Even out the playing time for kids in sports

  • By Fred Bowen Special to The Washington Post
  • Friday, April 17, 2015 4:04pm
  • LifeSports

PT … minutes … at-bats.

It’s called different things in different sports, but it’s all the same: playing time — that’s when a player is in the game and not stuck on the bench.

Playing time is important to every player. Everyone, whether a kid on a recreation team or an all-pro playing in front of millions on TV, wants to play.

The Washington Post reported recently that a 16-year-old volleyball player from Chantilly, Virginia, sued her club volleyball league after her coach benched her and the league would not let her join another team. She wanted more playing time.

Playing time is serious stuff. So I think there should be some guidelines for playing time. Especially for kids. Here are mine.

I think from the time kids begin playing sports until they get into high school, every kid on every team should get roughly the same amount of playing time.

I don’t mean a minimum amount of time, such as one inning or five minutes, as some leagues require. I mean that if a player shows up at all the practices and tries her best, she should get as much playing time as any player on the team.

I coached more than 30 kids’ sports teams, and that’s the way I did it. In basketball, I would divide my team into two groups of five players so that the groups were about equal in ability. Each group would play two quarters.

I thought equal playing time was important because it developed every player’s skills, not just those of one or two stars. By high school, however, kids should understand that all playing time is earned.

The best players should get the most playing time, just as the best singers get the lead roles in the spring musical and the best musicians play solos in the school jazz band.

I once heard a coach say, “Coaches don’t decide playing time, players do.” In other words, if you are clearly better than your teammates, the coach will put you in the game.

But sometimes it’s not clear to everyone. I don’t know, for example, if the Chantilly volleyball player deserved more playing time. I suspect that the league should have allowed her to switch to a team that would have let her play more.

But I do know playing time is always a big deal in sports.

Fred Bowen is the author of 20 sports books for kids. His latest is a football book called “Double Reverse.”

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