How to Handle Your Child’s Lack of Playing Time in Sports
And no, it does not involve complaining.
When it comes to playing time in sports, many parents are stuck in the habit of living vicariously through their children. Or they measure their value as a parent by how their child performs. Many want their child to have positive experiences, be high performers, and be happy and they equate a positive athletic experience with playing time.
However, to provide this positive experience, some parents sabotage their athletes by becoming overprotective and advocating for their children.
There is a famous saying that sports build character, but sports offer an opportunity to develop character in reality. The opportunity to teach character skills will not happen unless the coach and parents help guide and facilitate it. What sports do, however, reveals a person’s character.
“There isn’t any other youth institution that equals sports as a setting in which to develop character. There just isn’t. Sports are the perfect setting because character is tested all the time.”- John Gardner
Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset:
I did not want my son to grow up and become entitled. So, although I was disappointed that he did not play much either, I was excited to use this as a teaching opportunity. It was a great chance to teach him to develop a growth mindset.
According to Carol Dweck, she has discovered that people either have a fixed or growth mindset regarding performance. Each person will adopt one of those two mindsets, and it will significantly affect them in sports and life outside of sports.
Fixed mindset individuals believe their abilities are carved in stone. And fixed-mindset individuals do not believe in growth. They think you either have a talent or you do not. Carol Dweck has found that if you praise a child for their talent, they will then be afraid to take on risks and challenges for fear of failure and losing their talent identity.
On the other hand, growth-mindset individuals love challenges, take risks, try new things, and focus on the process rather than the results or outcome. These individuals are praised for their work ethic and doing their best instead of success, failure, and talent.
I have seen far too many parents sabotage their children by complaining about a lack of playing time. Complaining does nothing positive for their child or the team. And it creates a fixed mindset that will hurt their child in the present and future. It also undermines the coach and creates confusion for the child.
The parents should welcome any adversity experienced by the child as it provides a great learning opportunity. Parents can help teach their children how to cope, achieve a growth mindset and build character during these moments. These traits are valuable and become lifelong lessons that the kids can draw upon for the rest of their lives.
But too often, parents want to take the pain away from their children. But it is that pain that provides the building blocks to teach character and resilience.
“That which hurts, also instructs.”- Benjamin Franklin
I coached for 17 years at the High School level and had many meetings with parents who complained of their child’s lack of playing time. They criticized my coaching decisions and blamed me for their child’s failures. They used me as a scapegoat to take the pain and ownership of their child.
The following is a conversation with my 7-year-old son, Chase, after his flag football game in 2018. I was not coaching him initially, and he was frustrated because he did not play much in his game. He was also frustrated that he did not get an opportunity to run with the ball.
In his previous season, while playing for a different coach and team, each kid got a chance to run the ball in every game. So that is what he was used to and what his expectations were.
It was time to practice what I had been preaching to parents for years, from coach to parent.
And I was ready for the opportunity.
Conversation with my son:
September 24, 2018:
Chase: Dad, I did not play much in the game today.
Me: You need to earn your playing time.
Chase: Yeah, but how do I do that if I do not get the chance in the game.
Me: You must earn it in practice.
Chase: But I never get a chance to run with the ball in practice either.
Me: You need to get the ball when you are on defense. Get an interception and then run it back for a touchdown. Then, grab every flag in your area.
Dominate the player you are competing against in practice. When you are involved in one on one drills, go up against the team’s better players. Even if you fail against the better players in the one-on-one activity, it will make you better because iron sharpens iron.
But you must understand that you cannot control the decisions your coach makes. You can, however, control your response. You might not be getting a chance right now in games, but every player gets an opportunity in practice. So you need to treat team practices like they are games.
You see, playing time is about trust, and right now, your coach does not trust you. But you can earn his trust by getting results in practice.
Also, it would help if you had extra work outside of practice. That is how you can get ahead of the competition. So, I can help you, but I am not going to force you to do it. But I will also never turn you down if you say you want to work. So, let me know when you are ready to train.
You also need to understand patience. Sometimes you can do everything right and not see a pay-off right away. But know that each day adds up.
For example, imagine a large empty bucket. That bucket represents your potential. Each time you have a productive practice or a workout, it is like putting a penny in the bucket. It does not look like much at the time, but if you do this daily after a while, it adds up, and you get a little closer to filling the bucket. But it also works the other way too. Suppose you give a low effort in practice or miss a workout. Then you would take a penny from the bucket. The more you fill the bucket, the better you become.
This challenge you face right now provides you an opportunity, and you have a choice to make. You can have the victim’s mentality and blame it on someone else and think the world is against you. Or you can attempt to work hard and earn your playing time, which will be more rewarding and satisfying in the future.
Understand that the choice you make makes you. Then, think about how good it would feel to prove your coach wrong.
And think about how it would feel to make the all-star team eventually. That would be an excellent goal to set.
Chase: Dad, I am ready to train. And I want to make the All-Star team.
Me: Ok, let’s get to work.
Nine months later.
June 26, 2019
Chase makes the flag football all-star team.
“Be so good that they cannot ignore you.”- Steve Martin
Life is hard, and we should prepare our children for the tough times that await them. Sports are a great training ground for teaching them the survival skills needed to navigate the challenging waters of life.
“Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.”- African Proverb
Instead of blaming the coach or teammates, it is best to get kids to take ownership of their performance. Children need to understand they do not necessarily get what they want in life. Instead, they get what they earn.
Also, life is not fair. And neither is playing time. Children should learn that lesson while they are young, preparing them for life when they are adults.
My son learned that the more he practices, the better he becomes. And anytime he fails, he wants to increase his training. That is why I think failure is good for our children. Failure shows them where they need to improve, putting them in a better position for the next opportunity. Mistakes provide a great teaching opportunity. And it teaches them how to cope with disappointment.
The next time your child complains about lack of playing time, look at it as a teaching opportunity to build character traits that will last a lifetime.