Updated: Feb 4, 2022
Playing time: a popular conversation between players, coaches, and parents. Often times it is one of the most dreadful conversations.
Playing time is evaluated differently depending on the level of play. Youth leagues and development leagues where you pay to play have different playing time considerations compared to having to earn playing time on your middle school team, high school team, or collegiate team.
Youth Leagues - Rec - Development
In these instances players signup and pay a fee to be a member of a team. Playing time is usually divided among the players because everyone paid a fee to participate. This could be ages 5-15 years old. Development should be a main focus and players should be afforded the opportunity to play multiple positions - learn the game - and have fun competing. Rosters and talent levels should be evenly distributed to provide some competitive balance.
What about when you have to make a team?
Playing time is a little different when you have to try out for a team. Maybe you are trying out for your middle school program or your high school program. Coaches are looking for prerequisite skills related to your ability to perform at a high level. These skills could be related to arm strength and accuracy, running speed, defensive ability, and offensive ability. Sometimes we need to think about the phrase "compared to what" when it comes to playing time. You may be one of the best players at your school and play a lot. However, your role may be different when trying out for a summer ball team made up of some of the best players in your region.
Competitive playing time
As I mentioned earlier, thinking about the phrase "compared to what" is important when it comes to playing time. Some schools don't have enough players try out for baseball or softball to even make cuts. When roster sizes are very small and everyone has a spot on the team playing opportunities are significantly different compared to a large school where there are more people trying out than there are available spots. Prerequisite skills are very important when you have to beat out a large number of people for limited spots.
Just because you play a lot on your school ball team doesn't mean you will also play a lot on your summer team. The same holds true if you play a lot on your summer team but don't play a lot on your school team. It depends on the quality of your skills compared to the environment you are in. Sometimes players pay to play summer ball and opportunities for playing time are quite different when compared to school ball.
What other factors matter?
At the end of the day, skills are important. If you can run, throw, hit, and play defense well you will probably earn an opportunity to play. However, character traits also matter. If you are a jerk of a person it may cost you playing time opportunities. On the flip side, just because you are a good person, doesn't mean you deserve to play. Coaches love hard workers and when the best athletes on their team are also the hardest workers it makes for a championship-caliber type of season. However, some athletes have to work harder than others to elevate their playing skills. Some athletes work really hard and their skills still aren't quite good enough compared to the environment they are in. If you are working hard to earn playing time - keep working hard because that will give you the best chance for success but you still have to turn the hard work into productive performance.
Conversations about playing time
Conversations about playing time should mainly be between the player and the coach. Coaches have the opportunity to see their players and evaluate their performance abilities each day at practice. Players should take advantage of opportunities during practice to earn a bigger role on game day. As parents, we don't always see what's happening at practice - growth - mistakes - attitude - effort - and preparation. I would encourage parents to have conversations with their children about playing time before talking to the coaching staff. Many times the players can provide a lot of explanations related to their current role on the team.
Players who have questions about their playing time or their role should arrange a time to talk with the coaching staff. Find out what you need to do to earn more time in the game. Where are your strengths and weaknesses? Where are your opportunities for growth? What do coaches want to see? Ask coaches, "What do I need to do to earn more playing opportunities?" Be ready for a truthful and honest response and accept constructive criticism.
Parents - don't talk to coaches about playing time without telling your son/daughter. If parents want to participate in a conversation related to playing time it should include the coaching staff, the athlete, and the parent. This can often clarify things and help establish goals for future improvement.
Playing time is evaluated differently depending on the competitive environment you are in.
Youth development and pay-to-play leagues have different criteria for playing time.
Coaches want good character players who have the ability to perform at a high level.
Just because you work hard - doesn't mean you are one of the best performers.
Being one of the best performers doesn't mean you can be a jerk.
Life has a scoreboard - everyone doesn't win. Everyone doesn't get an A. Everyone doesn't get the job. Some people outperform others. If you want more, become more!
Hope this helps,
See you on the diamond.