So your child is not a starter, Oh NO!

Youth Coaching
/ / So your child is not a starter, Oh NO!

A blog comment today about how one youth football league’s players must all be starters lifted me on to my soap box and my mind is stirring about minimum play players, favoritism, and starting positions.   The Favoritism topic is the most read topic on my blog.  I have written only a few articles on the subject, but because the subject is not sport specific the articles are heavily read.  I am sure this blog post about starting will generate similar interest and comments / email.   I hope I do not offend anyone.  Forgive me if I do.

Can we all be starters?  I am sure if we want to lower the expectations of the team, game, league and sport, we can all be starters.  At what point does dumbing down a team, league, game or sport start hurting the long term development of the players, not only as athletes but competitors in a world market were Chinese children are being unfairly manipulated and mutated to compete against our children which are being softened by everyone gets a trophy and no one gets left behind programs.  We in the US continually lower the standards so everyone can pass or play.  When has been being not as good as someone else in a sport or topic been an error or crime not of that person but on the teacher, coach or boss.  Why is blame for poor performance continually redirected at someone other than the low performing person?  And should any blame be directed or redirected.  Maybe a person is not good at football but a Pele at Soccer.  Is not being good or the best at a subject or a starter a real problem to be address be society or governments?

I just posed this question on my Twitter account @CoachParker_org, “Because I am not a F1000 CEO, Sr VP, VP, or Director, a starter in business, should my mom call GE, Apple, MS and ask why I am not the starting CEO or Sr VP?”

I know that sounds so strange for a 47 year old man to ask that question, but the average age for a CEO in the US is around 55 years old.  In the 1970’s it was close to 60 years old.  So in terms of CEO experience I am at Pee Wee CEO age.  I do have 7 years experience as a Sr. Manager at EDS, now part of HP, as a strategic marketing manager preparing strategic marketing and business plans presented to the CEO and Executive Board, and I have 4 years experience as a CEO of a small sporting goods company.  I have played the business game as an eager utility manager, but my dream has always been to become a F1000 CEO or Sr VP or a NFL starting linebacker or fullback.  I know now through experience I will become neither, my performance at critical times did not warrant an invite to the Select teams with GE, MS, Apple or the Dallas Cowboys.  I am not complaining. I am just being realistic.

Ok, so my mother is still upset that I did not live up to my potential and become the CEO of Ford or Intel.  Maybe she should have realized when I was not accepted to Harvard but Texas A&M that my F1000 CEO talent maybe lacking.  She never did.  I am sure if the Ford Executive board was 10 yards away from her 3 to 4 days a week, she would let them know how great I was when I was at EDS and when I won my 2nd grade business project and that she still has the 1st place ribbon.  I am sure her heckles from the sidelines will influence Ford to hire me.  But I digress.

OK, so your child is not a starter either.  Well, is that the end of the world?  What is your child really good at?  Maybe you should determine 5 to 10 things that your child is interested in doing and find out if they are good at it any of them.  If they are NOT good at a few mark them off your list. Don’t allow your child to join a team if they are not good at the sport, it’s unfair for everyone involved.  If you want your child to try out a sport, enroll them in a camp before signing them up for a league team.  A week long camp will tell your child and you if they are able to become proficient at the sport or topic.

I’m not sure why parents have decided to let children try everything.  Help your child find their special niche based on their unique individual abilities not yours.  I recently found out my youngest son is a pretty good Soccer player maybe even better at Soccer than Football.  Yes, that hurts my feelings a bit, but I love watching him play Soccer.  He is really that good.  Maybe my football dreams got in his way for a few years.  We will soon see.

Would you push your child to play Chess everyday and attend Chess tournaments if they continually lost every match at the chess tournaments?  I know I eventually quit the Chess team after getting spanked at a few 6th grade tournaments.  My dad loves Chess, but I am not a tournament Chess player.  I can beat my friends but not “real” competition.  My dad was not as upset with me, because dad and I began playing Racquetball together.  We found a new interest and sport to enjoy.  Not Chess.

Parents, please do everyone coaching and teaching a favor.  If you know your child cannot sing, please do not sign them up for American Idol.

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  1. My son enjoys punting and kicking= likes to prepare for the punt, pass and kick competitions every year as well as just going out and kicking and punting. He is not big for age nor is he fast so his options on the football team seem limited at this time- he is a been a back for 2 years and this year moved to wide receiver, sees minimal playing time at this stage. I would like to keep him involved with football and contributing. I would like to encourage at least the punting since they do not place kick at his level. When punting in cleats he consistently punts 25-30 yards. Should we pursue this with the coach? Punting seems to be by committee and I would like to communicate to the coach my son’s interest and at least have him give him a chance. Would a kicking camp be worthwhile at some point?

