Dear Parents: Playing Time is Earned

I will forever remember it like it was yesterday… the only touchdown I ever scored in high school football.

It was late in the third quarter when we decided to run the option right. As I kept my spacing, my JV quarterback Mike made the perfect pitch right as a defender hit him.

With nobody in front of me, I was able to walk into the endzone scoring the first and only touchdown of my high school career.

So why do I tell you this story about all my high school glory on the gridiron? Because that pretty much sums it up.

For lack of better words, I didn't see the field. My playing time was… well let's just say little to none. And I will be the first to admit, I didn't deserve more playing time either.

Because at the end of the day, playing time is earned.

What does this article have to do with Personal Finance?

Money, Life, Wax – with an emphasis on the life part.

I specifically wrote this article because a verteran teacher and coach, one thing I see that trips up young adults is not always getting their way… and the repercusion that follows.

Learning how to deal with failures and setbacks is what makes us stronger, reslient, not afraid to take ricks, develope grit and so much more!

This article should take you 5-7 Minutes to read and it is meant for anyone looking to build their determination, or teach their children how to rise up without always getting what they want!

Playing time is earned, not given.

In 8th grade, my success on the football field was much different than the story I just told you.

In fact, I scored touchdowns all the time as the running back on a team that went 2-2 against the eventual county champions on our way to finishing 9-2.

However, that was when football was weighted. And as a 95-pound 8th grader, I was the oldest kid on the team. But that all changed when I got to high school.

Not only was I only 100 pounds when I entered high school, but I was also pretty slow. The unique ability to run over people as a running back quickly evaded me… as I seemed to be getting run over instead.

[Related: Dear Parents, Good Grades Don't Matter]

So during my freshman year, I rode the pine.

I don't even think the freshmen football coach knew my name (Mind you this was the same guy who had us all circle around him and face out so he could pee during half time of a game).

Either way, I learned a very valuable lesson that year. I was no longer the middle school all-star, and playing time – like anything in life – was earned.

  • Could I have blamed the coaches who “Didn't know what they were doing?” Sure.
  • Could my mom call the Athletic Director or coach and ask why I wasn't playing… Yes, but she didn't.
  • Was I better than some of the kids who played more? I thought so.

But would any of that behavior make me a better person TODAY? All of this leads to this present day question:

Should playing time be equal?

As a former high school coach and AAD, I can tell you one thing – playing time issues were typically the biggest headache in high school athletics.

I get it – most people see their child and think they're the next Peyton Manning, Mia Hamm, Michael Jordan or Cal Ripken. And perhaps they hit the genetic lottery and that is the case.

However, in most of my findings, what I saw was someone comparing their perspective and desires of their kid to truthfully a bias opinion. I'll never forget the emails that started with…

I normally don't do this BUT, when so and so was in 7th grade they were on the select all star team.”

Typically the email was laced with reasons why this parent thinks their child deserved to start and how previous coaches were “Telling us how good little Jim is.”

Nevermind the fact that in some cases they were paying high dollars for travel clubs or their child was playing against inferior competition. Those facts don't matter.

While playing time at the youth level should be equal and on the sub-varsity levels it's not a bad idea to get kids some playing time – here is the honest truth why I find value in writing this article:

Not everything goes your way in life, why not use sports to teach our kids that?

I am glad my mom didn't complain about my playing time on the 9th-grade football team. She wasn't happy about it and she certainly cared for my well being – but she also didn't micromanage every situation in my life.

When I got in trouble, she wasn't there to swoop in and tell everyone the teacher was wrong.

When I didn't get playing time, she wasn't there to swoop in and scorn the coach and throw in their face how I scored double-digit touchdowns in 8th grade.

When I got a bad grade, it wasn't the teacher's fault for “Giving me” that grade, it was my fault for not preparing or doing what it took.

All of which taught me to not have an “Entitlement Mentality,” something society seems to teach today: The me-first approach!

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Entitlement hurts progress.

At the end of this article I will share some ways to deal with playing time issues as a parent or eventual parent, but here is the true point of this article (It goes beyond playing time):

  1. As an adult, we don't always get what we want.
  2. In most cases, life throws endless challenges at us, when we usually least expect it.
  3. Determination and GRIT can be developed during these tough times.
  4. Mental toughness is more coveted today in society than ever before.

There has never been a time before where business leaders, teachers, parents, families, spouses, friends, kids – you name it – want mental toughness.

Business leaders want to hire those with some mental toughness. Everywhere we turn there is the talk of mental toughness, or the opposite… all the mental weakness.

All the desires and needs in life make us suffer (Thanks Buddha). To top it off, if we are handed things or given playing time (For things not earned) there is a unique phenomenon that can occur:


The issue with unearned playing time, participation trophies, and all the other common self-esteem boosters – is they actually hurt self-esteem, or they cause a sense of entitlement.

