Equal playing time?

Thanks for the questions that keep coming in, regarding topics from the book and youth sports in general. I will try to address them and give my opinions. Once again, these are just MY opinions. I don’t claim to be the expert on the topic of youth sports, but I do believe many people are looking for something different than they are currently experiencing, so for you...here you go.

This is probably the most common topic that keeps popping up from our followers: Playing time. The first one comes from the coaches who are asking “How do you balance being competitive with playing time of kids who aren't as athletically gifted as others on the team?”

I believe the answer to this question has to be addressed differently, dependent on the age of the kids. My suggestion to coaches is age 12 is when things start getting a little more serious, and the kids have started to separate themselves and their interest in the game. Age 12 or 13, to me, is a breaking point, where the kids need to try out for teams that will match them up with other kids of the same skill level and passion. Age 11 and under, I believe “Fun” should trump everything, and the playing time should be even among all kids. Part of the challenge, at all ages and levels, is making sure to not have bench time thought of as a complete negative. If the kids who are not on the field have a specific duty, like keeping the unofficial scorebook, or if the coach has the ability to watch the field, and teach the game at the same time, it can be a great learning tool that many kids will get something from. If, however, the kids feel like they have been grounded, you can imagine the attitude they will take on the bench.

A great idea is to have one coach that is the designated teacher on the bench that particular day. Some of the best lessons I learned in the game, even at the Big League level, came from “talking shop” with my coaches and teammates, on the bench, during a game. There are so many things that can become a game within the game. Trying to pick up the other teams signs, asking kids “what pitch would you throw right here, and why?” If the boy/girl is an outfielder, make up hypothetical situations and ask them what their responsibility would be if the ball were him to them, or if the ball was hit to someone else. Too often, we get caught up in the competition, and lose sight of the teaching moments right in front of us.

Granted, from the moment I wrote “playing time should be even,” I lost a good portion of the coaches who still can’t get the “winning every game at all costs” philosophy out of their brains. I get it, as I am paid to win games, but where we will continue to have a disconnect, is when we ask how important it is at the early ages of development. Everybody getting a trophy is disastrous theory, I am not endorsing that at all, but sitting young kids on the bench because they haven’t developed into the kind of player they should be yet...is even more of a tragedy in my eyes.

Let them play, teach them the game, help them improve, let them compete, win, lose, and fall in love with this great game. Don’t ever forget the impact you are making on them as people, will outlast anything they learn on the field.

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  • Thank You

    Hi Mike, I just finished reading the Matheny Manifesto and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I have been coaching youth baseball and now softball (thanks to my granddaughters) for over 40 years and I have tried to stick to a very similar philosophy as you expressed in your book. I hope to pass along many of the great teaching points from your book to our 12U, 16U and 18U teams this season. Thank you again and good luck to the Cardinals this year.