minutes the whole season. Less than 2 minutes per game! I felt embarrassed, inadequate and like I was being treated unfairly. 8 months later I had my first 20-point college game, and 12 months after that I was named one of the 10 best players in the conference. To this day, overcoming that initial struggle to get minutes is a huge source of pride for me.
So that brings us to our second question – how do I earn more playing time??
It is easy to say that the athlete should persevere but what actionable steps can they take to make it happen?
Remembering the earlier point about playing time being awarded based on merit, we have three ways we can put forward the best version of ourselves to help our team win.
#1 – Play to your strengths and make a positive impact. Everyone has a variety of strong and weak points in their game that are unique to them, but too often players get too caught up in what they are not good at rather than the areas they excel in. Scoring is the most applauded skill in basketball, and rightfully so, but there is incredible value in being a great rebounder. A great defender. A great passer. A great screener!! Whatever your 1-2 best attributes are on the court, focus on doing those well consistently.
#2 – Work on the weaker points of your game to improve them. Even just 5 minutes per day adds up over time and results in significant improvement. The more ambitious you are about the sport, the more time you need to invest. From the player’s perspective, this part is quite simple. You get out what you put in with your effort. Not practicing your skills and expecting those skills to improve is like not studying for the test and expecting to get an A. There are some people who can pull it off but most of us have to study… The speed at which one improves then comes down to the frequency and quality of work being put in, but the most important part is to have some consistency in working toward that improvement.
#3 – Don’t forget the intangibles. Besides the skills mentioned in #1, there are plenty of other ways that athletes can positively impact their team and teammates. Any positive impact, regardless of the kind, gives a coach more reason to play one player over the other. Having a positive attitude, being supportive of your teammates, displaying leadership, being unselfish, making effort and hustle plays, etc. These are just a few examples to highlight non-basketball skills which are very valuable to any team. If you can get used to trying to find ways to bring value to the group you work with at an early age, it can serve you well later in life.
Ultimately, it is up to the player to decide how much desire they have for overcoming the challenge. But as parents and coaches, the best thing we can do to support them is to highlight the mental approach to the situation which will allow them to be successful. Positive reinforcement is powerful (this topic will be covered in a separate post), and a young child playing a complicated game can never have too much of it. Constructive feedback about things you notice as a spectator can be very helpful. Helping them find value in doing all of the little things and not just worrying about how they can make more 3-pointers. If we can get their thinking to shift from “This is hard, I don’t want to do it anymore” to “How do I solve this problem?” then we have provided them with a blueprint to solve more than just this one problem. We have helped them find the gift of resiliency.
And resiliency is undeniably much more valuable than playing time.
Written by: Nem Mitrovic