Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Developing and Communicating a Philosophy of Playing Time

The following post is a general philosophy for a school that has about 125 students per grade and is meant to illustrate 'principles' and not applied as official policy. This is to help in discussion among coaches and AD's.

When I was growing up, it was quite common for a school to have long term coaches. Many of these coached multiple sports and were loved and revered. Over the average 25 year career, a coach would have a few championships, even a few losing seasons, a long history of working hard and doing the best they could and mostly experiencing average high school seasons with their teams... each year having highs or lows.

The trend has changed... and news stories reflect these days multiple coaches being let go and the record plays a primary role in those decisions, regardless of what the statement from the AD may say.

Even good coaches can have the tide of belief and support eroded to the point that they aren't able to be effective in their craft.

School administrators are often faced with a tough decision... hang on until the negativity graduates or give in and start over.

I have always been an advocate of hanging on in tough times and showing great support to a coach who is under fire from the outside. Too often, if the decision is to give in, it creates an instability that is based on conventional wisdom and not based on true, measurable, and objective standards.

If outside pressures become the norm in making coaching changes, the threshold of support will often dip to a very low benchmark. In some sad cases, it isn't even if a coach won enough... it can become simply "my kid isn't happy'.

I do believe in working with coaches to improve their craft, but those are internal goals. 

There are things any coach can do that could get them removed quickly... but these things must always follow a private and fair due process... something our culture does not handle well.


Where some coaches DON"T help themselves, is not communicating their philosophy and procedure of playing athletes. This should be the foundation of other policies and procedures- such as evaluation, development,  and cutting players.

These concepts should be introduced as far down the feeder systems as possible and a varsity head coach should put healthy pressure of all youth coaches to buy into the philosophy.


I urge all youth coaches to be creative in playing all their players and develop as many individual skills as time allows. The worst player in 4th grade may be an all-star one day. I do BELIEVE you can play a lot of players and still put a competitive team on the floor.

I believe it is ok to teach competition and winning... but tricking up a team to win based on relying on just one player or a small group of early developed athletes could prevent a full championship team from developing in the future.

I used to get some frustrated youth coaches when I demanded they divide up talent evenly and play everyone in early grades.... but I knew it would pay off down the road.

Most of the pushback was ego driven.... and it was never an easy conversation.


See if you can tell the flow I recommend coaches to think through...... again, these are football concepts...but do apply to other team sports. NOTE: THIS IS PRIMARILY FOR A PROGRAM THAT DOES NOT HAVE ENOUGH FOOTBALL PLAYERS IN ONE GRADE TO COMPLETELY FILL OUT A TEAM. AS NUMBERS INCREASE, THESE CAN BE ADJUSTED.

Beginning in 6th grade, we do not believe in “equal” playing time, but we do begin to apply a spectrum that will shift throughout an athlete's experience at our school.

6th Grade-       School Mission- Primary, Development of Individual- Primary
                        DEVELOPING TEAM CONCEPTS- CRUCIAL      
                        Going for Wins- becoming more important
                        Playing everybody- still somewhat important

Concept: Coaches will plan for everyone playing and still go for wins. The better players will play more, but we want everyone to get playing time during the game; special team reps do count. Distribution of “ball carrying” is encouraged but not mandated. We may lose some games because of this, but that is OK. Post-game evaluation will be required by coaches that records who played and the number of game reps they had.
Exceptions: Players may not get playing time if they have missed practice or there is physical harm possible because of physical limitations.

7th Grade-       School Mission- Primary, Development of Individual- Primary
                        DEVELOPING TEAM CONCEPTS- CRUCIAL      
                        Going for Wins- More important
                        Playing everybody- less important

Concept: 7th grade is the first taste of a “perseverance year”. It is important to begin learning to support team goals over individual desires. It is a lot of practice repetition for little playing time. Your son should be learning the system and providing excellent practice effort. Coaches will schedule some “B” games to provide more actual game time if possible, but it will not satisfy actual playing time desires. Coaches should develop every player and look for ways to encourage them and play them but not at the expense of learning how to “win”.
Exceptions: Very talented 7th graders may start or play over 8th graders. Team numbers may eventually allow a separate 7th grade team.

8th Grade-       School Mission- Primary, Development of Individual- Primary
                        DEVELOPING TEAM CONCEPTS- CRUCIAL      
                        Going for Wins- important
                        Playing everybody- less important

Concept: 8th grade is a “senior year” rehearsal. A lot is put on the 8th graders to begin leading. Leadership is as important as playing time. Players will be asked to address the team and begin practicing “servant leadership”. Being an 8th grader is not a guarantee of playing time. The best players will play. Some 8th graders will be invited up to varsity football at the end of their season pending administrative approval.

Varsity- 9-12  School Mission- Primary, Development of Individual- Primary
                        DEVELOPING TEAM CONCEPTS- CRUCIAL      
                        Going for Wins- extremely important
                        Playing everybody- very unimportant

Concept: Prime time and prime reps. There is no reward playing time guaranteed. Coaches play players based on the best chance to win the game.

9th grade- similar to 7th grade- no expectations, learn to support “team”. A great developmental year. Some 9th graders do play if they can contribute.

EXCEPTIONS: Much care is used to keeping program development and fresh athletes on the field. Early in the season a player may play a position where there may be a better athlete in that position. These are developing depth issues. Coaches reserve the right to make developmental reps during the season knowing long term goals are sometimes more important that short-term goals.


Poor practice effort
Poor game performance
Poor attitude
Inconsistent commitment
Team rules violations
Injury or illness
Missed practice time
Poor off-season attendance
School issues, including academic performance

Please recognize that coaches see every meeting, every practice, every workout, and every film. They are far more qualified to pick players than anyone else involved in the program.

Finally, inconsistent participation in the program may affect ability to play. Players who drop out in 7th or 9th may often find themselves developmentally behind the players who play all 6 years. As coaches, we do not feel any pressure to play students who are in and out of the program.

“Coming out for my senior year” is generally discouraged in every case.

Common Theme: Generally players who play have happy parents and players who don’t have unhappy parents. That is OK and expected. Do not ever let dissatisfaction be voiced in front of your ATHLETE. It will rob the coach of any real chance to impact his life.

Hear this distinctive and balance: We believe that you can put a premium on winning without violating character and virtues. We reject any notion of accepting anything less than a quest for excellence, which includes winning. We are not ‘win at all costs’, but we are also not ‘win in the heart and not on the scoreboard’ either.

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