I went to a grade 7 boys’ basketball game last week and noticed a few of the players didn’t get into the game. Now I don’t know if these boys were being disciplined for something they did or if they were injured and couldn’t play, but often when kids don’t get into a game it’s usually because of one of three things; a coach loses confidence in a player and doesn’t trust them on the court, a coach get so into a game they forget about players on the bench or a coach doesn’t feel a player is good enough to play.
To me, there is no real good reason why every kid is not getting a chance to play at that age. I can understand to a degree why this would happen with college, university or pro teams. These athletes are older and hopefully more mature, and probably know why they aren’t playing. But how does a 12 year-old handle sitting on a bench for an entire game while watching their friends play. At the younger ages (under 14) the game should be about development not winning championships.
Quick, can you tell me who won the grade 6 championships in your region ten years ago? Unless you were in the finals you probably don’t remember, because winning a grade 3 or 4 championship is not that important in the grand scheme of things. That’s one of the reasons why winning at all costs can’t trump development. And part of a young players’ development happens in real, live game situations, not sitting at the end of a bench.
Another reason why it’s not right to sit a young player is because they didn’t pick themselves on the team. You, the coach, picked them. So to me you’re obligated to develop them. Maybe, as a coach, you’re right. The player isn’t good enough. But then why did you pick them? I know the answer. They had a great tryout or we needed 12 players to fill out the roster or they were friends with some supreme talent you wanted and they came as a package deal. Whatever the reason think deeply about what you’re doing to that child when you pick them on your team and never play them in games.
If the reason you’re not playing a kid is because you have lost faith in them, I think it’s imperative that you find opportunities to regain that trust and give the player the confidence they need to succeed. As coaches we can’t be afraid to let players fail. Some of the best learnings come from those experiences. Part of your job as a coach is to identify a player’s weaknesses and find ways to turn them into strengths to reduce the risk of failure.
And if your forgetting to play kids because our too caught up in the game, you need to get an assistant coach whose job it is to monitor minutes on the bench. The happier and more engaged the players on your team are the more success they will find.
The measure of success for youth teams shouldn’t be wins and losses. Success should be measured on improvement. If you can say that your team is improving each time you finish a practice or game, over time, you’re going to have a pretty good team.
I would love to hear what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org.