Getting More Playing Time

By John Ellsworth

Every athlete that comes to me for help almost always wants to improve their performance and get more playing time.  Every parent wants their child to be the best in their sport, have fun, and grow from the lessons sports teaches us about life.  I would like to think all parents want this, but some miss the point and are more focused on what sports can provide in return.  What is the message we are giving to our kids about sport participation?

I recently worked with a very talented volleyball athlete that was invited to play for an elite travel team.  At this level competition everyone on the team is very talented.  Playing time comes down to those with the best skills, and ultimately those the coach feels can best serve the team goals.  At this level the goal is highly end result focused.  At this level most players hope to be seen by a college coach in hopes of receiving a scholarship.  But what happens to the athlete that is obviously very talented, wants desperately to be seen, but likely will not get the playing time they desire.  Every athlete that comes to me wants to be the best, but they don’t all have the talent to make it at the next level.  So how do we help this athlete get what they need?

There are many ways to approach this subject all of which have their pluses and minuses.  The most important success factor in addressing this subject however, is indeed how the coach is approached and how the message is delivered.  On one hand too many parents feel they must control what happens to their kids and make sure every experience is positive otherwise the kids won’t be happy.  As a result they get involved in assuring success is a sure thing.  While this may lead to short term gratification, it can unfortunately have negative long term consequences.

Everyone has and will experience setbacks, challenges, and disappointments in life especially in sports; this is one aspect of how character is developed.  One of the best motivators in life comes from experiencing and feeling what it’s like to lose.  It either motivates us to learn from setbacks or it demoralizes us and we rarely hear the life message or learn the life lesson.  Let’s face it we learn how to cope with adversity, defeat, and difficult situations in childhood.  In childhood our parents impart upon us the coping tools they learned from their parents.  Right, or wrong our children learn from what we teach them and from their own experiences.  Part of growing up is learning how to cope and or navigate our way through the tough times.  This is how we develop character and develop the tools that help us to handle the life struggles we will face.

This athlete wants to be apart of the starting lineup, but at this point she is not getting the playing time in scrimmages and therefore is feeling passed up by the coach.  It’s not yet been determined whether the coach is playing his favorites or whether he is actually picking the most talented athletes to be his starters.  At some point however, before the season starts the coach will decide on his starting lineup.  To address this issue the parents could get involved by approaching the coach, but I would not suggest this.  The athlete approaching the coach is the best first approach.  If the athlete approaches the coach with the right intent and the message is delivered effectively the results can be overwhelmingly positive.  But how exactly should the player approach the coach?  For purposes of discussion let’s say the coach has an open door policy and encourages the athletes to come forward if they have any issues.

Here is what I believe to be the 3 Steps to Getting More Playing Time. It represents a reliable strategy to approach the coach and ask for what they want.

1.  The athlete must know what their goals are.  What do they ultimately want?  Is it simply more playing time right now this season, or is there a longer term goal the athlete has in mind like a college scholarship.  Lastly, it’s important to know who has the agenda – the child, or the parents? The goals must be written down and available for discussion with the coach.  I would ask the athlete to pick no more that three goals; one long term goal, and two season specific performance goals.

2.  The athlete must know their strengths and weaknesses.  From their own assessment and from what they have heard from coaches and others in their support system make a list of your Top 10 strengths and weaknesses. What are the skills the coach will most likely identify as needing improvement?  Have these with you when you meet with the coach.

3.  What is the message you want to bring to the coach?  Be clear and concise about what you plan to say. The message should come from a more global view of helping the team be more successful and how you believe your contribution will help the team.  The following approach takes the “me” out of the discussion, and places more emphasis on the “team,” while asking for help to define where you need to be with your skills to become a major contributor to the team’s success.

“Coach, I would like to be one of your go to players – a part of the starting team.  I know I have strengths and weaknesses and am willing to do whatever is necessary strengthen my weaknesses in order that I may be a stronger asset to the team.  Can you please tell me what you believe to be my Top 3 weaknesses that if improved will help me reach a skill level that would give me a good shot at a starting position?”

The benefits to this approach are many.  The coach gets a wonderful perspective of an athlete that is not afraid to ask for what they want.  This is a great teaching opportunity for the coach to learn more about the athlete’s character and provide guidance and feedback.  There is no guarantee the feedback will be what the athlete wants to hear, but at least the athlete has taken the steps to ask for what they want.  The benefits to the athlete are many; they gain more respect from the coach, they learn effective communication skills, they build self-esteem, and they get immediate and informative feedback.  If the coach is forthright the athlete now knows what needs to be done to take his success to the next level.  The benefits to the parents are many as well, but most importantly they have helped their son or daughter develop effective life skills and empowered them to not be afraid to ask for what they want. If they feel empowered they see life from a greater world view perspective.

For more information about this article contact or for information on mental game coaching contact John R. Ellsworth – Mental Game Coach at Protex Sports, LLC. You can also send your questions to Ask Coach John.

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