Some Thoughts on Playing Time

by Paul Cortes
Head JV Boys Coach, Jewish Community High School of the Bay
Youth Basketball Coach, San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department
AAU Coach, Bay City Basketball

Disclaimer: These thoughts relate to coaching youth players. My approach would certainly change if I was coaching a high school varsity or older squad.

As an AAU coach, one of the issues that comes up frequently is playing time. There are certainly many trains of thought when it comes to how to manage rotations and get kids in and out of the game. I’m not arguing that my way is best, as there are many other coaches I work with that manage rotations differently and very successfully as well. Here I’m going to talk about some of the things I do with my player rotations and why I do them. There is no perfect way and with anything you choose there will be both pros and cons—the main thing is making sure your style aligns with your overall philosophy, whatever that may be.

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Playing time matters, but so does grit

Originally published in Los Angeles Sports & Fitness, May/June 2015.

As the game clock dwindled toward zero, and his son remained on the bench, the father wondered about the best course of action. What was the point of a 10-year-old playing on a basketball team if he never played in the games? What happens to a child as he grows if his father is there to make everything okay?  Read more

Should leagues mandate equal playing time for youth basketball?

When I coached junior varsity girls basketball and freshmen boys basketball, I committed to playing every player in every half of every game. Initially, the varsity coach instructed me to play everyone in every game with the JV team, but I continued to play everyone at the next school, even when I felt that the varsity coach disagreed with the egalitarian approach to playing time. To me, these are developmental levels, and playing everyone fits with a developmental model. Read more

The perceptions and reality of playing time

I track wins and losses in every practice. On the day of a game, the first five on the cumulative leader board start the game, and number one on the list is our captain. From a continuity and competitive standpoint, it may not be the best way to decide on starters and captains, but I’ve rarely had a complaint in three seasons of using this method.  Read more

Playing time and performance benefits

Games frequently are compared to academic tests, and practices to classroom teaching. In this analogy, practices are viewed as the learning experiences, and games as the performance experience. One aspect of Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is that she tests her children frequently. testing is not just an evaluative task, but a learning task. Read more

Playing Time: Why Do You Deserve to Play?

After my last game, several players looked dejected. We have no shot clock, and games fly. I play 14 players per game while remaining somewhat competitive. It is hard. I know players are not playing as much as they want. They are not playing as much as I want them to play. But when a team holds the ball for 90 seconds running the Flex and refusing to shoot anything but a lay-up, the time moves pretty quickly.  Read more

Training Partners and Playing Time

Originally published in Hard2Guard Player Development Newsletter 5.22

During the playoffs, NBA analysts often spoke about Russell Westbrook and Derek Rose training together with Rob McClanaghan in Santa Monica all summer. Training with a similarly talented, similarly driven player is the best way to improve. Read more

Does Every Player Deserve Playing Time?

This season, I coached in a program that believed every player deserves to play in every game. I had never coached this way. I usually stuck with an 8 or 9-player rotation.

From the outset, I told the players that they were not guaranteed playing time; they earned their playing time through practice. However, I played every player in every half of every game with the exception of two times when I benched a player for a half for a failure to communicate about missing a bus and missing practice.

Upon reflection, I believe in playing every player for several reasons:

1. Development. I had 12 players on the team. If I used a 9-player rotation, 3 players would have seen little to no playing time. During the season, the gap between the 9 and the 3 would widen. Instead, a player who likely would have been outside the rotation hit a game-winning shot in a win that preserved a tie for the league championship, and another player who would have been outside the rotation played a pivotal role in a 15-point 4th quarter comeback in the semi-finals of a tournament.

2. Inconsistency. At this level, you never know who will perform well in any given game. Players are inconsistent, which is one reason they play junior varsity and not varsity. With 12 players ready to play, we had a good chance that someone would be on her game. We won a tough game without our two best players scoring because their back-ups stepped up and had great games. The players who played the majority of the minutes at the end of the season were not the same as those who played at the beginning.

3. Practice Intensity. Because every player received meaningful minutes, every player was engaged in practice. Because every player played, every player continued to improve throughout the season, meaning more balance in scrimmages. In the past, as the season progressed, the starters improved more than the bench and the disparity between the two grew. This season, it did not matter how I split up the teams.

4. Team Morale. I did not see any of the usual petty jealousy that happens when some players sit on the bench and others play all the time and the bench players feel they deserve more time. Instead, players supported each other. Before our last game, a player suggested a new starting line-up, so she would start. Another girl who would benefit from this change was the loudest to disagree, although it would have been her first start. Instead, she favored the regular line-up, because, as she said, “the game is important:” A win meant a tie for 1st place and a loss meant a tie for 2nd place.

During the season, we almost always outplayed teams in the 4th quarter. We had a 15-point comeback in the 4th quarter against a good team; out-scored a team by 9 points in our one overtime game; came from 8 points down with 6:00 left against the co-league champions; and came back from 5 points down with 4:00 to play against the 3rd place team. Much of our 4th quarter success, I believe, was due to our lack of fatigue. We pressed and wore down other teams who refused to play their bench.

During league, we had several 40 and 50 point wins because our level of play did not drop off when we substituted 5 non-starters into the game. Our non-starters were accustomed to playing major minutes against good teams, so by league play, they were superior to some teams’ starters.

I do not believe that every player should feel entitled to playing time regardless of their effort. I am not a fan of mandatory play leagues. However, I believe that at the developmental level, every player who puts forth the effort and shows up to the practices deserves an opportunity to play.

In Little League, teams often put the worst player in right field for his mandatory two innings and hope that he draws a walk in his one mandatory at-bat, while the top players play shortstop, first base, pitcher and catcher and bat 3-4 times per game. How is the worst player supposed to have a chance if everything is slanted to favor the best players? The coach creates the self-fulfilling prophesy: he expects more and more from the favored players and less and less from the benchwarmer. Often, the difference between best and worst is a small gap at the beginning of the season, but widens throughout the season because of the opportunities afforded the chosen players. Also, the difference at the beginning of the season often has as much to do with age as anything else.

If development is the coach’s goal, every player should receive an opportunity to play meaningful minutes, provided that the player earns the minutes during practice through his effort and concentration. There is no reason to punish a player for not being good enough; that’s why he is playing: to improve!

By Brian McCormick
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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