Ask the Expert – featuring Dr. Ginsburg
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How important is it to have equal playing time (as possible), especially in a middle school C level tournament where the kids are still developing skills and sportsmanship?
To my knowledge, there is no known data that identifies when playing time should become based on talent. That said, given that children don't reach their peak growth spurts until approximately 12 for girls and 14 for boys, and that so many physical and cognitive processes are developing well into adolescence, it makes a strong case for giving youth and early adolescent athletes equal playing time so that they may all learn about the game, develop skills and feel a part of the team. From a practical standpoint and from my experience as a former high school lacrosse coach, creating opportunities for your players to feel valued and a part of the team is critical to the team's success. Gray areas emerge around how much playing time kids should get and should it be equal. If we are talking about a C level program or league, it strikes me that equal playing time makes sense, and if there is a desire to have more competitive programs, then parents can choose those programs with the understanding that playing time is not a given. Much of this needs to be clarified before the start of the season so as to avoid mid season conflicts. Personally, I think middle school is a time when all athletes should get some playing time. Limits on playing time at the high school level make more sense. Sadly, this is all part of a movement toward making our kids champions from a young age. This puts a lot of pressure on the kids and their parents as well as coaches and frequently can lead to overuse injury and burnout. Sports are meant to be fun. When they become a job or a tracking path toward becoming a champion, tensions and risks emerge in multiple arenas.
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