Instead of thinking about how to improve, how to get better, and how to seperate yourself, the thinking actually becomes:

I didn't have to work for playing time when I was younger, why should I have to work hard to get this promotion?

While this a certainly a loose point of view on my end, the point is to show that always giving into everything a child wants and micromanaging their success will only cause more issues when they're older.

Or worse… they'll just be another entitled person who thinks the world owes them something!

So if that is the case, is there a solution for playing time issues?

How to deal with playing time issues

I personally can't complain about issues (Parents who think everyone is owed playing time) without at least generating some solutions to the problem, which in this case would be playing time.

So here are solutions for parents to help deal with playing time struggles:

1. Talk to your child.

Before ever calling a coach or hitting send on one of your emails – first talk to your child.

Ask them the God honest truth question, “Are you working harder, showing a better attitude, and are you better than the starters?”

If the answer is no to any of those, then you probably now know why your child isn't a starter or seeing the field often. Keep in mind sometimes your point of view and your child's point of view is just that – yours and your child.

Whereas, a coach is typically looking a the WHOLE team, not just one kid.

Have a conversation with your child and be sure to keep it positive. See how you can help them improve and encourage them to talk to their coach!


I once read a story about a child who didn't medal at a gymnastics event. On the car ride home her father had a conversation with her and she communicated her disappointment to him.

Her father quickly helped her recongize a few things:

1. She had been a gymnast for a few weeks.

2. Some of the other girls had worked harder and longer than her.

3. If she was serious about being a fantastic gymnast, she was going to need to work had and put in more effort.

** This is the mindset all young adults need to be succesful in life **

2. Avoid getting involved

Fight every single last urge to get involved, even as hard as it might seem.

  • Will there be times you have a valid argument against a coach? Yes.
  • Do coaches play favorites? Some might.
  • Can your child get better and should the play more? Yes!

That being said, though it might seem valid, don't get involved. I repeat, don't get involved.

Have your child talk to the coach and ask for an improvement plan to earn more time. Teach your child to solve these problems on their own!

This is a much-needed adult skill – figuring out problems and communicating needs or issues!

3. Build your child up

Regardless of what happens, use those tough conversations and playing time issues as an opportunity to build your child up.

Let them know that it's just a bump in the road and the key to life is always figuring out how to get around challenges. Tell them that no matter what you're always proud of them and be specific!

We are proud because of you:

  1. Didn't quit
  2. You keep working
  3. You exhibit a positive attitude
  4. You're persevering
  5. You're a team player
  6. You're getting out of your comfort zone
  7. You're failing forward!

4. Ask the effort question.

My little brother is good at basketball. As a senior, he could dunk and he can shoot it. But he was cut as a freshman and junior, and truthfully, it's probably because of his effort.

He never went to any of the offseason weight liftings, trainings, conditioning sessions or camps. SO while he was good, he wasn't great – or great enough to miss out on all the offseason stuff.

Some of my family was upset, but as an Assitant Athletic Director, I knew what it took to make the team… and his effort just wasn't there.

So in addition to taking bias out of the scenario, knowing your child's effort towards other things, you have to be honest with their effort and whether it's worthy of more playing time.

[Side Note: My Brother is Now a Succesful Entrepreneur 🙂]

5. Schedule a meeting, just keep it positive!

If it comes down to it, if talking about it doesn't work and your child has a REAL case for more playing time, reach out to the coach first to see about having a meeting or conversation.

Points to consider at the meeting:

  • Keep it positive
  • Have valid talking points and evidence to support meeting
  • Don't bring up “All-Star Games” or rec league competition stats
  • Ask them the, “How can they EARN more playing time” question!


Whatever you do, don't go above the coach or athletic director and go straight to the principal. Just like the chain of command for all other issues in life, there is one in athletics too!

When parents go right to the top over issues like playing time, typically it doesn't fare well for their child or themselves – they make a small issue a much bigger issue (I have heard of coaches who cut kids that are on the fringe of making a team in the first place because of their parents).

Final Word

My final word on playing time is simple:

Playing time is earned.

Anything worth having in life is always earned. It's why you see lottery winners go broke and busted after winning – they didn't earn it.

Playing time isn't any different. Arguing about playing time is truly a short term thought process. The life lessons sports teach will reach further and further if kids and young adults learn them.

However, if they never learn to cope, adapt, lose the excuses, make things happen, and grind it out… well, they might miss the opportunity to do more later in life!

So next time you got the email ready or the phone number qued up… instead of hitting send, take a step back and approach the playing time situation with the advice from above!