Ah yes, the age-old question of winning games against developing players.
Many coaches out there at all levels and all sports play to win every game. It’s pretty crazy to see guys coaching a baseball team of 10-year olds like it is the World Series every game, it happens all the time though.
While a case can be made for developing players at the youth levels should the same be said for Junior Varsity as well?
Playing Junior Varsity
You have presumably made it through all the youth sports levels and are now in high school, time to start winning games right? Maybe not.
Some people may find this hard to believe but no one cares if the JV team wins. A junior varsity team can go undefeated or totally winless and no one will even know or care aside from the players and parents. I mean, you never hear anyone say “what’s the record of your JV team” do you? No, because it doesn’t matter.
Since it does not matter coaches should be playing all the players a relatively equal amount of time to give all of the players a chance to play the game and get better.
Some coaches try too hard to win games at the expense of the development of the players.
Let me tell you about my experience.
My Junior Varsity Experience
Ok, this isn’t exactly my experience as a player but more as a parent with a daughter on the JV soccer team her freshman year.
The first game of the season everything went great. All the players played an equal amount of time and the team did well, they won the game 4-1.
For some reason, after that first game, everything changed, favorite players were playing the most and everyone else was playing less. They didn’t seem to be playing as well either but for basically the whole season the favorites played the most and the non-favorites played about 10 minutes a game.
There wasn’t a big discrepancy in skill level either, all but a couple of them were relatively close to the same skill level.
I just didn’t see the point of only playing some girls 10 minutes or less a game.
How are they supposed to get better when they are getting so little playing time? If anything the weaker players should play more to help them improve and catch up with the others.
I get that some of the better girls were likely being groomed for varsity but it should have easily been possible for all of the players to get more playing time while grooming the future stars of the varsity. After all, you do want a good varsity team around your stars, right?
I say play everyone a lot, let them all get experience and come back stronger next season rather than just having the favorites improve and the remaining players stay at about the same skill level due to lack of playing time.
Even on the varsity level, there should be some development of the younger players on varsity. That is unless your team is at a high level looking to win conferences and state tournaments and the like. In that case, play the best players and win as much as possible, go for that dream season if you can. But if you have a mediocre team you can work on some development as well while trying to win games.
Benefits of Developing Players Over Winning
Winning is nice but the benefits of developing players for the future when they are on varsity is more important.
Some benefits of include:
- Kids learn to play together with all the teammates, not just the starters who get all the playing time
- Future varsity teams will be stronger from top to bottom
- All players feel like they are equally part of the team rather than just practice dummies for the starters
- Players don’t fall behind other players
- Back up players are more capable to fill in for starters/star players if one gets injured
Negatives of Developing Players Over Winning
Developing players over winning isn’t all positive though, here are some negatives.
- Star players get less playing time, may not reach full potential
- More games will be lost, they shouldn’t care on JV but some players and parents will
As you can see, the positives clearly outweigh the negatives.
Can’t Lose Them All
While I don’t think winning at the JV level is important you can’t lose them all either.
My daughter was on a soccer travel team a few years back that didn’t win a game, not only that they didn’t even score a single goal. It sucked for the players, parents and coaches.
I don’t care how much you focus on development there has to be some winning, otherwise, it becomes a lot less fun for the kids and it will be tough to retain players. Not only that the players will lose confidence if they go out and lose almost every game.
On top of that, the kids want to win. Just making everything about development will get old fast without any wins.
Make sure at least win a handful of games to keep the players from losing interest. More is better but at least win a few.
Exception 1 – The Little Guy
There are a couple of exceptions to the play everyone rule, the first would be safety.
Let’s say you coach a football team and one of your players is 5’1″ and weighs about 85 lbs. Not only is he small but he gets clobbered every time he goes on the field.
This is a player who you will want to limit the playing time on. You aren’t doing him any favors by playing him and he could get hurt.
For his safety he should be limited.
Exception 2 – The Unskilled Player
For this example, you could be coaching basically any sport.
Assume there are no cuts and that anyone who tries out will make the team.
Now let’s assume that everyone on the team has decent skills except for this one player who way behind everyone else skill-wise.
In fact, this player is so far behind that it hurts the other players to have to play with this player, it drags the entire team down when this person is on the field.
Essentially this player really shouldn’t be there but their parents make them go or they don’t realize that they don’t belong. It happens all the time.
If that’s the case they should play less even on the JV level, you could have a talk with the parents but that doesn’t always work. Play them less and try to improve them through practice or a private coach.
I wrote this article kind of fast but hopefully I was able to make the point that while the kids may be in high school the wins really don’t matter at all on the JV level.
The varsity team will be better off from top to bottom in the future and the players will all feel like part of the team rather than just a practice dummy who occasionally plays.
The star players would suffer minimally but the whole team would benefit greatly.
Ryan is a former college wrestler and lifelong fitness fanatic. He has run half marathons, done mud runs, placed in body transformation contests, coached wrestling and now coaches girls soccer. Not to mention he has also tried literally hundreds of supplements over the years and has a vast and thorough supplement knowledge. He has written for Muscle & Strength, Testosterone Junkie, The Sport Review and other publications. He is also the editor in chief of this website. Feel free connect with him on his LinkedIn page below.