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A Coach's Perspective on Playing Time

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Think about this "basketball math" for a second. In a regulation high school basketball game there are 160 minutes of available playing time. (If 5 players played all 32 minutes each the result would be 5 x 32 = 160)

Most teams have 12 players and so if playing time was distributed equally (160 divided by 12) each player would get 13 minutes and 20 seconds of playing time. Of course, we all know that is not going to happen very often.

Usually at least three of these players are going to play at least three quarters of the game or 24 minutes. If that happens there will be 33 less minutes for everyone else on the roster to share. This means that each of the remaining nine players will be limited to approximately nine minutes of playing time.

However, a more common scenario on most teams would be to limit the bottom three guys to two minutes each, while players 4 thru 9 play 13 minutes each and players 1-3 are on the court for 24 minutes each. Obviously in really close or "big" games it is highly possible that a couple players might play nearly the entire game which would eat up even more of the 160 available minutes.

So what's the point of all this math and all these numbers? Well simply put, very few players get as much playing time as they would like, even if they are starters.

Some players handle this fact in a very mature, almost professional manner. They stay motivated to keep improving their individual skills and work hard every day in practice.

No matter what their coach asks them to do, these players are always looking for ways to help make their teammates better and the team more successful. Even though they want to play more, regardless of how much or how little they are currently playing, they have a "team first" attitude and are genuinely happy when a teammate plays well.

On the other hand there are other players who don't handle their playing time allotment very well. Their attitudes and demeanor are openly negative and critical about everything. They almost always blame their coach and hardly ever take any personal responsibility. (EVERY player and their parents should watch the animated short called "My Coach Sucks".

They routinely point out every mistake made by their teammates and are genuinely happy when some of them don't play well or get in foul trouble. These players would much rather play than win and that type of attitude hurts everyone in the program.

Players like this have cancerous attitudes and often destroy team chemistry. Team work frequently disappears when they step on to the court since they are usually concerned only with "getting theirs." Instead of battling the players on the other team, teammates like this often battle each other.

All players must understand that coaches want to win and are going to usually play those players who give the team the best chance to be successful. If you want to play more then find ways to help your team win more games!

It must also be understood that there are only so many minutes to go around and that everyone wants those minutes. (I know one coach who routinely tells a complaining player to "Talk to your teammates and see which one is willing to give their minutes to you." No one ever comes back with a name.)

So what should a player do if he or she wants to play more? These suggestions might help:

  • Sincerely ask your coach for suggestions. Don't be defensive and let him do all the talking. You can't learn anything if you are talking.
  • Do whatever he says to do and accept whatever role he has in mind for you.
  • Treat every practice like it's a playoff game and go as hard as you can.
  • Let him see you putting in as much extra work as possible. Let him know that you don't want to be "given" more playing time but you are willing to "earn" more playing time.
  • Be positive, encouraging, and respectful towards your teammates and coaches.
  • When you do get more playing time, DO SOMETHING productive! If you are just going to run up and down the court then join the cross country team. Realize there is a huge difference between being on the court and actually playing.

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