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How Much Game Time Does Your Youth Team Players Get?

It’s a cold winters morning & your squad of 16 players have been up from 8am getting ready.  They meet at 9am to travel 1 hour to the venue.  10.30am they’re doing the warm up for the 11am kick off.  So 3 hours have passed by & 11 players take to the field to kick off while 5 others watch on…

This is a common situation in youth football.  The scenario I have used above puts the manager against the ‘best’ side in the league.  So he picks his best 11 players to play the game which is 30 minutes each way.  His team come in at half time 2-0 down.  He looks to the bench & simply thinks he has his best 11 on the pitch & the other 5 won’t make a difference so doesn’t make any changes.  The 5 kids on the bench are freezing & disappointed, they have all went to training during the week & have been up from 8am…now at 11.40am they still haven’t got anywhere near getting on!  Mid way through the second half the manager finds his team 3-0 down so asks the 5 subs to get warmed up.

10 minutes to go & it is 4-0.  He replaces the 2 forwards with 2 subs thinking they can’t do any worse.  5 minutes left he replaces a winger like for like.  In the last minute he makes the other 2 changes so everyone gets a game.  The game finishes 4-0 & everyone is disappointed.  They do a cool down & get changed before making their way home.  They leave the ground at 12.30pm & return home at 1.30pm.  Jonny who has been up at 8am got back into his house just before 2pm…nearly 6 hours dedicated to the team that offered him 2 minutes on the pitch today.

Development

How do young players develop if they get less time on the pitch?  Surely the players who are behind their team mates should be the ones getting more game time?  As Academy Director at Irish Premier League side, Lisburn Distillery, all coaches had to report to me once a month.  Although I worked with the players & coaches on a weekly basis so communication levels were always good from the coaching team to parents & players.  They had to use an online system I had created to record all the details.

This included everything from appearances, minutes on pitch, goals, rating, information on performance, behaviour, training attendance & time keeping + presentation.  Our monthly meetings offered an opportunity to review all this.  I had to receive all team managers squad information on the Monday so it would be up to date & offer me time to review before the staff meeting on Thursday.  Below you will see examples of this information…

Always record everything & keep on top of it...

This is going back to our U10 squad in season 2007/2008.  At that time in Northern Ireland we had 7 aside or 11 aside on offer to play.  The level to which we played (Irish League Academy) we played our first season at 11 aside after playing a season at 7 aside.  Although what was nice was we could still play our boys in Mini Soccer.  You will see the players in the list with the symbol ‘M.S.’ indicated they continued at Mini Soccer & played briefly at 11 aside.  We discussed this with them & their parents.  The end result was another 4 months in Mini Soccer would develop them more & offer more game time than at 11 aside.  Likewise we also brought a younger player to play up a year to offer a taster for him.  By the end of the season 5 younger players would have played a year up to experience the step up from 7 to 11 aside.

The rest of the squad you can see averaged 640-780 minutes playing time from a maximum of 840 minutes at the time.  We played 30 minutes each way & had played 14 games at this stage.  One player I had put an * beside to indicate he had to play catch up as was on 565 minutes.  Although you should always monitor sickness, injuries, holidays, general attendance, suspensions (although hopefully not many at U10!) as well as this will have effect on playing time.

Idea

The first team manager, Paul Kirk (Pro Licence), said to me at the time, ‘Tim start with your less developed players so they gain more playing time then put on your more developed players on the second half.  What this offers is a challenge for them.  As rather than starting at 0-0 they may be introduced to a game 1-0 down.  This means they need to raise their game.’

This always stuck with me & I have always passed this onto my team of coaches.  You need to always set challenges for your players.  My younger age group found themselves winning 8-0, 12-0 & 18-0 every game so I moved them up an age group to get tighter games.  Done them no harm as after losing a few games they soon started winning against boys older than them.  Technically they were better players but short term they weren’t used to the physical side of the older boys.  They soon caught up!  This is why I like introducing boys playing a year up.  Youth football has got too structured.  When was the last time you played street football & asked the year of your opponents birth year?