    1. Yes, I would talk to the coach about punting an kicking. If your are interested in punting and kicking, check out Coach Brent’s

      Coaches love young PAT kickers. They are hard to come by. In our Denver league kicking PATs was worth 2 points and running and passing were 1. A directional punter and kicker are great.

      My son also punts and enjoys soccer in the Spring and Summer seasons. Its also great for footwork, speed and quickness.

      Coach Parker

  2. I find your take on this really interesting…starting positions have to be earned…how does that happen if you don’t get reps in practice? We ARE talking about sports right? A physical pursuit right? To really learn to PLAY the game you have to PLAY the game. How is a child going to learn the game if he is not included? My son, a 10th grader(almost 15), is on his high school JV team (there is a policy that if you come out you are on the team). Anyway, he does not get reps in practice and he’s not used in the games. Can you then tell me how he is supposed to learn the game? As for being a starter, his team lost 32 to 12, so tell me what harm would it have done to swap in other children? They have some boys playing both ways and have other children who are always on the the bench… does this make any sense?

    How will my son know he’s improving or not if there are no measurements or contests that the coaches put the squad through? Exactly how do they determine who is better than whom? I’m definitely not advocating lowering standards, but have some standards. On what basis is one child considered a starter and not the other if only one child gets practice reps? It seems incredibly unfair to me, my child shows up to practice has even spoken to the coach about his willingness to play another position but to no avail.

    Sometimes good players are not born but made. I think that the goal of a public school athletic program should be about developing players not playing out your ego issues. Tell me why it is so wrong for a parent to query the coach about how the program is run and how it can benefit their child? Why shouldn’t a parent ask for clarification if it seems that the selection process is unclear? Don’t we discuss our child’s progress or lack of it with their math or piano teachers….why not with their coach?

    1. Thanks for your post. Different coaches want and see different things in an athlete. One coach may see a super star and the other a second stringer. Coaching and identifying talent is hard. If it were easy your coach would be an NFL coach or recruiting consultant.

      Most HS coaches have been watching players from Jr High so they have a good idea who can play for them. In my practice, everyone gets reps in drills and the drills help us determine who plays in scrimmages in games. So even if they do not get reps in games, they should be getting reps in drills. If your son is not performing during the drills, as good or better than other players then he probably will not play much in games.

      There are a ton of ways to learn the game these days. You can look online for free video tutorials. I use them to teach me to coach better. One can attend football camps. You can play with your friends and or hire a coach.

      When teams are losing coaches find it hard to sub players because the score is already out of hand. If they are having trouble with the starters why would they allow the score to get bigger by putting in second and third stringers. If the opposing coach is a jerk, the score could get really ugly and then the coach is in hot water with the boosters and his boss.

      How do you know coaches do not have standards? They may not be your standards. Parents see their children through rose colored glasses. I know I see my kids that way.

      Most coaches at the HS level have been coaching for many years and have attended a ton of coaching clinics and also played in college etc. So they have the expertise to evaluate your son. If your son is not starting or playing in games, then he knows he is not performing in practice. If he wants to play he needs to beat someone out of a position. I told my son to see who the starter on the team is and work toward being better than the starters. What do you do at work when you want a position or raise? You get better.

      As athletes progress to higher levels, genetics play more and more in determining who is the best athlete, because the talented athletes are also training so it gets very tough to play in college or the NFL. I played 10 years, but did not play in college because I decided I was too small and slow compared to the NFL LBs. I would never be an NFL LB unless I took some drugs.

      I think most coaches think it is ok for parents to ask about their child. But, parents always seem to think they can coach football better than they can coach the game. It becomes an emotional discussion because unlike recreational sports, high school sports is about performance and some kids do not play. There is no minimum play rule that everyone likes in rec ball. No one deserves to play, one must earn to be a starter. Coaches look at 40 times, Z drill times, football smarts, height, weight, desire, leadership, drill and game performance etc to evaluate talent. They just don’t grab players and through them in the game.

      How would you like someone coming to your office and asking you why you made this decision vs that decision every week and that person was someone off the street not your boss. After answering a few people, I am sure you would start getting tired of being asked about every decision you make. Have a little empathy for coaches. Coaching is very hard and we love kids, that’s why we coach. We are not perfect but I am sure everyone wishes we were perfect.

