This isn’t the first time we’ve talked about equitable playing time here, but we recently had a ras hof parent complaints in our Rec league, so we took some action and that spawned an interesting debate among our coaches.

Our league mandates that all Recreational players should play a minimum of 50% of the match, except at the youngest ages where there can be more than double the number of kids on a roster – so we encourage as close to equitable playing time as possible. But for U8 and above, roster sizes are such that it is easy to get kids 50%, even if you leave a couple players in most of the match. Our goal in choosing ‘50%’ over ‘equal time’ was that it gave coaches some flexibility to coach. While some advocate mandated substitutions (every 12.5 minutes everyone subs), we felt it better to let the coaches maintain control over substitutions, while ensuring kids got a fair amount of playing time. For the most part it has worked, but the complaints were increasing, mostly in U8 of all places. So the league decided to add some teeth to the existing 50% rule.


­We published some recommended sanctions for coaches found to be playing their players less than 50%. The idea was this would grab their attention, and hopefully ensure coaches who were ‘pushing it’ to shape up. Here’s what was sent. It boiled down to this:

  • First Complaint: Written warning from the league.
  • Second Complaint: If we could verify the complaint via talks with the referee, coaches, and/or parents – the team would forfeit that match. Regardless of the verification, the league would send a league representative to monitor playing time for the next two matches.
  • Third Complaint: If verified, the team would again forfeit said match and the coach would be suspended for one match. If we couldn’t verify it, the matter would be referred to to our Discipline & Appeals committee.

This was a pretty harsh set of guidelines, and that was on purpose. The idea was most coaches would get a warning and know the next step was punitive, as simple warnings weren’t working up to this point. Now some complained the kids shouldn’t ‘suffer’ via a forfeit – but honestly most kids forget the score 10 minutes after a match ends. If a match flipped to a forfeit, only the coaches and parents would care. Which was good.

I’ll admit, I didn’t expect the debate that ensued. But it was a good debate to have. While some coaches took the debate off topic to deal with coed vs gender split teams (a whole other issue we dealt with last year), it was interesting to see how people reacted. I was sort of surprised by the people who felt mandating fair playing time was somehow coddling players and that everyone should ‘earn’ their playing time. This is Rec soccer we’re talking about. After a number of back and forth emails, I sent this:

For those of you who believe we are coddling players by requiring equal playing time, a question…

In practice, when you coach, do you allow certain players to sit out drills? Do you let them watch the rest of the team work on a soccer move? If not, and every player is out there in the hot and cold weather practicing, trying to improve, doing the drills you setup – have they not *earned* their playing time, regardless of skill? Do we really want to tell kids as young as 5 or 8 that even though they worked hard at practice trying to get better, that they still can’t play much in the match because some other kid can do it better at that point in time? If you really want this to be about life’s lessons – do we really want to teach younger kids that hard work won’t pay off unless your one of the most athletically gifted on your team?

I would hope as coaches you push all your players to THEIR limits and to improve beyond THEIR current abilities. Allowing them time in a match to show off THEIR development should be a given. They’ve earned it.

Which brought up an interesting debate. In our Coaches Code of Conduct, we stipulate that Rec players must get 50% playing time:

I will ensure that every player on my team plays at least half of each match unless they are ill, injured, or being disciplined.

The goal with this was to give coaches flexibility to deal with problem situations. Obviously if a kid is on the bench sick or injured they won’t play 50%. But the disciplined part was put in to allow coaches to use playing time as a carrot of sorts. The intent of this was to ensure players attended practice when they could. The league felt that it wasn’t fair that a player who missed all the practices and then showed up just for matches should get 50% playing time. Players who were being disruptive in practice could also be told they risked not playing much (and actually it works better if you tell the parents that). But not everyone agreed this was the right thing to do. Some felt you should give 50% no matter what. The fact that it was so vague, meant coaches could say a kid sneezed wrong and thus didn’t deserve 50%. But the hope was if we noticed a coach abusing this, we could refer it to D&A and so far none have abused it.

But what do you all think about this? Should players get 50% no matter what? I tend to believe if a player attends practice and does what they are asked, regardless of how well the perform in practice they should get 50%. But when we’re practicing in sweltering temps in August or freezing temps in February – a player who habitually misses practice while the rest of the team works hard in those conditions – that player shouldn’t get 50%. Maybe 25%. it sends a message that players need to practice (at least once a week in my opinion) to play. Do you think a kid should be allowed to attend only matches and not practices?