Soccer Coaching Blog | Professional Soccer Coaching Advice

Why ALL your players should get equal playing time

David ClarkeBy David Clarke
Every player deserves equal time on the pitch in grass roots football and if you don’t believe me here’s the evidence.

Last month we took on a young player who has never played for a club before. He’s 11, and charges around the place without being able to control the ball or kick it very well.

I’ve started to coach him and he’s already improved, although some of his team mates have made it clear they don’t think he’s good enough to play for our team.
But I like to have players like this; players who can be allowed to develop and find themselves a role in the team.

The lad has been desperately keen to play in a match, and I spoke to him and his parents about when and where he can expect to play.

I planned to introduce him slowly to the pace of match play because I didn’t want him to have an experience that would put him off.

Well, the best laid plans and all that…

At the weekend I had three players call off sick at late notice. When we turned up on Saturday morning it was quite clear we were going to be a player short. And one of our 10 was my new player.

I got the usual moans and groans at our lack of numbers, but explained to my new player where I wanted him to position himself. Needless to say, he was really keen to get going. And with a couple of interventions by me – at one point to explain the offside rule! – he played well enough in the first half.

Sure, he wasn’t quite up to the pace of the game, but was beginning to show signs that he would be a good acquisition to the team. And this was confirmed when he made a surging run early in the second half – the only player alert to a through-ball. He got away beyond the defenders to go 1v1 against the goalkeeper, and fired the ball high into the net.

What a strike! To say I was surprised is an understatement! He was thrilled and so was his dad. Of course, this gave the player a new-found confidence.

As a result, he was looking for the ball all over the pitch – it also gave him boundless energy. It helped the team as well and they all congratulated him on a solid (goalscoring!) debut.

And so he has written his name into the history books. To think I was afraid of playing him straight away shows how wrong it can be of coaches to consider some players ‘not ready’.

Sure, you use your judgement based on what you see on the training pitch, but sometimes the only way to really tell if a player has what it takes is to give him the opportunity when it matters – on match day.


17 Comments so far
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Having the opportunity to coach my son and his teammates for the last five years has been a blessing. I’ve always played everyone an equal number of minutes per game. As each season has progressed, it’s been a joy to watch the boys progress in their soccer skills set.

Comment by Mark Mills

David, despite the headline of this blog, your article suggests you don’t really believe in giving all of your players equal game time? In your final paragraph, you say “you use your judgement based on what you see on the training pitch…” In other words, you pick your team depending on how the players perform in training. I think that’s the wrong message to give to other coaches. You’re picking players based on their ability to perform rather than giving them all equal game time.

Personally, I absolutely believe in equal game time for young players. Whilst playing 7-a-side at U9 and U10 level, it meant my team lost games that they would probably have won if my strongest players had played more of the game to the detriment of the weaker players. Did we like losing? No. But are we a better team for it? Yes – 100% yes. Now we’re playing 9-a-side, I really need those weaker players – and so do their team-mates. All are now benefitting from the ‘equal game time’ philosophy of the previous years.

Equal game time for younger age groups should, in my opinion, be mandatory, not optional. I still see teams that bring 12 players to play a 60-minute 9-a-side football game but a couple of players only get 10 minutes of game time. Is that encouraging them to play football, is it helping them to enjoy the game, is it motivating them to improve their skills? No, it’s not. It’s pandering to the ego of the coach and parents for whom winning is more important than the social and sporting development of the kids in their care.

Comment by Graham

Hi Graham

Please read my other posts you may learn more about me and my ideals.

Comment by David Clarke

Brilliantly put Graham – I am finding it very difficult to find other parent with the same attitude & problems in the UK, even thought I know this is rife in the game. Players are not being treated fairly. Win at all costs, even though it means that players get upset & loose confidence and motivation. I think some of these coaches like the power they have.

Comment by Keith

Great article, this is what coaching is all about! Watching a young player progress and improve is only bettered by watching the whole team do it together!

Comment by Simon

100% correct David, my son was dropped from a team last season after getting 3-7 minutes a match maximum with a typical “win at all costs” manager, it completely shot his confidence.
I took on the 4 boys who got dropped along with my lad and started a new team with the same club, they all get plenty of match time and my boy is now top scorer and got his first hat trick this week, his confidence is flying!
Its a shame there are not more managers like us, some unfortunately forgot the golden rule….”its your child playing football, not you!”

Comment by Craig

Sometimes the players that don’t show in practice, play very well, and can suprise
you in a game. Other times i have had
new players that i bring in slow to let them
get in to game shape.

Comment by Shannon Slabaugh

I tried to give equal playing time to all players. However, problem arises when certain players didn’t improve over sometime, having the same skills and making the same old mistatkes again and again. Should I continue to let him play the equal time???

Comment by Patloo

Hi Pat, I don’t mean to be smart but you need to think about why this player isn’t improving? Is it because he’s not listening to you properly, is it because he’s not a good player or could it be that you haven’t worked on his deficiencies correctly?

Comment by Simon

Basically he is not a good players, and making the same mistake after numerous training. On top of that, his parent wre shouting near the touch line, to instruct him what to do 🙂

Comment by Patloo

Well you need to grab those parents, actually get all of your parents together and tell them this. You might be trying to tell your 1 child what to do, I’m trying to tell 11 of them what to do and ban all parents from saying anything other than, well done and clapping or cheering the kids on! That’s what I do, I get all of the parents in one room before the start of the season and tell them this, if they don’t like it they can leave. If they trust you enough to let you coach their kids during the week tell them they need to trust you to coach them on a match day as well!

As for that child you need to show him what he’s doing wrong, set-up training so that he has the chance to do what he keeps doing wrong and then correct him.

Comment by Simon

I coach a 9 aside U11s team and to give every player equal playing time sounds good in theory but with 60 X 9 mins or 540 mins playing time and a squad of 14, meaning 38mins each it just isn’t practicable, Do you stand on the touch line with a stop watch and notepad to record when each player should be sub’d? And what about injuries? I also have new players who have never played before and if I gave them the same game time we would lose so heavily that the team would simply lose heart entirely. I am not a win at all costs coach as we haven’t won for ages but team morale is crucial.

Comment by David Errey

David Errey you’re correct. Be as generous as you can with playing time for the kids who aren’t as good, but strict 50/50 rationing does not work for the reasons you say. It might even magnify the flaws of the lesser players, if their mistakes cost the game. They’d rather have a respectable supporting role on a winning team than be the goats in a losing effort. On the other hand, DO EVERYTHING YOU CAN FOR THEM.

Comment by Southie Dan

Equal game time doesn’t have to based on a single game, David. Do it over the season or half a season – much easier.

Comment by Graham

If you believe team morale is crucial then you need to make sure these kids believe in what you’re teaching them even if it means losing games. If you can show them that they’re progressing in their footballing skills it won’t matter how many games you lose. Could you not just make sure that your subs get a full half a game every week and every week you have different players as subs at the start.

Comment by Simon

It does matter if my team of U11s are losing every game because they do lose morale. Already I’ve had 1 player saying he wants to go elsewhere to a team that wins occassionaly. We have yet to win this season and often lose by double figure scores. Our catchment area is very small and we need to retain the players we have to keep the team going. To assume that 10 year olds are happy just to improve their skills and it doesn’t matter if they get a 20-0 drubbing is naive.

Comment by David Errey

Again I agree with David but naive is not the word. Imagine yourself a boy again. It’s humiliating to lose continually. You want a fair amount of playing time on a team that the other kids respect. One w/o the other is no good. Need both.

Comment by Southie Dan

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