Playing Time in Sports

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How should a parent deal with a child who sits on the bench, and when is it appropriate to approach the coach? Word choice and timing can make all the difference in the world when discussing how much playing time your child gets.

Lisa and Dr. Patrick Cohn, founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent suggest this approach: "Parents should talk to a coach after a practice -- not while the coach is coaching. When you meet or talk on the phone with the coach, be sure to begin your conversation on a positive note. Tell the coach what he or she is doing well. 'The kids love your enthusiasm.' Be respectful."

Lending a voice to the coaches' side, Sue Phillips, women's head basketball coach of Archbishop Mitty High School in California suggests a different tactic: "For starters, mindset is key. Approach the coach as if he or she were your child's teacher. E-mailing or calling the coach to set up a meeting is most appropriate. Always avoid approaching the coach after a game. Emotions are running high and cooler heads will prevail. Thirdly, approach the coach with the intention of understanding your child's needed areas for improvement. In turn, improvement in particular areas will lend itself to more playing time."

Regardless of the coach's response, parents -- keep your cool. Coach Phillips proposes a way to prevent possible blow-ups between parents and coaches: "It's important to have a pre-season meeting with players and parents and explain your policy regarding playing time."

Some leagues mandate certain minutes for playing time while others, like a competitive Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) league, do not.

"On my high school and AAU teams, playing time is a privilege, not a right. I even go as far as stating that I will not discuss playing time or personnel decisions with parents. I make my expectations to the players abundantly clear, and I remind the parents that I have an open-door policy to discuss their daughter's development, areas of strength and/or areas for desired growth," says Phillips.

Realize the greater benefit of playing sports is about your young one finding a way to overcome challenges and setbacks. "But if the experience continues to hurt your child's confidence or is no longer enjoyable, find another coach or sport, preferably at the end of the season," the Cohns advise.

The impetus to change must come from the athlete, not anyone else. Give your child a chance to speak up for herself if she is confident enough to voice her concerns before you step in; otherwise, do your research and be sure to ask about the coach's playing time philosophy before joining a team.

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