Every coach faces the same dilemma when the game is on the line: Do I play everyone or do we go for the win? The lucky few coaches may have a team where everyone contributes equally but that is a rarity. Sometimes, a coach will have to sit players for their own good.
I like to begin every season with a simple question: “Are we playing to win this season?” I also follow up this question by outlining my philosophy on playing time, which is as follows: “If you provide me with 100% effort for every minute of every game you will never sit. Not one of you will be able to give that effort for the duration of the season. So, each of you will have equal time throughout the season to prove to me why you should be playing in play-off and championship games.”
This transparency leads to the most important aspect of my coaching philosophy: trust. The above statement puts the onus on the players and from that point on they own their destiny.
Using this coaching philosophy, here are five teachable moments when it is, in my opinion, acceptable to sit a young player.
Comb through any textbook on learning styles and the first thing you will learn is that there are a number of ways to learn. Removing a player from the field of play can sometimes open their eyes to a different point of view. While they are on the bench take the opportunity to walk them through a teammate successfully execute that tricky play.
Teaching through discipline
Many coaches struggle to carry out discipline equally across an entire team. It may be appropriate for a coach to sit a player whose actions are hurting the team. In a situation where you are taking playing time away, make sure you give the athlete time to cool down. Then take the child aside and privately point out the mistake they made and how they can avoid it in the future. Most importantly, make sure to end the discussion by asking your athlete if they understand and challenging them to avoid this particular mistake in the future. A mistake is the best tool a coach has because it allows them to address the biggest growth deterrent for young athletes, fear of failure.
“Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be” – John Wooden
Professional athletes, adults and children all get frustrated when facing failure. Overexposing an athlete to frustration over an insurmountable task can destroy their confidence. Sometimes removing the player from the situation altogether is the best thing to do.
A coach’s job is to prepare his/her athletes for battle. Cardiovascular and physical fitness are key elements of game preparation but mental fitness is almost always ignored in young athletes and seldom understood by their coaches and parents. Sports are supposed to be fun. A good coach is always cognizant of when his team needs to relax.
Finally, it’s okay to take playing time away in sport-specific situations. Each athlete has a specific skill-set and it’s your job as a coach to place these players in the best position to succeed. Special Teams is the best example of this since the power play and penalty kill require very different skill-sets than 5-on-5 hockey. As a coach, it’s fine to pick players who provide the best opportunity for the team to succeed.
The key to following these simple guidelines is trust. Success is player-driven but good coaching is the steering. Youth-sports is especially impactful and long lasting. Coach smart by gaining your players’ trust as they reach for their mental and physical potential.