      Look even I have issues some coaches that coach my son’s youth sports teams. But at the end of the day, the team is not my team. Their coaches have their plans and it may not match mine or my sons. Who’s fault is that in the end? I wanted my son to start QB at his JR High, but he won Cross Country Runner of the Year. Maybe I need to adjust my expectations. Just a thought, I ask myself as I ponder my future as I approach my Salad days.

      Thanks again,
      Coach Parker

      1. OK I have the same problem here.I have a son on JV football and doesn’t play at all. Emailed Coach and talked to him. Coach said he was a sub Athlete. So we ask him what does he base this on. Our first game was a bomb. They never put my son in on corner which he plays. So, they were losing so coach replaced corner with one kid then another and last one who doesn’t even play corner he puts in. The child was lost even said I don’t know what to do. I have 2 boys on this team and I’ m speaking for my oldest who during trials is the top fastest and one of the strongest. When speaking to the coach he became very arrogant. I know they get calls from parents left and right. We weren’t asking for playing time but just for an answer. someone happened to comment on my sons facebook that they can’t take him down. That he was going down tomorrow. I hate to say but there is favoritism. One kid who became Captain is a baseball player who really doesn’t know game, The coaches are always yelling at him what to do, where to go. Well, our coach is the baseball coach, also this coach has a personal relationship offering them a generator during a storm blackout. This player is also already scouted for Villa Nova, so this looks good for him. You know where I’m going with this, also parents are teachers and former high school baseball coach. I also read some of the teachers ratings and some kids say he favors also. I happen to be a coach myself for competitive gymnastics and I know what happens with the parents I see it all the time. I know my so is a very good athlete. What he is lacking is that he is quiet. I never had a problem like this before and would never complain to a coach, but there is politics. Just like cops, if you get pulled over and are in the police world you can get away with the ticket.

    2. I agree we are allowed to discuss our child’s progress or lack in education but coaches freak out when they are asked. You are entitled this is not the NFL. Every kid should get a chance to play from elementary school to middle school and even up to JV. So they can develop and then high school should be your top!

      1. Life is unfair. I personally am dealing with similar issues that you guys are having with my oldest son in Jr HIgh Football. I do not feel he is getting legitimate looks by the coaches and when he asks the coaches what’s up he does not get a “real” answer. My oldest son is quite and not cocky and this is not good for younger coaches that like loud leaders not smart quite leaders.

        Over the last two years, I have written many emails and not sent them to the coach because my son needs to learn to solve his owns problems. If he wants to start then he needs to be a great football player and prove his worth to the coach, so much so they can’t ignore his talents. My son must step up his play and be better than the coach’s favorite.

        Just like when he is an adult, his boss may have a favorite that is not my son. My son will need to know how and when to deal with the situation. This is at the core of what Sports teaches our young adults. Take personal responsibility and figure out how to become the best. I am not going to be around when my son asks for a raise or has to deal with a toxic employee, so I hope Sports will teach him more than just being a good athlete but a better person and a great leader.

        Yes, all of your coaching, favoritism, communication, play time issues are unfair to your child and I know you want to be there for them and make sure they are ok. Well they will be OK. Let them grow up a little. I know I have had to become wiser dealing with similar issues and my son is learning more about life than Jr High Football, and maybe that’s better because very few football players ever play in College or the NFL.

        I wish all of you the best with these issues.

        Coach Parker

      2. well, we are still going back and forth with coach….they had a contest with a hitting drill yesterday never done before and guess what who came on top yes my son did. Yes, we can not always fight for your kids but we do when teacher are wrong with grading, but when it comes to sports its a whole different story.What happen the coach starts becoming friendly with parents an puts that kid to start who the coach is his baseball coach and the child is already scouted for baseball and is a very smart child. You this is for college transcripts. This is a child who never plays and is lost on the field.Is this fair no, and then you have another child who is a lacrosse player who wanted to go to a different school but the main school promise him to start because his brother is a professional lacrosse player. Sometimes you need to help and teach your kids that yes there is politics in sports. THis all true because of know facts. If no one speaks up this will just continue and these are kids not adults, and yes all life lessons and even educated adults don’t obey by rules. The school district use this child that i mentioned before when he was in 8th grade but him on the 10th grade lacrosse book, In the book of codes for high school the school can be in big trouble. This is all to keep this boy in town because his brother was a professional lacrosse player. So as parents we have every right to fight for your kids, Sports is very important for a lot of kids and they take it very personal when a coach doesn’t accept them many get depress and how would you feel if a kid did something to themselves.

