Here is another age-old question that we have been tackling since the beginning of time. When is the appropriate age or level to switch from everyone gets to play and gain experience to winning being the ultimate goal? This answer usually depends upon who you ask but overall, we can pretty much determine a sweet spot. That time frame is traditionally between 8th grade and 10th grade.
Traditionally prior to middle school, we see equal playing time leagues, which is a good thing. Everyone develops at a different pace, so everyone should have an opportunity to get some game time experience. Somewhere during middle school, the seriousness of the sport is going to start to show itself. While it is still quite early, tigers will begin to show their stripes.
We would find it hard to believe that at the high school varsity level that anyone would feel equal playing time appropriate. As a side note, usually the folks who would vote for this are the parents of student-athletes that simply are not very good. In those cases, we must point out a few scenarios 1. The player has just not worked hard enough or put in enough time to earn the playing time they desire or 2. Their parents want them to play the sport more than they do themselves. If it is option 1, well then that is kind of their own undoing and they will be forced to live with the ramifications of their decisions. If it is option 2, it is disappointing on multiple levels. First, we would have to ask the parents what they get out of a futile endeavor of pushing their child into something are not skilled at or committed to. Secondly it is a shame the kid couldn’t have spent an equal amount time honing a craft they are actually good at or passionate about.
So somewhere between upper middle school and the JV level we must transition from equality to quality. Coaches must make it clear when exactly that page actually turns. They must be fair with the players and their parents, so they are absolutely clear what they are getting into and when.
There may be no exact right time or level to make this paradigm shift, but we do know it must be communicated to all parties involved and be handled transparently. Not everyone will go on to play at the next level, and work ethic and discipline can be learned even while sitting on the bench. Since we talk so much about exposure, make sure you are exposing your kids to as much as possible, meaning you may have them sitting the bench in football or basketball while really, they are a hidden all-american at water polo or fencing. Please do not be your child’s pigeon holer but rather be their infinite conduit to finding their own path!