This is the fifth in a series of posts on Professionalism in Coaching. In the first four posts, I covered the following topics:

Professionalism in Coaching 1 – Dress for Success

Professionalism in Coaching 2 – What is ‘Professional’?

Professionalism in Coaching 3 – Sportsmanship

Professionalism in Coaching 4 – Blowouts

Today, I will start a discussion on the concept of Playing Time.

Now please understand that this will not be an exhaustive discussion on playing time and all the issues and stakeholders involved in it. For a much more in-depth look at playing time issues, check out my book called, coincidentally enough, Playing Time, over on the Shop page here on the SlamDunk Success site.

As this is a series on “Professionalism in Coaching,” for the purposes of today’s post, I am going to zero in on some things that we need to do to always maintain our professionalism when dealing with playing time issues. While I will certainly touch on some (if not many) of the ideas you will find in the Playing Time book, my focus here is going to be on helping you keep the professionalism that is so critical to your role as a coach.

Playing time is the #1 issue that we deal with as coaches.

Some of you may be thinking, “Wait, Scott. The last two weeks you said that sportsmanship is the #1 issue in youth/school sports.”

That’s correct. I did say that, and I meant it. Sportsmanship is the #1 issue facing all of us in the athletic arena, and it must be addressed, dealt with, and improved upon.

But the #1 issue, problem, or dilemma with players and parents that team sport coaches will have to deal with is playing time. I am referring here to team sports where coaches have to make decisions as to who gets to play, when they get to play, and for how long they get to play.

While your preparation, practice planning, skill development, strategy, culture/team-building, and all the other elements of your job will take up the majority of your time and energy, when it comes to concerns or problems that you will have to address with your players and their parents, playing time will be at the top of the list.

That is because the whole reason the kids are there is to play. When they don’t get to play or they don’t get to play as much as they want to play or as much as they believe they deserve to play, you now have an issue that you need to address.

Please don’t read that last line and immediately think, “I don’t have an issue to address. That’s their problem, not mine. They know what our rules say. They know what I said at our Pre-Season Meeting. They know that not all of them will play equally or even play at all. They know that I told them we won’t talk about playing time issues.”

Remember that this series is on professionalism in coaching. It’s about taking the high road and always doing the right thing, even when the right thing doesn’t always feel good, or you just don’t like having to act in a certain way or do a certain thing.

None of us like having to talk to players and parents about their playing time concerns and issues.

Those can be difficult, uncomfortable, and sometimes nasty discussions. But it is critical to our role as professionals that we be prepared to have them and then have them when necessary.

However, long before we ever get to the point where we may need to have those kinds of discussions, we can do things to limit the need for them. 

Establish a Playing Time Philosophy

First, make sure you develop a Playing Time Philosophy. This would be a philosophy that you believe in and that you establish for the various levels that you may coach at.

For example, as a high school freshman coach, I had a philosophy of playing time that was different when I became a varsity head coach. Those were both different from when I coached my son when he was in 3rd-6th grade. Then, when I coached him in 7th & 8th grade, the philosophy was a little different, too.

While there will be some underlying basic tenets that you will have in your philosophy for any level that you coach, each level will present some of its own uniqueness that may alter your philosophy a bit.

Also, keep in mind that, unless you are the head coach of a program, you may not be able to follow your own personal playing time philosophy 100%. As a freshman coach, I had to follow the head coach’s philosophy of how I would get kids playing time.

Even if I didn’t agree with that philosophy, as someone working in a program that someone else was directing, it was my job to follow what the head coach wanted. If I didn’t like that or couldn’t handle it, then it was my responsibility to talk to the coach about our differences. If he still wanted me to do it a way that I didn’t agree with, I had to do it that way. Then I had a decision to make the next year on whether or not I wanted to keep coaching in that program.

Fortunately, that never happened to me.

The point is that, as someone working in someone else’s program, it is my responsibility to do what that person wants done. If we can’t work out an arrangement that works for both of us, and I feel I can’t do what s/he wants, I need to move on.

Communicate Your Philosophy

Once you have established your Playing Time Philosophy or you understand the playing time philosophy of the program, you need to communicate it to the stakeholders of your team/program. The stakeholders of the program are your fellow coaches, the athletes, and the athletes’ parents.


Communicating your philosophy to your fellow coaches will be done in a different setting than the one where you will communicate it to athletes and parents. Either individually or in a meeting with your staff of coaches, talk about your philosophy of playing time for each of the levels that you are in charge of.

If you are the head coach of the program, you will make the ultimate determination as to how each level will handle playing time. Tell your coaches what you want to see happen. Allow them to talk with you about it, ask questions, and offer their ideas and suggestions on it. While you will make the final decision on how each level will proceed, by listening to your coaches and discussing it with them, you give them some ownership in the outcome.

If you are not the head coach of the program, hopefully your head coach will give you direction on what his or her playing time philosophy is and what s/he wants to see you do with regards to it. If s/he does give you that direction, follow what s/he wants. Ask questions so as to make sure you are on the same page. If you disagree with what s/he wants, speak up, but do so respectfully. Again, though, at the end of the day, it is your job to do what the head coach wants.

Once you have all discussed the playing time philosophy of the program, make sure you are on the same page and that you follow what you have decided the philosophy will be.

Athletes & Parents

You will communicate your philosophy to the athletes and parents in a different setting than the coaches. Generally, coaches communicate their playing time philosophy to athletes and parents in two places: the Pre-Season Athlete-Parent Meeting and the Policy Sheet that they hand out to the team.

Some of you may be thinking right now, “I’ve never communicated our playing time philosophy to them before,” or “Our head coach has never communicated her/his playing time philosophy before.”

Yes, I’m sure that has happened for some, if not many, of you.

It’s time for that to change.

You need to let the athletes and the parents know how they get playing time in your program at the different levels of the program that you have. Once again, this will go back to the philosophy you (or your head coach) have established.

Explain how you will make those decisions as to who plays and doesn’t play in various instances. Remind them that there is no exact science to it, and that on different nights, different situations and scenarios will dictate how you make your decisions.

But help them understand that there is an overarching philosophy on how one gets playing time on each level and help them understand what that philosophy is and how you and they should operate within it.

Of course, the only way for you do this for them is for you to have put a lot of thought into how you want to handle this and then figure out the best ways to put it into play and follow that philosophy.

Once you have established your philosophy, communicated it to your stakeholders, and then started playing, by all means, Follow Your Philosophy! If you say you will be operating in a certain way, make sure you operate that way. Otherwise, you will show a lack of professionalism and lose the credibility and trust that you are trying to establish to create a successful team experience.

Wow! I am over 1,500 words into this post, and I have just barely scratched the surface on this topic. I guess I knew that would be the case, though. A few years ago, I wrote a series of posts on Playing Time, and it ended up being 13 posts long! So, I knew I wouldn’t be able to cover this topic in just one post today.

Next week, I will continue with this discussion of Playing Time as part of our Professionalism in Coaching series, by discussing some of my ideas on what would constitute sound playing time philosophies that exude a professionalism necessary to coach at different levels. Then, I will look at ways we can maintain our professionalism while working to get ALL of our kids a decent amount of PT depending on the level. Finally, we will work our way up to maintaining our professionalism when discussing playing time issues with our athletes and their parents.