One of the most difficult parts of coaching youth soccer is allocating playing time. As a coach you want to be as equitable with the playing time as possible. For house (or non-competitive, non-traveling) teams, this was always easy. My philosophy was to give each player the same amount of playing time, regardless of skill. Only disciplinary issues would result in less playing time.
With competitive teams, playing time became much more difficult to manage. I still tried to be as equitable as possible but now skill level, attitude, score, and effort also contributed to or resulted in a lack of playing time.
For me, the most important trait in a competitive youth player is effort—the more effort put forth in a game and the more energy expended during game, the more playing time the player receives. I’m a strong believer that at the end of every game, a player should be very tired and have very little energy left over.
To illustrate how effort impacted the allocation of playing time with two charts. The first chart illustrates the playing time during a game for Players A and B early in the season (x-axis). Both players start the game (green line). Player A puts forth much more effort and expends much more energy that Player B (y-axis). Both are taken out at the same time to recuperate (yellow double line). Because I like Player A’s effort, I put her in after a short rest. Even though Player B has completely recovered her energy, she remains on the bench because of the lack of effort exhibited on the field (red double line). Player B does make it back into the game but if the effort is not there, her playing time remains less than Player A’s playing time.
It is important for Player A to understand that she needs to be taken out of the game. If she did not come out, all of her energy would be used up before the end of the game (green dashed line). As a coach, I would much rather have her on the field at the end of the game. In addition, by taking her out, others get a chance to play.
The second chart illustrates what the playing time may look like midway through the season for Players A and B. Player A is still getting the same amount of playing time. However, Player B is getting less playing time because the effort is still not there.
Player B should not lose hope. If I see more effort and energy during the game (and during practice … what they say is true, “you play the way you practice”), playing time would increase.
If you are a coach or a parent, show these charts to your players/child so they understand that effort can make all the difference in the world … and not just in soccer.