Nobody likes to sit the bench, but let’s face it, unless your team only has 9 players somebody’s got to sit. It’s those “somebody’s” that can make or break your team, so discover a positive method to handle a lack of playing time.
This whole issue of playing time has started coming up more and more. I’ve been getting bombarded lately with questions by parents, players and coaches asking me how to deal with certain issues that usually come down to playing time – or lack of it, or some decision a has coach made surrounding playing time.
Players write me wanting to know how to improve their playing time, parents write me complaining about coaches not playing their daughters enough, and coaches write me wanting to know how to help kids that don’t play a lot stay involved with the team.
See if you’ve heard any of these statements around the ballpark when it comes to the issue of playing time:
- It’s a conspiracy
- The coach is killing her chances to play college ball
- The coach doesn’t like her
- She’s playing favorites!
I’ve been a coach who’s had to make some tough playing time decisions, and I’ve been a player who’s sat the bench, so I know both sides. No coach is trying to purposefully stop players from playing in order to be mean; they’re simply trying to put the strongest players into their lineup that will give their team the greatest chance of winning. It’s a very tough position to be in as today’s parent is much more verbal in their disagreement than parents of the past. So coaches are criticized more often, more openly and more harshly than ever.
And yet from the player’s point of view, if you don’t get to play how are you supposed to get better? I understand that argument and realize it’s packed with emotion since the player is far more emotionally attached to her own playing time than the coach is.
So many playing time issues rear their head for the first time either during high school or college softball. Before we look at things we can do to better handle the amount of playing time we’re getting, or our daughter is getting, let’s first look at 4 reasons why I think so many issues with playing time happen during schoolball (high school or college):
- 4 Year Age Group – Since travelball is split up into 2 year age groups players are usually grouped with other players very similar in age, size and skill level. Sure, some players play up but for the most part players are within a two year age span. While you’ll see some differences within a 2 year age group, the talent, size, strength and speed differences aren’t nearly what they are when you put kids into 4 year age groups. Now suddenly, that 14 year old high school freshman, if she plays varsity, is competing against an 18 year old senior – and that’s a HUGE difference! And in college you’ll have an 18 year old freshman competing against a 22 year old senior – of course that freshman won’t have the success she had during 18 U Gold Travelball when she was the oldest and probably fastest, strongest and best player on the team. Once the age, speed, size and strength ranges go from 2 years up to 4 years your ability to contribute at the younger age level gets way tougher.
- Winning Matters – In both high school and college, winning matters. There are no more “showcases” where simply showing your talent is the objective and winning is only something you consider on Sunday. Now suddenly winning matters every game, so the coach is now faced with putting the players on the field that give the team the greatest chance of winning that game. This one simple thing impacts who plays and who doesn’t more than anything else. It’s no longer about making sure everyone gets a chance to play, it’s now about making sure the team has the best chance of winning. And, if you think this sounds harsh just think back to the last time your team had a losing record. That’s something that nobody wants or likes and you’d do almost anything to change it. Well the coach has the ability to try and change that on the front end by playing the players he or she feels gives them the strongest team.
- Old Methods Don’t Work – While in most cases, high school or college isn’t the first time a player is faced with unsatisfactory playing time (this also means not playing the position you think you should play), the way that most people in traveball seem to handle this issue is to change teams. In fact it’s not uncommon for some players to change teams 2-3 times a season! Don’t like the playing time or position you’re getting on this team, then simply find another team. And while that might seem like a good solution for travelball, it won’t work for high school or college. Sure, you can try and change high schools or even colleges, but it’s MUCH harder to do and carries with it much stiffer penalties – players often must sit out an entire season in order to be eligible. So the method you had for handling playing time issues in the past suddenly won’t work when you get to high school or college.
This whole issue of playing time is really tricky and it’s something I’ve really debated writing about for some time. I know an article on it will be helpful and yet my purpose isn’t to lecture everyone or make people mad. While it might seem like both end up happening please know it’s certainly not my intent going in.
I think the best way to approach my advice on how to handle playing time issues, and I realize a VERY different approach, is to use the point of view of my Mom – Liz. I’m going to angle in by letting you know What Would Liz Say, or WWLS. Liz, my Mom, was and still is a fantastic Mom who raised 5 great kids. But, she was also tough as nails. She grew up on a farm in Southern California during the depression, lived through WWII, lost 2 brothers in the Korean War, enlisted in the Air Force, served in North Africa, had 5 kids via natural child birth, and since my Dad was a career Air Force Officer and was stationed all over the world, Mom raised all 5 of us largely by herself.
Anybody who knows my Mom knows she can tell a great story, and while I’ve heard some amazing tales I have NEVER heard my Mom complain! She wouldn’t do it herself and wouldn’t let us do it either! She taught us the power of family, as all 5 of us kids still talk to each other almost every week, and yet she had this amazing ability to see life objectively. Of course, as a kid growing up I wanted to slant everything in life my way so the whole “objectivity thing” was a VERY annoying quality for me! But, I’ve since learned how important Mom’s point of view has become for me and how much I rely upon it daily.