  3. Thanks for responding. I think I should make something clear, I don’t want to coach my son’s HS team. I am a girl and I am not American…so football is still a bit of a mystery to me. I am, however, learning more and more by like you suggested online sources, I am reading your blog for instance, and I watch college games and NFL games. I search out clinics and camps for my son to participate in and he has attended a few. His skills seem competitive during those and granted the level is set by the children participating. Having said that, I think what I was objecting to is that your original post seemed to categorize children as either good at football or not good enough and should therefore try a different sport and parents as pesky ‘know it alls’ who incorrectly see their footballers as the next Tim Tebow or Reggie Bush. I see other variations of children and parents, and was trying to use the frustrating situation my son was in to illustrate that. I obviously didn’t do a good job. My son did not play in middle school and has only played recreational football last fall so he is coming to the game late. Does this mean he’s screwed and will never be able to play? I mean don’t have walk-ons in all levels of the game? So I am trying to understand how is a child supposed be developed if the coaches ignore everyone except the starters. His coaches have made the comment about why should you get any reps if you are not a starter? How’s that for building team moral. I support the team, and I’m not trying to tell them what to do, I am trying to understand how children are selected for the team. As the coaches have a job to do so do I as a parent. My son is feeling demoralized because as he sees it he doesn’t stand a chance because he isn’t given a chance. As a parent I need to address that don’t you think? I fully intend to attend and watch a full practice or two to evaluate the situation and see if my son is correct. I know when I go to pick him up and see the last 30 to 40 minutes of practice he’s just standing there watching the starters play. When he gets in the car he says he didn’t get any reps. So as you say, when exactly is he supposed to outshine the guy in the position he should play?
    You want me to have empathy for the coaches? Could you point out where in my prior post you got the impression that I don’t have empathy? I never once indicated that the job is easy so if I somehow conveyed consider it addressed here. Ok….you are both a coach and parent, so tell me, you don’t think there is any scenario when you would see it fit to have a conversation with the coach about your child, his development and progress on the team? My objective is to find out the coaches rules so that I can help my son be more competitive. I think that moves me out of the ‘pesky know-it-all’ parent group. This is the thing…my son wants to play football and while I would rather him strive to be on the chess team, I fully intend to support him to chase his dream. So I will be learning a whole lot more about football, driving him to many camps, clinics and combines, trying to develop my throwing arm so that we can run reps in the park, allowing him to tackle me, and put him through conditioning drills.
    In closing, as for people off the street asking me about decisions I make at work…ahh it would be annoying yes, but if that was part of the job, I’d have to suck it up. Lucky for me I’m one of those people that is rarely affected about what people think of me short of being called a liar, cheat, or thief. I’m just thinking there is some kind of situation, other than utopia, where everybody on the team can get a shot and I’m not even talking an equal shot, just the opportunity to demonstrate their skills and talent and that that can happen without coaches or parents being vilified by each other. Thanks again for the response and the blog too!

    1. All players should get reps in practice. That’s how they get better. I don’t know what this particular coaches thinking or game plan is so I can’t comment on that, but if you don’t practice your second and third stringers, then what are you going to do in the event that your starter, can’t make it or (God forbid) gets hurt. If your back up has taken 10 snaps in practice all season, and then you have to throw him into the fray, what then? But you also have to remember, even though your son may have the physical abilities, there is more to the game than that. You can be the best athlete on the team, but if you don’t have a nose for the ball you may not be used much on defense. I have 9 and 10 year old kids on my team that can fallow the ball in the middle of the chaos on the field better than I can from the sidelines. Also playing and practice time can be determined by position. If I have 15 line men, chances are some are not going to get much time. If I have 5 QBs, then only the top 3 will get much time as QB. Especially at the High School level. According to your first post, the coach has to take anyone who tries out. That probably means he has way too many players. I don’t know what the numbers on his team are, but we have 25 on our team and it gets hard to get kids in the games sometimes. Especially since they have to play both sides of the ball. The kids are told, “linemen stay with the line coach at all times, receivers and backs stay with your coach at all times, that way when it is time to sub, the coach looks behind him and sends one in. If they are sitting on the bench or wandering around, then they don’t get put in because the coach don’t see them. So if your son is standing off with another group of kids who don’t play, have him stand closer to the coaches, and right next to the area where practice is. Those who get noticed are more likely to get a try.

