Other exceptions to the “equal playing time” rule

Summary: Sometimes it’s necessary to use playing time as a reward to coachable players and a communication mechanism for uncoachable players.

In an earlier article, I made the case that every player on the team deserves equal playing time.  My argument is based on the philosophy that “game experience” – responding properly to the actions of an unknown opponent in a pressure-filled environment – is a skill to be learned just like any other basketball skill.  Just as it’s unethical to deny a player access to an opportunity to learn and improve their ball handling skills, it’s unethical to deny them game experience.

I also said that it’s probably appropriate to drop this requirement once players reach their high school varsity team because, at that level, winning and losing and participation in end of season tournaments becomes something larger than just the team.  It extends to the entire school.

The more I thought about it, the more I became aware of additional exceptions to the equal playing time rule.

Probably the most obvious reason has to do with players who miss practices prior to games.  This is a simple case of not being prepared to participate.  They may need to watch the game for a while and talk to the head coach or assistant coach about changes that been introduced before they are ready to join in.

Another reason has to do with player attitude.  Players with a proper attitude should be rewarded with more playing time than those with attitude problems.  Coaches have a term for players with a proper attitude.  They call these players “coachable”.

I think of a coachable player as a player who (a) wants to learn, (b) believes the coach can direct that learning, and (c) is willing to put in the effort required to learn.  You can spot coachable players, they are respectful and listen to what the coach is saying and closely watch the demonstration.  They then try hard to emulate what they’ve heard and seen.  They focus, and they try hard.  There’s no requirement that they succeed easily.  A good coach, like a good teacher, will have the patience and creativity to help the player succeed.  Coaches and teachers are energized by players and students who genuinely want to learn and are motivated to do the work necessary.

As a coach, if your focus is on player development, as mine is, you will want to give these coachable players as much of a chance as possible to develop their skills – and you will want to convert the uncoachable players into coachable players.

An uncoachable player will not focus on developing their skills and will not put the effort in to getting better.  It is an act of will.  Coaches usually go out of their way to help a player who has trouble focusing or is physically limited in some way.  On the other hand, players who consciously choose not to focus or not to work hard are much more difficult to deal with as a coach.  It can be hard to determine what motivates these players to act as they do.

I think that playing time should be related to coachability.  Sometimes the only real carrot available to a coach is game time.  Praise and encouragement can go a long way but some players will only respond to “game time” as a measure of how they’re really performing.  By increasing playing time for the coachable players you give them additional opportunity to develop their game skills.  By decreasing playing time for uncoachable players you send a message, in the one language that they understand, that focus, belief, and effort are required in their relationship with the coaching staff and with the team.