What’s the best time to sit a player? I recently read a story about a young girl in Nova Scotia who had played a normal shift on her hockey team all season long, until it came time for the league championship game.
In that game, her coach decided to start her and one of her teammates, give them each a 30-second shift, and then sit the pair for the entire rest of the game, which their team won.
So at the end, this poor 14-year-old girl and her friend walked away with championship medals they felt they didn’t earn and an empty feeling when they should have been on top of the world.
This story is a third-person account, so I can’t vouch 100 per cent for its accuracy – but that doesn’t even matter. Anyone who has even played, coached or watched their kids play any team sport has invariably been faced with this issue: when, if ever, is it right to bench a player for competitive reasons.
In this community, the two biggest sports organizations – NDG Hockey and the NDG Soccer Association – have generally similar approaches on this subject. Basically, at the recreational level, it’s that the last few minutes of a close game are the coaches’ prerogative, while in competitive play, it’s a little more of a grey zone.
“The goal of recreational minor hockey should be the development of all players regardless of ability. There is no reason that a player shouldn’t be getting equitable ice time regardless of his/her talent. NDG Hockey has always promoted this and put the emphasis on skill development for all players,” Bantam A Cougars coach, Glen Taylor, told me.
“I’ve been a coach with NDG for nine years and have always rolled my [lines] meaning the next player on the bench goes on the ice without exception. I have never skipped over a less talented player in favour of a more skilled player to improve my team’s chances on a power play, to kill a penalty or to win a game. I like to win just like the next guy but not to the detriment of my players. “
NDG Soccer President Eric Bonfanti agreed with Taylor for recreational play, but explained a different approach at the competitive level.
“For competitive U14 and older, I think you have to field the best team to win the game. As a coach, I lost games where I played weaker players during championship games in order for them to develop their skills and also their confidence. I think that the less a player is exposed to competition, the less he is likely to improve all around. These players would, however, not play the whole game,” Bonfanti said.
“For categories U13 and under, the focus should not be put only on winning, but on developing the players. Through the years I have been involved in soccer in NDG and on the South Shore, I have seen so many players lose interest in soccer because they lost their confidence as a result of not being on the pitch.”
For my part, as a sometimes hockey coach, I’ve always believed in rolling the lines until the last 2-3 minutes which “belong to the coach.” But even at that it’s not a matter playing your best kids only – coaches should be rewarding the hardest workers at that point. If that means putting the player out who is a little less skilled, but always gives 100 per cent, I would rather go with the hard worker.
Either way, sitting a child for 99 per cent of a championship game just to try and win is never the right choice. I hope the association the man in question coaches for demands he return his own medal and removes him from coaching altogether.
Remember, these are kids we’re dealing with – we’re supposed to be teaching them to be better people, not trying to win at all costs. That is simply the wrong message to send.
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