Subs?

Insure they don’t stand about doing nothing.  You will see from a previous blog post ‘How Many Touches Do You Get‘ the importance of using a ball within your warm ups.  Why not play 3 v 2 on the side of the pitch or ask the other subs to join in & play 5 v 5?  Let kids just play.  While they are playing 3 v 2 or 5 v 5 they are receiving far more touches with the ball than what they would in the 11 v 11 game.  But the most important thing is that all 16 children play for the full hour + their warm up every week!

Your Thoughts from Twitter & Facebook…

‘This is a tricky one for sure Tim & will vary massively depending on levels & age.  At the Coerver Youth Diploma I spoke to one of Port Vale academy coaches.  He said from U12 up all of their training & playing time is orientated towards the top three players.  The club’s stand point is why should the best 3 players have their playing time reduced in the hope that others can catch up.  It creates an environment in training where the other 90% players work their chops off to get that playing time.

Of course at a more recreational say U10/11 level players need exposure to playing time in order to put into effect what they have trained to do.  At younger ages I always try even playing time.  But if we did that with our U14 national league team players who put the work rate in would dip as they think ‘why should i bother if so and so puts half the effort in and still plays?’ – therefore we say to the boys that playing time is related to their work rate /ethic in practice & when they play.  If they practice half assed their team mates see that if affects their playing time.  I always remember Mourinho talking & playing in a way that makes you untouchable & we twist that to relate to work rate & ask them to graft on the pitch in a way that makes them impossible to take off & easy to pick the next week.’

Gary Fowler, Northern Ireland National League

‘Rotate, rotate, rotate!  Some players (& parents) don’t like to but it has so many benefits; experiencing the responsibilities, pressures, skills required & emotions of playing in other positions is paramount to building a ‘football brain’ especially at an early age.  There’s so much to be gained from rotating players’

Pumpherston United FC

‘At our club we guarantee all players up to U15 will get at least half the playing time each month.  I have a decent spreadsheet to record it & helps coaches immensely so they can see who needs playing time.’

Darrach Teague, Cliftonville Academy FC

‘Imperative to insure parents have full understanding of aims.  Pressure to win at all costs often prohibits effective rotation.   Often the group is split between the parents of those more advanced & those who need the game time to advance.

One interesting observation of mine is that those ‘stronger’ players often ignore those playing to develop & try to do more on their own.  Results in loss of shape, poor team performance & a general step back in development of the group.’

Upton United FC

‘Parents all pay same fees.  I put attitude & attendance at training as to who starts, but fair game time for all.’

Aaron Graham, Coach

3 Responses to “How Much Game Time Does Your Youth Team Players Get?”

  1. Great read Tim with some very good points raised. Particularly like that you’ve highlighted how playing your ‘less developed’ players first before introducing the more developed players offers better all round growth as there’s more of a challenge for everyone.

    Keep up the great work and thanks for including our feedback too. All the best.

    Davie @Pumpherston_Utd

  2. Paul Randle says:

    comments read are very true, Pratice makes better no matter the level or the technical ability. players have to play as a team and be encoraged into team play. team drills and confidence building the 4 corners introduction fa standards of play are there to be used as a template as every team and indivaul is different thats what makes our game contriversal and exciting

  3. Alan Gould says:

    In Canada, playing time is a very hot topic and often equal playing time is the expectation. It should also be noted that players can be subbed on and off throughout the game so this objective is easier to attain.
    I am very supportive of this approach at the younger ages with a caveat of needing to work hard in practices and games.
    In saying that, I do feel the phrase should be changed from “equal” to “significant” so as to avoid parents doing the “Stopwatch test” and then complaining that their child got 2 minutes less than another- this has happened!
    In my mind “significant” can be explained as allowing:
    1. Players to apply in a game what has been practiced during the week.
    2. That they have enough time to influence the game (rather than getting their minutes when the result has been pretty much decided)
    3. Players to play enough minutes at important times to feel that they remain an important part of the group, and retain a high level of self confidence.

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