Kids don’t care if they play much. They just want to win.
This is one of the most common self-serving rationalizations that hypercompetitive parents and other coaches tell me.
It drives me nuts.
Last fall, I had a team of 11-13 year olds that had a very strong group of younger players. And these players were also very self-entitled and had, not surprisingly, very self-entitled parents.
My philosophy is that, barring discipline or injury reasons, every player plays in every half. I don’t do equal playing time but I try to give a decent amount of playing time to everyone. On a team with 20+ kids, this was difficult but I managed while still having a competitive team.
As you might expect, I got complaints.
As you might not expect, the complaints were from the parents of the stronger players. Even though their kids played more than the others, it still wasn’t enough.
I sent out a survey to the parents where they could leave anonymous comments. I wasn’t surprised that I got complaints. But if you’d asked me when I started coaching for a list 50 things I might be criticized by parents for doing, ‘being too fair’ would not have entered my mind. Yet that’s what I got from not one, but multiple parents.
One said that my policy of every player playing every half was unrealistic because winning is so important to young boys. Another said that I should play the stronger players nearly all the time because whether you play 90 minutes or 3 minutes, you’re a winner!
This is a self-serving rationalization.
It’s nothing more than parents pretending they know what kids want when they’re really just expressing what they want.
And it’s a bunch of b.s.
Let me tell you something. When I looked at the 10 players on my bench to see who I was going to sub in, I saw 10 pairs of eyes that were fixed on my every move. If I started to say the first syllable of their name, they would start to get off the ground. When they found out it wasn’t their name, they sighed and looked depressed. When I gave a kid a chance to start a forward, both of which he’d wanted but I hadn’t previously accommodated, he pumped his fist and exclaimed “Yes!” When I would look past them on the bench to someone else, their faces would fall, like they’d just learned their dog died. Kids don’t care if they play 90 minutes or 3 minutes? Anyone who spent a few minutes with me as I made substitutions would learn that this is completely and utter garbage.
At higher levels, professional or college, standards are different. Some will play more than others and the others just have to accept that as part of the deal. It’s something they know going in. But at youth levels, everyone should play and play a good amount. You can learn by watching, but you perfect by doing.
And as this story about Chelsea’s Romelu Lukaku illustrates, even professionals aren’t necessarily satisfied by winning, if their role is marginal. If a pro isn’t satisfied with the highest prize in club football as reward for not playing much, what makes you think a kid is going to be satisfied with some local U14 league or 4 hour tournament?