How to make sure your child gets all the playing time they deserve

Are your kids involved in athletics? Do you worry about the amount of playing time they are getting? Is their coach unfair in the way he determines the amount of game time your child receives? I’m starting a series on raising an athlete. Today I want to share with you the secret to getting your child all the playing time they deserve. I’ve spent the last 40+ years of my life playing, coaching, and parenting in the world of athletics. And I’ve come to the conclusion parenting an athlete might very well be the most challenging of all the aspects in athletics.

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Being an athlete has its moments. Every athlete has experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. I know as a coach there have been moments I felt my head or heart or both would explode. Each role can be incredibly wonderful and extremely frustrating. But both the athlete and the coach have some level of control. Each has direct opportunity to impact the way a game is played or a season unfolds.
A parent however, and especially the higher up the athletic ladder your child climbs, has little to no say in what happens on a field of play. Sure when our kids are little and we are helping with their T-ball team, we have some control. But as they move into middle school and high school athletics, unless we happen to be on the coaching staff, our input and influence diminishes greatly.
If you are reading this post in hopes of gaining three practical tips for handling your child’s &$%@* coach, then you are going to be disappointed. Let me give you the sobering truth. In your child’s lifetime they will have many different coaches – especially if they are multi-sport athletes. Very few of those coaches, if any, will be great. Most will be ok and many are likely to be awful. Of course some parents spend a lot of time and money to hand select the best coaches and programs – but that carries its own unique challenges.
Athletics is a great opportunity for your child to compete, have fun, learn about people, and grow in multiple ways. It’s also an incredible source for teachable moments. But the greatest impact on your child will be how you help them journey through the experience. Playing time complaints tend to fall into three categories:
• My child’s playing time
• All kids should get equal playing time
• The better kids should play more so we can win
If you child believes the reason they are participating is playing time and winning, they will spend these years in the shallow end of an enormously deep pool. Don’t get me wrong, I like winning. Over the years I’ve won more than I’ve lost. But I want my kids to know there is so much more to gain from athletics.
The secret to getting your child all the playing time they “deserve” is stop evaluating the season by playing time. It doesn’t mean there won’t be time a meeting with the coach is necessary (more in a future blog). But help your child embrace the joy of being a part of the team. Even with an awful coach, your child can get something positive by being a leader or supporting a teammate. And there is a difference between an awful coach and an awful person. As a parent, especially of young kids, I won’t expose my child for a full season to a coach that crosses certain lines. I’m talking about things that have nothing to do with shooting a basketball or throwing a football (more in a future blog as well).
I’ve had frustrating years. I’ve watched my child work harder, have a better attitude, learn all the plays, make all the practices and still not get the amount of playing time she “deserved”. There were times I wanted to explain a few things to the coach. James 4 reminds us why we quarrel and fight; because we desire but don’t have. We justify our rage in the name of loving our child. Often our child is fine – we are the one’s struggling because of our expectations. Learn to lovingly support your child, not by helping them complain, but rather by helping them understand their experience is about way more than just playing time. As Paul reminds us in Philippians 4, the secret to being content and getting what you deserve lies not in more playing time, but in this: “13I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
What struggles have you faced as a parent with your athlete? Any situation you wish you would have handled differently?