Tag Archives: time

The Stopwatch Parent

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One of our longtime youth coaches sent Coach Lou, Mary Jo, and I this article: http://blog.nj.com/njv_guest_blog/2013/10/the_scholarship_chase_is_killi.html. I feel the author, John McCarthy, hits the major points about investing time, energy, and money into a chase for a full-ride athletic scholarship to a major college or university starting when the kid is playing the pee-wee sport of their choice. All of this has been slowly pushing down into younger and younger age levels shortly after I began playing lacrosse in the mid 1990’s.

My planned post for today, The Stopwatch Parent, ties in perfectly to Mr. McCarthy’s article. I’ve coached a lot of youth teams over the last decade, and there is usually one parent each season holding onto a stopwatch during games. The stopwatch has one purpose: it lets the parent track how long their player is on the field compared to all the other players. My favorite quote from McCarthy’s article is, “[A new parent] also learned that while all of the parents were vocal in their support for a travel team, none was willing to serve as a coach.” I see this on every team I’ve ever coached and every youth game I’ve ever officiated. There are a lot of parents who love the idea of their kid being on an elite travel team, but very few are qualified to make coaching decisions that benefit the team over any individual player.

There are at least one or two parents per team who do not understand that their child is playing a team sport, and their stopwatch or iPhone timer are the giveaways that these parents don’t care about the team. They are blinded by their adoration for their young player, and until I become a parent I doubt I will understand this mentality, but these parents need to learn the mindset that comes with playing a team sport. That mindset is TEAM FIRST not ME FIRST.

I coached a U11 team years ago, and I answered a dozen phone calls from concerned parents wondering what their child could do to get more time on the field in each of our tournament games. Bear in mind that the kids of these concerned parents were the better players on my team, and my assistant coaches and I adjusted the lines to make sure at least one of our better players was on each line to lead the other less-experienced players while on the field. Apparently, this was a poor coaching strategy. Reading between the lines on each of these parent conversations, I came to the conclusion that these parents wanted one line filled with the best players (their kids) to take the lions-share of playing time at the expense of every other kid on the roster. After all, we were an Elite U11 Travel Team and their kids were the best of the best on the team.

I despise the terms Elite Youth Player and Elite Youth Team. I do not believe there is any such U9, U11, U13, or U15 player or team in lacrosse or any other sport. I officiate every age level of lacrosse all over Georgia and the Southeast. I have not yet seen a so-called Elite U11 player who has the stick skills to compete with a third-string high school player. I’ve seen really good U11 players when compared to other U11 players, but even the very best U11 player I’ve seen is still raw in terms of stick skills, lacrosse IQ, defensive footwork, and communication. Which is completely understandable as they are 8, 9, or 10 years old! They haven’t had the time to polish their skills to an elite level, and calling these players elite at such a young age makes the term meaningless and gives the player very little incentive to work on getting to a higher skill level.

This is my message to all stopwatch parents:

The youth coach has a harder job than you can possibly imagine, and if you are spending your time in the stands criticizing your team’s coach for not playing your kid enough then you need to step onto to the sideline and volunteer to help substitute players. If you don’t want to do that then you need to sit down and use your iPhone to find an individual sport that your kid might want to try because you can’t handle that your “elite” player has to share playing time with his teammates.

Even the best players sub off the field.

Featured Image Credit – https://news.slac.stanford.edu/announcement/expedited-shipping-available-slac-eshop


Busting The Myth Of Equal Playing Time

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.


Breaking Down Average Playing Time

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For many new players, parents, and coaches lacrosse can be a difficult game to find the rhythm. Particularly regarding player substitutions. Football has very defined start and stop periods followed by substitutions, baseball has lineup cards, and basketball has a very loud horn for subbing. The closest sport to lacrosse in terms of substitutions is hockey, but hockey puts six players per team on the ice while lacrosse has ten players per team on the field. More players in a bigger playing area requires a greater amount of managing from the team’s coaches.

To illustrate how to give each player the most playing time possible I am going to create a hypothetical U11 team playing according to our AYL rules and game time regulations. Here are the specifics of our imaginary U11 team:

  • Head Coach: Gordon Corsetti
  • Assistant Coach: John Danowski
  • Substitution Coach: Ryan Boyle
  • Team Size: 20 players
  • Team Breakdown:
    • Two goalkeepers
    • Six defensemen
    • Six attackmen
    • Six midfielders

Now that our U11 team is set let’s dig into the particulars of AYL game time rules:

  • Game Length: two 20-minute running-time halves
  • Halftime: five minutes
  • Horns: substitution horns may be called for when the ball goes out on the sideline

If you want to coach youth lacrosse players properly you need to take the mystery out of substitutions. That starts with having a written list of players and the lines that they are in for your next game. For the above team a coach will have two lines of attack, two lines of defense, and two lines of midfielders.

I do not use the designations Line 1 and Line 2. I like to use Red Line and Blue Line.

  • Red Line – Good player, decent player, learning player
  • Blue Line – Good player, decent player, learning player

In recreational youth lacrosse I like to split all of my available players into Red Lines or Blue Lines and to make the lines as balanced as possible based off of each player’s ability. Having a good player who may be more experienced and understands the game on each line is important because you ensure that there is always a player who can perform lacrosse moves on the field. Having a decent player who can become better through more work on each line is needed because the decent player will get better playing with the good player on his line. Having a learning player on each line lessens any negative impact that the learning player may have on the game because he is covered by his other two teammates on the line who have a little more experience, but the learning player also gets better by playing with those better than him.

This Red/Blue Line set up turns every better player into a de facto mentor for a less skilled player:

Good Player > mentors the Decent Player who mentors > Learning Player

Now that you have your list you need a cheap wrist watch or stopwatch for your substitution coach to use. I hate worrying about substitutions as a head coach. I need to be focused on what the on field team is doing, and I need to know from my substitution coach when it is time to sub. I also need to know that a player is ready to sub if I need to give an on field player a rest before our regular substitution time comes up. All of this should be handled by the substitution coach to free the head and assistant coaches to deal with game strategy.

When To Sub:

  • In a game with twenty-minute running-time halves these are the approximate times to substitute per half using our made up team:
    • Midfielders – sub every four minutes (4 line changes total each half)
    • Attackmen – sub every six minutes (3 line changes total each half)
    • Defensemen – sub every six minutes (3 line changes total each half)
    • Goalkeepers – sub every half (One goalie starts first half, other goalie starts 2nd half)
  • Call for a horn if the ball goes out on the sideline to do a full substitution
  • You may substitute everyone after goals, after penalties, and after timeouts
  • All other substitutions must be done on-the-fly through the substitution box

When Not To Sub:

  • Here are the times when you should not substitute:
    • Do Not substitute while your team is on defense. If your players are tired they need to learn to stick it out until the next available sub opportunity
    • Do Not substitute everyone when the ball goes out of bounds on the endline. You may only substitute through the substitution box in this scenario

Admittedly, what I have laid out in this post is a substitution plan for an ideal youth recreation team with balanced numbers and an equal number of good, decent, and learning players. This ideal team appears rarely at any youth level, but the model that I’ve set forth can be adjusted based off the make up of your team. Try and get as close to this model as you can and you will be able to provide your youth players more equitable playing time in all of your games.