The fact that playing time is seen as the holy grail of progress, success, and self-worth for athletes is a problem. Before you shake your head so hard you fall out of your chair and hurt yourself on the way to the floor, I'd ask you to take a little literary walk with me.
I've been coaching for almost 20 years, at almost every level from little kids to college. I'm a former collegiate athlete. And none of that makes me an expert. I simply want to share a vantage point that some may not have seen or heard, having not spent this much time inside the world where the coaches and players navigate life together.
However many are in a match pales in comparison to the ones outside that I, as a coach, see as the most valuable ones. The ones easily overlooked, undervalued, and tossed aside in our rush to dwell on, overvalue, and count the ones in games.
Practice minutes. Car rides to and from practices, games, and tournament minutes. Passing in the halls at school and exchanging a smile with a teammate minutes. Sleepover minutes. Cookout minutes. Pool party minutes. Hanging out between tournament games under a tent to cool off minutes. Hugs from mom and dad after a tough team loss minutes. High fives from those same people after a huge win minutes. Text from a friend asking how your game went minutes.
The list of minutes could go on for...well...more minutes than we have here.
What concerns me most today, is a trend I have seen in the past few years.
Counting minutes in games, and missing moments because of it.
Teaching our kids how to be part of something bigger than themselves.
Teaching our kids to celebrate a moment bigger than their preference.
Teaching our kids to approach life with a servant's heart.
Teaching our kids that giving their all is success, in and of itself.
I'll stop short of offering the perfect answer, because I don't have one. I'm far from perfect as a coach. What I do know is I care about every kid I've ever coached like they are my own children. My heart leaps for them with joy in the happy moments, and breaks for them when I see tears on their face. I've choked up trying to tell them how proud of them I am, and I'm not ashamed in the least about that.
It's our choice which minutes our kids will remember.
The ones that we complain in front of our kids about how they should get more "play time".
Or...the ones where we affirm what a group of kids have achieved together.
One last thought...when we aren't sure where to start, so that we can set the example we want.
What if car rides have more to do with affirmation of what the team accomplished, rather than frustration over preference-driven expectations?
I don't see playing time when I look at the kids on my team.
I see an opportunity to create a platform they can stand on together, arm-in-arm.
I see an opportunity to build something bigger than any one individual.
I see an opportunity to help them discover WHO they are, so that they will know WHAT to do.
Not just on the field...but in life.
Thanks for the ear tonight.
Thanks for caring about your kids enough to give them the gift of playing team sports.
Thanks for hearing out a coach that wants the best for all of our kids.
I've been there as a parent.
And maybe...if we get to know one another...I can share that story with you too, someday.
It's what makes me a better coach.
Knowing that I, too, needed to hear, learn and apply this in my own life.
And ever since?
The car rides are a whole lot more fun.
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Brett W. Gould
Photos used under Creative Commons from White & Blue Review, toolmantim, kstepanoff