Practice? We're talking about practice, not game...
Updated: Dec 5, 2018
How does playing time work on your team? Does everyone get “equal” playing time during
games? As a parent, have you ever asked this question to a coach? Or as a coach, have you
ever been asked this question? What about the all time classic, ‘We’re paying, so my child
should be playing the same amount as everyone else.’ And how about this one, ‘I tracked how
long my child was playing and it was not equal to everyone else on the team. The league
manual says everyone should be getting equal playing time!’ Oh yes, some league manuals do
If you’re a coach and have been doing it long enough, you probably have heard these questions
or many like them. As a parent, you may have asked these questions at some point in your
child’s sports career… or at least thought of them. Especially, if your child isn’t one of the
strongest players on the team. In some cases these questions are fair, but more often than not,
I believe they are misguided.
Let’s ponder this for a second, why do you sign your child up for activities? I would take a guess
and say, you likely want them to get some exercise, have fun and learn. For a second, forget
this blog is about sports and substitute sports with school or anything you find valuable that you
enroll your child in. I bet you don’t get your child a tutor because you want them to do extra
homework and have fun? How about school. Do you only care about the exams? What about
their homework and in class activities? What am I getting at here? it’s obvious that we sign our
kids up for everything they do because we of course want them to have fun, but most
importantly we want them to LEARN!
Back to the playing time issue. Whenever these questions are posed to me, I always tell parents
honestly that they are focusing on the wrong thing. The value is not in the playing time. Instead,
the value is in what they are doing during that playing time. But, even more importantly than
that, the value is at training, because training is where the learning happens.
A typical team practices twice a week for about three hours total, but the games are only about
sixty or ninety minutes depending on the age group. During a game, the players who get the
most touches on the field are mostly the midfielders. A lot of the game has to go through them
and they usually dictate the game. On the average, these players hold onto the ball for at most
five to ten seconds at a time. In a typical game we can assume that an average player is on the
ball for about three to four minutes and even that is being optimistic. With that said, I am not
arguing that players don’t learn while playing in games. They do, however, they just don’t play
enough in games to place too high a value on that and negate the importance of practice.
In youth soccer, especially in America, we live for the weekends. The weekends are for games
and that’s when parents can sit back and enjoy their kids’ amazing “talent”. So, I get why
parents aren’t happy when their child is sitting on the bench instead of running around on the
field. That’s because we have a complete misunderstanding about what youth soccer is all
about. Youth soccer is about developing the future players and preparing them for the next level
of the game. Whenever a child signs up to be part of the sport, the parent should hope their child will be developed and nurtured to become the best they can at the sport, even if they have
no aspiration for playing at a higher level.
So, if the goal is to develop and nurture every kid who signs up, then my question is, do you
think thirty minutes on the weekend with an average touch of two-three minutes a games is
where the learning predominately happens? If you wanted to see how your child is doing at
school, you wouldn’t pop in to observe them taking an exam. Instead, you would schedule a time
to see them during a lesson to see what they are learning and how they are engaging with the
material during class.
We as a nation have the wrong perspective when it comes to youth soccer and what we place
our highest value on. What your child is being taught at practice is far more important than the
equal playing time you’re concerned with during games. I challenge you to take a seat by the
field during both practices AND games. Come see what exactly your child is learning during
training each week and then see how they are able to, or not able to, apply it during the games.
That’s the true indication of how they are developing and what they still need to work on.
Join me in reframing our thinking about playing time on the weekends. Let’s focus more on
what’s happening on the other two or more days at practice. Let’s ask questions about what our
kids are learning there and if they are receiving the tools and skills they will need to continue
honing their craft.
So the next time you wonder about playing time, instead remind yourself of this question, ‘Does
the learning happen when students are taking the exam, or when they are being taught the