If your child is under 14 years old, is attending all practices with a positive mentality and they are playing less than half the game in MOST games – chances are they are starting to underperform because they are lacking in confidence. And, just as important, they are not developing to their potential because playing in games is important to development.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t start this conversation with a note about resiliency.
Obviously, you want your child to play sports so they learn important life lessons in resiliency and being a warrior and teamwork. When your child is faced with stressful situations – such as playing time – you don’t necessarily want to jump right in and fix the problem. Your child working through uncomfortable situations and growing from them is essential to their development of resiliency.
I mention this because the last thing you want to be is the “Lawnmower Parent” and mow down all the obstacles in your child’s way. Lack of playing time is an obstacle. An appropriate initial response to your child not getting adequate playing time in a few games may be “Well, you need to work harder and be better.”
However, when your child is under 14, at some point you get to a situation where it becomes a developmentally INappropriate environment based on your children’s mentality and athletic potential.
As a parent, you need to identify the tipping point – the point where it goes from them building resiliency and learning to fight through stress and take care of the situation (by working harder, being more prepared, developing technique) to the point where they lose confidence and lose their love for the game.
I use the under 14 age throughout this article, but in reality this is important for all ages. It can certainly be argued that the age could be through high school club soccer.
The REAL REASONs for our kids playing sports – so they are healthy and happy adults – their Long Term Athletic Development – must never be affected.
With that in mind, if you feel like the lack of playing time is starting to affect your child’s Long Term Athletic Development – you need to have an honest and open conversation with the coach.
This may be a conversation your child can be a part of, but I don’t think it’s a conversation your child, under the age of 14, should have without you present. As was discussed in previous articles about Communication – there are often gaps between what a coach says to a player, and what a player hears and what a player relays to a parent. While a player talking to a coach about many things is completely fine, I think the parent must be present for this important playing time conversation.
If you are really stressed about the situation – then it’s probably best if you don’t have your child with you. Get as much information as possible from the coach, and then ask the coach to meet with you and your child at a later time.
As much as we would hope the coach would call us and have a conversation if our child isn’t getting a lot of playing time, we need to remember that our coaches receive very little training and education when it comes to player (and parent) management. They may not have the emotional intelligence necessary to think about going out of their way to call you about this playing time situation (which may seem unimaginable because it’s been occupying so much of your thoughts). Parents are often the more experienced communicators in the parent – coach relationship and often parents must initiate the call.
3 Suggestions for the Playing Time Conversation:
Frame it appropriately
Let the coach know, in a non-confrontational manner, you have some concerns about the amount of time your child is receiving in games and that you would like to meet to talk about what is going on.
I’d like to talk with you about the amount of time my child has been playing in the games. While I certainly understand playing time won’t necessarily be evenamongst all of the players, I do want to understand why you are choosing to put my child in the game for so few minutes. I would like to discuss what the best environment for them to develop looks like.”
When you do meet, make sure the coach understands that your number one priority is that your child is having fun and developing as a player and person through sports.
I want to make sure you understand that my number one priority is that my child have fun and continue to develop. I think playing in games is essential to their development. I am afraid that if this lack of playing time continues, they will continue to lose confidence and underperform, they will stop having fun and they will not develop to their potential.”
Ask for some honest feedback
Open the door for the coach to talk openly to you and LET THEM TALK.
Please be very honest with me, why is my child playing less than half of a game?”
The coach should have a handful of reasons for you. You need to be ready to hear some things you may not want to hear. The coach may discuss behavior or attitude issues or they may discuss your child’s size or playing abilities and potential. Keep an open mind and ask some follow up questions so you are confident you understand what the reasoning is.
Ask about the best developmental environment
One of the hardest things for a parent to understand is what is the best developmental environment for their aspiring player. I talk a lot at SoccerParenting.com about finding a Coach You Trust. This is a situation where a Coach You Trust is essential. If your child isn’t playing for a Coach You Trust – then this is going to be a conversation you always second guess.
Do you think my child is playing in a developmentally appropriate environment? Should they be on a lower team?”
There are two ways this question is going to land:
- The coach will say they are in the right environment
- The coach will say they are not in the right environment.
If the coach thinks they ARE in the right environment, then you should have some follow up questions.
Are there any behavioral issues I need to address with my child?
Can you please talk to my child about anything specific they need to work on to get more playing time and follow up with me so I hear the specifics as well?
If the coach says they don’t think playing in games is extremely important to their development – then you have a decision to make yourself about what you think is best for your child. There are some possible solutions to the playing time issue that you could bring up. For instance, if you are in a club that has teams at multiple levels in the same age group:
Do you think it would be possible for them to guest play now and then for the lower team at the club to help them build back their confidence and play in a less stressed environment?”
They are getting upset and frustrated, is there anything you can do to help them with this mental side of the game and to make sure they love the game?”
If the coach thinks they are in the WRONG environment, and need to move down to a lower team, then you need to come up with a plan. Is it best to do that mid-season so your child starts playing a lot more while on the lower team and has a chance to build up their confidence a bit before the end of the season? I would rather them be disappointed during the season instead of when the new teams are posted after tryouts… and possibly decide to stop playing.
Of course, there is a lot of emotion involved with thinking it may be best for your child to move to the lower team. However, it’s essential to remember two things:
- Your child is limited by their mentality and athletic potential. To put any pressure on them to try and compete at a level that is not developmentally appropriate gives them unnecessary stress and runs the risk of negatively affecting their love for the game and desire to be active and healthy.
- Just because your child moves down to a lower team when they are 11 does not mean they won’t be on the top team when they are 15.
Our children grow and develop at so many different paces and ultimately, they are held back by their mentality and athletic potential.
If the solution is to move to a lower team, how you respond to this news and handle it with your child will have a long-term impact on your child and their self-esteem. It can’t be looked at as a failure for them to move to a lower team. It needs to be viewed as an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for them to play more in the game, to be a leader and to be in an environment where they are not constantly stressed so they are able to develop more freely.