Playing Time

Every athlete wants playing time. They want playing time in order to prove themselves on the court/field, reach their personal goals, and help their team win, but they also want playing time simply to have fun. Almost every athlete would prefer to be on the field/court than to be on the bench. Since playing time is so highly coveted, it is important for coaches to clearly tell their players how to get it. Bad things happen when players don't understand why some players get more playing time than others.

You'd think that playing time is simply rewarded to the best players. But this isn't always the case. Coaches can reward playing time for slightly different reasons. Here are five factors that coaches can use to determine playing time. Each one has its pros and cons.

This means giving the most playing time to the best players. This is perhaps the simplest and most common sense way to reward playing time. Also, it most closely resembles meritocracy. It's the coach's job to give the team its best chances of winning, and this usually happens when the best players are on the court/field.

Effort and Attitude
However, talent isn't always the best way to reward playing time. Sometimes one of the most talented players on a team happens to be the laziest or most selfish player. So sometimes it can be smart to punish a lazy player by reducing their playing time and rewarding a hard working, positive, team-first player with more playing time. This can send a strong message to your team about your team values. Sometimes you should sacrifice short-term success to help develop a better team culture. However, effort and attitude can't be used too much to determine playing time. It isn't always worth it to play a less talented player over a more talented player. Even if a talented player doesn't give the best effort, they may still give your team a better chance to win than playing a less talented player. Besides, if you're going to reward playing time solely based on effort, you have to consider the fact that talented players have worked their entire lives to gain their skills. 

Leadership and Chemistry
Like I said above, it's the coach's job to give the team its best chances of winning. To do this, coaches sometimes have to play less talented players who are great leaders and contribute to the team's chemistry on the court/field. It doesn't always matter if a player is one of the most talented players. If for some reason they don't work well with their teammates, then their playing time should be reduced. It's not always about putting the most talented players on the court/field. It's about putting the best TEAM on the court/field.

Experience is another factor that can influence playing time. Sometimes coaches like to reward loyal and hardworking upperclassmen with playing time. I don't always agree with this. I tend to think that it's actually fairer to play a more talented freshman over a less talented upperclassman. Like what I said above, sometimes a freshman has worked harder throughout their whole life to gain their skills, while an upperclassmen didn't work as hard before joining the team. However, it can be smart to play more experienced players in high pressure situations where they might be more prepared to handle the pressure than a freshman.

On the flip-side, sometimes coaches purposely play younger players over older players to help build for the future. This especially happens during "rebuilding years," where coaches are fine with tanking a season to help improve the team for future seasons. I, however, don't always agree with this. I don't think it's fair for the older athletes who deserve playing time because they are better than the younger athletes. Also, I think it's the coaches job to get the most out of every season, even if it hurts their future potential. I'd rather see my team fight to have a mediocre season than to completely give up on the season. Besides, tanking a season doesn't always improve your team for the next season. Sometimes freshmen players are better served sitting behind upperclassmen and learning how to properly prepare and compete from them.

Favorites and Politics
Perhaps the worst way to determine playing time is playing favorites for irrelevant reasons. It's fine for coaches to have favorites for reasons such as talent, work ethic, attitude, and leadership. But coaches shouldn't favor certain players simply because they like them, because they're related to them, or because they share the same skin color or beliefs. Coaches should also try not to be influenced by politics. For examples, many players get undeserved playing time simply because their parents complain to the coach and beg that their kid gets more playing time. It can be hard to do, but coaches need to resist these outside influences and determine playing time based on what's fair and best for the team. Also, coaches should never accept any kind of bribes from playing time. You may think this never happens, but there are some players who threaten to transfer or quit the team if they don't get playing time. Coaches shouldn't give in to these threats. Instead, they should work out problems with players the right way and continue to reward playing time fairly.

Match-ups and Depth
There's also more subtle factors that influence playing time. One is match-ups. Sometimes a coach will play a less talented player over more talented player because for some specific reason the less talented player matches up better with the opposing team. Also, some coaches like using the "strength in numbers" strategy by giving playing time to more of their bench players.

As you can see, rewarding playing times isn't always simple. There are many factors that can come into play. As a coach, you need to determine which factors are most important for you and your team. You should strive to reward playing time in a way that is most fair and beneficial to your team as a whole. But remember, circumstances always change, and there will be times to adjust the way you reward playing time. But generally, you should try to remain as consistent as possible and clearly tell your players what they need to do to earn playing time. Doing this will help prevent players from getting frustrated when they don't get the playing time they think they deserve. This will resolve conflicts and help player's buy into the team more. Also, since players will know exactly what is needed to earn playing time, they will be more motivated to work harder and smarter.