I love Mythbusters for three reasons. One, Adam Savage, Jamie Hyneman, Grant Imahara, Kari Byron, and Tory Belleci make science fun. Two, the show confirms or busts commonly held myths. And three, most episodes end with something blowing up.
In the spirit of Mythbusters I am busting the myth of equal playing time in this post. I’ve written about The Coaches Lie, Sweating and Smiling, and Equal Playing Time over the last two years, but I don’t believe I’ve fully explained my position on why I believe equal playing time is a myth. This post delves into my position, and explains to parents the best way to approach the concept of equal playing time.
Equal playing time sounds great and that is the point. Who could argue that equal playing time is a bad idea? It sounds so nice and good, and if you come out against equal playing time you sound negative no matter how you articulate your point. I am not stating that equal playing time is bad, but I do state that most coaches and league administrators say they believe in equal playing time without putting in any structures to promote it. This happens because equal playing time sounds so darn good, and that phrase draws parents into the league.
The problem as I see it is that someone came up with the concept of equal playing time; then everyone bought into what a great idea it is, but nobody actually thought about how to make it happen. So every youth sports league promises equal playing time without saying how. If you as a parent are looking into a youth league for your child the first question you should ask if the league offers equal playing time is: “How do you ensure equal playing time?” If they do not have a reasonable answer then move on to another program.
Atlanta Youth Lacrosse does not guarantee equal playing time in our recreational lacrosse programs because we would be lying. Instead, we use two key strategies to help increase playing time for all players:
- Small team sizes capped at twenty-two players per team encourages more substitutions as players will get tired. We’ve found that adding players beyond twenty-two significantly decreases playing time for most of a team’s players.
- The 24-Hour Rule gives players and parents an opportunity to think through their concern about playing time (or any other concern) and then contact Atlanta Youth Lacrosse. During the next game, our experienced staff watches the team the player is on and prompts the coach to substitute their lines more frequently. We often do this with new coaches who are learning how to substitute players and manage game strategy.
That is how AYL builds more playing time into our games and manages concerns over playing time. The goal is to aim for more playing time, but I believe we need to remove the word equal out of phrase.
I would prefer saying Fair Playing Time because that is a more attainable goal, and it is more applicable to the real world that we want to prepare young kids to enter. The definition of equal is, “the same in number, amount, degree, rank, or quality”. Equality is the bedrock concept upon which a free society rests, but as many adults know, we don’t always get treated equally in the real world. We may be as skilled as another person at work, but we get passed over for a promotion. We may be more passionate than another person during an interview, but we don’t get a call back due to a possible bias from the interviewer. That is a depressing fact of life but if introduced slowly at a young age, a child can grow into an adult knowing how the real world operates, and, more importantly, how to handle unequal setbacks.
Equal is the same thing as perfection. We may never get there as human beings, but there is no reason not to try. However, I believe that prefacing “playing time” with the word equal prevents us from coming up with ways to actually get there. Which is why I like Fair Playing Time. the definition of fair is, “treating people in a way that does not favor some over others”. Treating players fairly is a much better word. Children are not identical and they should not be treated as identical people because what works for one child may not work for another, but every child should be treated fairly.
Is it fair that when one child misses a full week of practice that he gets the same amount of playing time as the child who attended every practice? I do not believe so. Giving the absentee child the same amount of time on the field as everyone else who showed up is not fair to the team because that player did not practice what the team worked on that week. The fair treatment would be keeping that player on the bench for one half. This teaches that absenteeism has consequences, and in team sports, the team comes first.
Equal is a strong word. Our country’s founding fathers stated, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”. Nations have risen and fallen on the basis of equality. Leaders have emerged in the just fight of equality for every human being born on this Earth. I believe equal is too strong of a word when we talk about playing time. Fair is much more manageable.