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Handling Playing Time and Positions

Most players prefer one position over another when playing a sport. But what if that coveted pitching or point guard spot is already filled, or the coach believes a player has greater value to the team by learning other positions?

A common temptation among coaches is to take the authoritative approach, and put the entire responsibility of attitude adjustment on the player. Steven Cournoyer, who has coached baseball and basketball from third-graders to high schoolers, turns that theory completely on its head.

“You’re talking about kids that have a superstar they love or can most relate with,” explained Cournoyer, who created a guidebook and training academy to inspire coaches to be better leaders. “Whenever there’s an issue with playing time or playing positions, it’s 100 percent the coach’s fault. If you don’t share your expectations with the players or parents, you’re going to cause a lot of unrest because of your inability to communicate your position and your philosophy.”

As a coach, you may have the best of intentions, but failing to share that with your team will make you the villain, Cournoyer says. Before you can communicate your expectations, every coach must first examine his or her coaching philosophy. Is it based strictly on winning, or are you more concerned with development and character values players can take with them outside of sports?

“When you’re coming from a developmental point of view, I think (players) should try every position, and they should try the ones they like,” Cournoyer said.

The results may surprise you, even when it flies in the face of convention. Cournoyer remembers one season when the tallest girl on his basketball team wanted to be a point guard, while a shorter girl wanted to play center. He agreed to the arrangement, and the entire team flourished.

To have influence, a coach must meet every player where they are. At the first practice, before ever picking up a ball, Cournoyer sits his team down and asks three critical questions: Who are you? Why are you here? What are your expectations? Once he determines that, he explains his own philosophy, which is “do your best, go out of your way to make those around you better, and have fun.”

“(I ask them) if that’s something we can agree on,” Cournoyer said. “If not, do they have a better idea? I make it very collaborative, but I’m steering them in a direction of unity.”

Once players see the coach as an authority figure they can trust, it becomes much easier to have conversations about playing time and positions. Instead of approaching the issue from a my-way-or-the-highway mentality, Cournoyer appeals to each player’s desire to be valued.

“I tell them the more positions you know, the more valuable you are,” he explained. “Why would you isolate yourself into an opportunity where you’re only the point guard? If you’re declaring to a coach that you’re only the point guard, you have just wiped out a huge aspect of his brain of possibilities where you can grow.”

Parents can be of great help to a coach in this area. Instead of creating your own expectations for your child, give him or her the opportunity to explore their own expectations of themselves. In most cases, Cournoyer has found parents do not have the same goals as their child or the coach. This is why a parent meeting is so crucial, as it puts everyone on the same page.

From GameChanger and Stephen Kerr

What about when a kid refuses to play? What should be done? Read and weigh in here.

coaching advice, Youth sports, coaching tips, Coaches and Parents, team communication