Boys Wanting to Play

What Should Parents Say When Their Child Is Frustrated With Playing Time?

One of the hardest things to deal with as an athlete – youth to pro – is not getting playing time. Every athlete wants to contribute, wants to feel like they are a part of the accomplishments of the team, and just simply wants to play because it’s more fun than not playing. But not everyone can play all the time and that is one of the realities that our kids learn in sports.

What Not To Do

So, what can we say as parents, and as importantly what do we NOT want to say that can actually end up making the situation worse even thought we are trying to make it better?

First, lets start with what NOT to do. This is the hardest part. We should not try to “save” them from the discomfort/pain of not playing, by telling them that the coach is stupid, unfair, doesn’t know what they’re doing, playing favorites, etc.

Why not? Maybe one of these is actually true? Regardless of whether true or not it unintentionally sends two messages to the young athlete. The first message is that the real world won’t have these things as well – the truth is that it will. The second message that it sends is that they need you to save them from pain. We don’t. It’s our urge as parents, but the reality is that we don’t need to. They are always more resilient than we actually know and they will survive this.

A Better Approach

A better approach is to acknowledge the pain, let them know that you understand it, and then remind them that they’ll be fine. It may take a little while, but they will survive it – we always do. Teaching them to believe in their inherent strength is a much better lesson

The second step – after they express their anger and disappointment – is to ask one simple question.

What do you have some control over now?”

Even if not playing in games the player can continue to compete like crazy in practice, give their attention to improving, and to continuing to do the right things as a teammate. There will still be difficult moments, but at least they are approaching from a proactive place of strength – “I still control these things”, “I can still improve”, and “this is a moment in time and not my entire career”.

Your Child's Identity

The last thing that I’ll recommend for this topic is to understand that their sport is not them – it is not their identity. Good or bad performance does not dictate your value. How you respond, how you treat others, and how you value the behaviors you exhibit is your identity and your value. Sport success or challenges are not who you are they are simply something that you do.

I’ll finish this up by framing it the best way I know how which is through an old fable I’ve repeated many times -“Don’t try to remove the obstacle from the path, the obstacle is the path”. Struggle and pain are part of a successful life, and so learning how to NOT fear them is essential. Don’t prevent them from experiencing these valuable lessons.


About the Author Stuart Singer

Stu Singer is a performance psychologist and soccer parent. He has worked with National Team, MLS, and NWSL players and ECNL and Development Academy players and teams. He is the creator of the WellPerformance on-line Sports Psychology training platform and the DoSo app that can be downloaded for iPhone or iPad.

follow me on:
  • Rich says:

    Tons of good points , but most coaches try to win too much , at u-8 to u12 ish , playing time should be equal … I took my son off teams and had them play at lower levels , always teaching though proper tech and skill work , playing time is important to let the hard work show , and have fun playing . Both my sons now play college sports , both start and play most of the game . While 99 percent of the coaches sons etc didn’t even get recruited , keep in mind develop skill and tech at a young age and it will pay off huge when they get older u14-u17 … at older ages most higher level players are good athletic kids , the great separator is the tech and the development of it .. beteeen the ears we call it …most coaches that come to the states for Soccer come for one thing !! $$$$ if they were high level guys they would of stayed overseas and coaches there , do not get pulled in to the English accent etc ….look at coerver and footwork training , I used all the tapes and had my sons take every camp I could get them into . It’s excellent and have them train at full soccer speed putting these techs into practice and have fun with them ..

  • Very Good Article with some good points. I would also add that as a young player, especially U11-U14, not playing much can be an advantage under specific circumstances. but this also implies that they are around a coach teaching them fundamentals on how to become a professional player at the highest level, who is not focused first and foremost on winning. i played on a team where the most ineffective player at U10 became the most effective player at U18, and the best player at U10 became one of the worst at U18.

  • Rick says:

    What should parents say when their child plays the same position at u11 every game all game? Shouldn’t we be changing positions around at that age?

    • Stuart Singer says:

      Simply put – yes! Learning different positions and seeing the field from different views (technical and tactical skills change by position) is essential for the young player’s development. Rarely does a player start in a specific position and end up there as they continue to progress through the ranks.

      I would recommend talking with the coach or club DOC to see what their philosophy is on this.

      Best,
      Stu

    • That’s a good question…! Yes, i do think it’s important players see a variety of positions over the course of the year. For my U10 team, I have a primary position for each player in the fall and a secondary position I try to get them some time with as well. For the spring, I’ll either change the primary or secondary position for each player….This has a bit to do with skill level. There are certain players I don’t, for instance, play in the middle of the field in games because they have a long way to go from a skill standpoint here. I do try and get them some time there in training….and then i have certain players who love to play and are well suited skill and instinct wise in the back, or as our 9 or 8…and so I will likely keep that their primary position both spring and fall but be sure to give them some time in a secondary position.

  • >