Affirmed: Youth lacrosse players want to experience playing the game not riding the bench.
Does everyone agree that the AYL end-of-season tournament in May is considerably less important than the NCAA D1 Finals? You don’t agree? Well then read on.
The difference between competitive play at the high school and college level and competitive play at the youth level is wider than the Grand Canyon. In fact, the difference is a chasm so wide you cannot see the other side. I say this because sometimes players, coaches, and parents forget the entire point of a youth lacrosse league, which is to grow a passion for the game through safe, fair, and fun play.
If a kid plays in our league for a season and has a good time but does not really get into the game I’m still a happy man. That kid probably goes on to play basketball or golf and have a great time. However if that same kid rides the bench all season in favor of a slightly better kid just to win a few games he will probably quit because he never got to experience more than keeping the bench warm.
“The National Alliance for Sports reports that 70 percent of [youth players] quit playing […] sports by age 13 — and never play them again” (Kendrick)! This is a travesty because the NAS also reported that 20 million kids signed up to play sports in 2009 and by 2010 nearly 14 million quit! According to these numbers almost 2/3rds of all youth players will quit whatever sport they sign up for and there is one very consistent reason for this troubling statistic.
That reason is the sport “stopped being fun” (Kendrick). Being involved in youth sports for as long as I have the number one reason why a kid is not having fun is because the coach forgets about him in practice and focuses entirely on the more skilled players during the game. Leaving Junior to twiddle his thumbs on the bench while he looks longingly on the field to play. Mind you, that longing look disappears after the third game of with a total of four minutes on the field. By the fourth game that longing look to play is replaced by a scowl as the young player now despises his time suited up in lacrosse gear that serves no purpose on the bench other than making him uncomfortable.
I am extremely happy to report that in the many years of working the sidelines at Atlanta Youth Lacrosse we have had few issues regarding playing time. Generally, those issues are resolved immediately, and if not, certainly at the next game. When I am told by a few parents that their child has not gotten equal playing time I make it my mission, and the mission of the AYL staff, to watch the sidelines and every few minutes we ask the coaches, “is everyone getting in coach?” I have done that maybe six times over the last four years because we are very fortunate that our coaches get the concept of equal time and properly use it. Now are there occasional mistakes with not getting Player A equal time with Player B? Of course. I’m an official and I still get calls wrong so I do not expect every coach to be perfect on equal time. What I do expect is that they continue giving the effort to make sure every kid gets his time on the field.
- NOTE – If you believe your player is not getting equal playing time please abide by our 24 hour rule before sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org detailing your concerns.
Here are a few reasons why the AYL staff enforces equal playing time to the best of our ability (www.dallasstarscare.com):
- Avoids contention between coaches and parents. Parents will not objectively judge their own child’s abilities. No coach should expect objectivity from parents.
- Avoids contention among parents. The resentments that can build between coaches and parents can often build among parents for the same reasons. More than a few youth teams have had successful seasons poisoned by hard feelings arising out of a coach’s game decisions.
- Avoids contention among players. If players feel that coaches have favorites, they may stop trying their hardest.
- Minimizes player fatigue. In tough physical games, coaches will lack skilled players if the top players are exhausted and lesser players have had limited game experience.
- Maximizes player development. Without access to playing time and special situations, players cannot learn.
- Simplifies coaching decisions. Coaches won’t have to guess which players are most likely to play well in a given situation.
- Recognizes equal investments. Players and parents often make equal contributions away from the game in time and dollars and thus expect equal access to game situations.
- Improves team chemistry. When players feel everyone is treated fairly, they are more likely to focus on working together. When players feel they can succeed by making someone else look bad or themselves look better, they are learning the wrong lessons about team play.
- Wins mean more to everyone. When everyone contributes to a win, there are no lingering resentments that will interfere with the celebration.
- Better reflects coaching abilities. Winning games with kids who are physically more mature is more a success of drafting than coaching. Winning games by developing all the kids on a team is a better test of a coach’s abilities.
Next, here are a few techniques that new and returning coaches may use for equal playing time (www.playlikeachampion.org):
- Communicate with your players and their parents. Let your players and parents know your commitment to fair playing time and what they can expect throughout the season. Make sure your playing time commitments are explained to the parents at a pre-season meeting. The better you communicate up front, the less push back you will receive during the season.
- Plan ahead. Prepare a detailed substitution pattern before each game. Set your line-ups to have the best chance to be competitive in each quarter, half, or inning. Don’t “stack” certain line-ups to try to win – players pick up on this and might think of themselves as the “B Team.” Make everyone feel like they are on the “A Team” and you will get the most out of every player.
- Stick to your playing time commitments, regardless of the game situation. Is sacrificing a player’s opportunity to have fun and feel accepted by his/her coach and team worth improving your record? You decide.
- If possible, have an assistant keep track of playing time; this could be an assistant coach or a trusted parent. Recruiting some help will allow you to focus on game strategy and instruction of your players during the game.
- Take advantage of lopsided opportunities and give more time to your less-used players (especially when equal playing time is not guaranteed). Don’t wait for the other coach to do this. If he/she wants to play their stars the whole game then that is their problem. Also, make sure this isn’t your only playing time strategy.
- Help players earn playing time. In practice, set up contests where players earn playing time. That way, you commit publicly to adding more playing time for certain players in the next game, and you are more likely to live up to that commitment.
Finally, back to my original query. Why is our competitive youth spring league not as important as the competitive NCAA D1 Finals? Because even if Junior scores six goals and gets four assists in the final AYL game he is still not eligible for the MLL draft. Let’s keep things in perspective and build a passion for lacrosse in these youth players. Who knows, maybe one of them will get into the draft but not if they ride the bench all this year.
Featured Image Credit – www.bluesteps.com