So it’s Liz’s perspective and objectivity that I will use to help deal with the issue of playing time. Growing up, whenever one of us didn’t get our way we’d always resort to the “it’s not fair” line. I can still hear Liz’s response: “Fair, Smair. Life isn’t supposed to be fair Cindy. If you don’t like it then you’ve got to work to change it” (she loved to rhyme things even when it involved making up words). Of course this wasn’t the answer I was looking for – I wanted to find agreement to my particular point of view. – so off I’d go grumbling to myself about how unfair my whole life was. You know the story.
Eventually what I learned was that I wasn’t going to find a willing ear in my Mom to all my pathetic “the world is out to get me” rants. I’d of course try them on one of my brothers or sisters who had problems of their own so they ignored me. Since complaints really need an audience to survive, and mine could never get any traction I quit complaining. Because of my Mom’s consistent responses I was able to guess what Liz’s answer was going to be so I eventually bypassed the complaining approach and went straight to the solution. Of course at the time, I was not going to admit that it worked much better to handle things that way, but as an adult, there’s NO DOUBT it’s helped get me wherever it is I am.
So, let’s look at what Liz said to me the one time I came to her complaining that I wasn’t getting to play as much as I thought I should, and the lessons she taught all of us on how to handle situations that we didn’t like:
- A Matter of Perspective
- Coaches want what’s best for the team first and what’s best for you as a player second. Mom compared a coach’s perspective to their team to that of our family. She said that parents think of the family first and the individual kids second. Sure, she loved and adored every single one of us but her first concern was always the entire family first and each one of us second. From a softball point of view that doesn’t mean that coaches don’t like and care about each player, they do, it simply means that a coaches priority has to be team first and individual players second.
- Conversely, Players want what’s best for themselves first and what’s best for the team second. The issue of playing time to a player is a lot like being one of the kids in a multi-kid family. I was 1 of 5 kids so I always thought my Mom liked one of my brothers or sisters better since from my perspective it was “obvious” she did. Translation – I wasn’t getting my way in that particular situation so that skewed my conclusion. As a player, our view of playing time is always skewed since we see the whole situation as it pertains to us first, and as it impacts the team second.
Lesson – A playing time issue always has 2 perspectives; The coach thinks about the team first, players second – while the players think about themselves first and team second.
- This is by far the biggest playing time lesson of all! When I complained to Liz that I wasn’t playing enough, Mom’s exact words were, “well Cindy that just means you need to practice more since (coach) obviously doesn’t think you’re good enough to play right now.” Of course I shot back with something like, but you’re supposed to be on my side, at which point she said, “Cindy, I’m always on your side, but that doesn’t mean the coach is wrong.” Her ability to make me own the situation by telling me that the problem was me and not the coach was invaluable to me! I didn’t want to hear it but I needed to hear it!
Lesson – Take ownership of your playing time issue & consider that the issue might be you instead of always thinking the coach is wrong.
- Work to Change What you Don’t Like –
- Liz taught all of us that we could be a power for change, that If we didn’t like something then we should work to change it. Instead of complaining about it, we should work to change it. This approach helped me pick my battles since some things aren’t really worth the effort to change them. Just because I didn’t like something didn’t mean I didn’t like it enough to put the work in to change it, so I learned that these were the situations where I’d I just shut my mouth. Complaining about a situation was NOT the same was working to change it, and complaining about anything was NEVER an option with Liz (still isn’t!). Complaining is like a poison – it can make you and everyone around you sick. As a player, don’t do it and as an adult, don’t let your players or daughter do it.
Lesson – If you don’t like the amount of playing time you have then work to change it – with your actions not your mouth.
- It Must Be You!
- This message is basically the essence of #3 – the problem with playing time isn’t a coaching problem, it’s a You problem. Liz taught all of us that we weren’t going to fix the coach so that meant we had to improve ourselves. It wasn’t even an option that the problem might be the coach. The message was always that it must be me, which by the way was very empowering since I have power over me, and I don’t have power over the coach. Occasionally the problem is the other person as if you’re looking through a window, but most of the time the problem is YOU, as if you’re looking at a mirror. When it comes to playing time, always assume it’s a mirror you’re looking at.
Lesson – When it comes to playing time accept that there are parts of your game that you can improve and you’re on your way to increasing your playing time.
- What Are You Going to Do About It?
- Liz’s fallback response to anything we were complaining or gripping about was, “So Cindy, what are you going to do about it?” It’s along the same lines as #4 above and implies that you’re going to take some action. You’re going to have to take your issue past the point of frustration and get a plan of action. Chart a course to start to correct whatever the problem is – in this case playing time – and get after it. When Liz asked me what I was going to do about not playing as much as I wanted to it really made me think about why I wasn’t playing and helped me realized it was because I wasn’t strong enough or good enough. So, every morning for the next year I got up at 5:30am and ran 3 miles, then pitched for 30 minutes to my brother before going to school. When I went back to play on my team that summer, it was a whole different story because I was a whole different player. I’d actually done something about it and felt the increase in confidence, pride and ability that comes with personal accomplishment and sacrifice. Liz didn’t make me get up and do all that, it was my idea and my passion. She simply helped me think about what I was going to do to change the situation.
Lesson – Take action to change the situation that you’re not happy with. If you want to play more then be specific about how you’re going to change your current skills in order to change your playing time.
In Part 2 we’ll discuss how to approach a coach about playing time in addition to 5 more keys.
For more help with this topic check out the following:
Read Part 2 of How to Handle Playing Time Problems using the WWLS Method