USA TODAY High School Sports has a weekly column on the college recruiting process. Here, you’ll find practical tips and real-world advice on becoming a better recruit to maximize your opportunities to play at the college level. Jaimie Duffek was one of the top 50 high school softball players in Illinois who went onto play outfield for Drake University. Jaimie is just one of many former college and professional players, college coaches, and parents who are part of the Next College Student Athlete team. Their knowledge, experience, and dedication along with NCSA’s history of digital innovation, and long-standing relationship with the college coaching community have made NCSA the largest and most successful athletic recruiting network in the country.
There are so many life lessons to be learned through sports. From setting goals and having the discipline to achieve them, to winning and losing with grace. And the list goes on. But one of the toughest and most valuable lessons is that sometimes you can’t always get what you want.
This is especially true when it comes to playing time. For parents and players alike there’s nothing more frustrating than going from one game to the next with seeing little to no real playing time. On the flip side, high school and club coaches are faced with balancing the expectations of playing time with the realities of managing a team and winning games. Allowing equal time for all, including players who are routinely late or missing practice, for example, can be just as detrimental as using the same starters every game and allowing only garbage time for the rest.
The best way for parents and players to help ensure they get the playing time they deserve is to not wait until the season starts and follow these tips as the season progresses.
Use the preseason to set the right expectations
Many coaches now address the issue of playing time during preseason parent meetings. This allows them to clearly establish their coaching philosophy and policies ahead of time so everyone knows what to expect and what’s expected of every player who wants to play. If your child’s coach doesn’t address the topic, now would be a could time to ask before the season is in full swing.
Watch practice from a coach’s point of view
There’s an old saying, “You earn trophies at practice. You just pick them up at championships.”
The same could be said for playing time–you earn it at practice.
Coaches often encourage parents who are frustrated with playing time to come and watch a few practices. It’s often becomes more clear their child may not be as fast or not quite developed the same skill set as other players. Or, they may just seem to be going through motions, watching the clock, and unable to correct simple mistakes when given feedback.
Practice visits can be an eye-opener but they also can be a great learning opportunity–practice is not just a place you have to be, it’s the place you have to prove yourself.
Let your player do the talking first
Another great life lesson learned from sports is how to handle a tough conversation. If your child wants to see more playing time they should take the initiative to set up a meeting and discuss it with their coach. The best approach for your son or daughter is a positive one. Don’t make comparisons with other players on their team. They should simply ask their coach what they can do to improve and put a plan in place with measurable goals. Once your son or daughter has done everything a coach has asked them to do but is still not seeing more playing time, now is the time you want to have a conversation with the coach to get more clarity on the situation.
When favorites are played, just focus on your game
As former Miami Heat star, now Director of Basketball Analytics and Development for the NBA, once put it, “My job as a player was not to complain about playing time, but to play so well that the coach can’t sit me.”
All coaches are different and some, like the rest of us, may not be perfect. There are coaches who are much more focused on winning than player development and will only play their best players. Some coaches may favor their own son or daughter over a clearly better player. The truth is there are some things in life we can’t change or control. Athletes can’t afford to worry about things out of their control–whether it’s poor field conditions, a bad call, or the coach who favors certain players. What you can do is focus on your game until it’s at a level where it can’t be ignored.
Playing time can be a turning point
Sometimes it’s easy to overlook how much more competitive sports become at the high school level. Sports during the middle school years tend to be more focused on developing motor skills and teaching the fundamentals with competition taking a backseat. In high school, the emphasis is reversed. High school and club coaches expect a certain level of athleticism and performance to not only make the team but to play on a regular basis.
That shift can be a tough transition to make and can serve as a real turning point when it comes to playing a particular sport. For some players, the game that came easy to them when they were younger now requires a lot more effort and work. They may decide it’s not worth the grind for a few minutes of playing time every week. The passion is just not there anymore. Yet for others, the lack of playing time serves as a wake-up call. It fires up their love for their sport and they double-down on their efforts to raise the caliber of their of game.
There’s no right or wrong with either of those scenarios. The point is that more playing time may not always be the answer. Lack of playing time may close the chapter on one sport and open the door to another or some other extracurricular activity.