  4. Hello Steve and Readers,

    I have an issue which is the complete opposite of this post. I have a 10yr old who has played football since four. He loves the game, and the social interaction. He has always played the RB position. I was his coach every year. This year I wanted to step away from coaching so I could be more of a dad when it came to his athletics. (Yes, I had a hard time being a coach and a dad).

    He has always played a level up as far as age goes. So this year he is playing in a 13U (11-13yrs old) league. His coach is great, love his philosophy, and focus on fundamentals. He quickly realized my sons athletic ability, fundamental ability, and his desire to win. He had big plans for him as RB, until he realized he possessed QB ability. Since Monday, he has worked with my son individually, with backs, and most recently as a complete offense.

    Now my son is telling Mom and I he doesn’t want to play the QB position. The only reason he gives is that it too much and he’s never going to learn all the plays, footwork, and so on. As a parent, how do I handle this after explaing to him; its new, its early, you will learn it and be great by the time you need to execute it all on the field, and he still says he doesn’t want to do it. Do i talk to the coach? Make him talk to the coach? Make him do what the coach wants him to do? I am at a loss. I find this situation to be one that either continues or stops the path he’s laying for his future. Being in the same school district since he started playing, middle school and high school coaches have taken notice and see a star developing in my son.

    1. I had a similar issue with a player in the Spring. He was a first year player with speed, smarts and an arm but he did not want to play QB, even 2nd string QB. He finally told us about the 3rd week of practice that he did not want to play. We spoke to him, his parents, and worked with him for about a week more and decided he really was not motivated to learn the position so we moved him to tight end since he had great hands and could block.

      I would have your son talk to the coach about not wanting to play QB. Let him and the coach try to work it out for a week or so. You can also ask about how its going and let the coach know that your son has made comments that he is not ready to play QB. Sometimes its just fear of new things and sometimes, well QB is a lot harder than people think. I’ve had many players tell me NO, that they do not want to play QB. QBs get hit really hard from all angles when they are not prepared to get hit. If they do not like to take a hit and get up, then QB is not for them. I tried to move my FB / MLB to QB many years ago, because he had a really good arm and he told me no way. He said, “I don’t want to get hit like Bear.” Bear was my son and starting QB at the time.

      Communicate with the coach. Let the coach know your son may be on information overload and scared of all the new information etc. The coach may need to slow down the pace and ease your son into the position over several games.

      Just my two cents… Good luck.

      Coach Parker

  5. I was under the impression that youth sports (ages 11 and under) were to teach the fundamentals of the sport. I didnt realize that to play in a league the child was expected to already know how to play.

    I think parents need to be informed of this before signing their child up.

    1. Tina,

      The point of the article is starting positions. The issue with many parents that put little Johnny or Julie on a youth sports team with other experienced kids that already know the game is that they should play equal or be a starter. This is not a realistic expectation.

      Also, many players that start playing in youth sports today already know a lot of fundamentals because they started playing the sports at 3 or 4 years old. So parents signing up players at age 8 are at a slight disadvantage because many have already had one or two years on a team.

      Also many kids pick up the game from dad or mom and come to the team with some knowledge. The issue we see with a small percentage of kids is that the player has no desire to be on the team. Mom or Dad want them to play football etc, but the player has little desire to play thus giving little or no effort at practice or in the game, but the parents want their child to start.

      You cannot coach desire or effort. Most kids that have a desire to play the game will learn the game quickly and become a starter. We have one player like that now that started playing in the Spring and by the second game was a starter. He had never played football before and our experienced players were 3 year players. He fit right in and is having a great season this Fall.

      So, yes we teach fundamentals to everyone. We cant teach desire.

      Coach Parker

  6. How do you handle a situation where as you and everybody else concern knows that your son is the best at a position on the football field
    but the coach elects to play his son at your son position just to get him oon the field?

    1. Not sure about your situation or what you mean exactly. Has your son spoken to the coach? Have you spoken to the coach? I would begin here and find out why your son is not playing the position.

      The longer I coach the more favoritism I see and its been getting worse over the years. Most coaches will play their son somewhere on the field because the coach is putting a ton of volunteer time in for the team. I do not think this is right, but to be completely honest the majority of coaches will do this with their children.

      Communication is the key and if the coach will not discuss the matter, then you know its time to find a new team.

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