Do You Pick a Youth Team to Win or Develop?

Last year I wrote a blog on 'How Much Game Time Does Your Youth Team Players Get?' & some may have argued it is easy for me to write that but do I carry it through with my own team? Why should you look to share game time? Below is some of my findings from last year & how it compares to what I've done with my own U12 team this season.

The Scenario...

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.

How many minutes each of our players have played to date…

How many minutes each of our players have played to date…

This is common in youth football. So many parents have said to me over the years that their child doesn't receive equal game time while signed up at other clubs. This season was the first time in 5 years that I ran my own team. I wanted to insure ALL of my players received similar game time. I have scanned my record time for my team for you to see. You'll notice against some players there is a second time in brackets. This is to allow for weekends away, suspensions, injuries or rarely a player arriving late. This helps keep a balance.

I purposely keep my squad to 14 players so that I only have 3 subs. I always try to make 3 subs at half time so everyone receives at least half a game. We have noticed a real difference as some players in the summer were behind others in terms of development. With insuring they play similar game time as the rest, in some cases more time, we have noticed a real improvement.

The project is only 6 months in but as we review at the end of the year the game time is pretty much the same. Obviously we only have one goalkeeper hence he is at the top of the list (Dale) while we don't have many centre backs so they also are a little ahead of the rest of the pack.

As a coach or manager do you review game time? Do you try to be fair to aid development for all players? I also want to insure that players don't get complacent either. We ask the subs can they be impact players? Basically they only have half the time to make a difference so can they become an impact player! At the same time we now will balance out the second half of the season. If we feel any player is getting too complacent in terms of thinking they will get a full game so not work as hard they will be subbed. We now ask the question to players, 'play so we can't sub you'. It's not to add pressure it is simply to get them thinking more about their game.

We realise that at a young age players will never have consistency in their games but we always expect the basics of time keeping, appearance, attitude, work rate & always wanting the ball. We offer a positive environment that allows them a platform to perform.

Let us have your feedback to this article regardless if you are a coach, parent or player. My next blog will be based around what the subs can do while waiting to get involved. Below is our end of year video review. Some funnies, tricks, great football & goals after kicking off this project in June. Enjoy!

9 Responses to “Do You Pick a Youth Team to Win or Develop?”

  1. Tony says:

    Hi Tim,

    An interesting read and a one that is close to my heart.

    I run a mixed abilities U13 team. I’ve 18 on the squad (maximum size – didn’t want to turn anyone away from football) and have set out a ‘fair playing time’ policy which has been communicated to players and parents at the start of the season.

    What this means in practice is that all players get at least half a game every week and players who are on the bench one week will not start on the bench the next week. The idea is to share the playing time around and give everyone a meaningful amount of playing time in order to help with development. There is a caveat in that certain key players in key positions will get more time – as you say, goal keepers and centre backs tend to get more time.

    Its hard work, but manageable. Everything is documented and while there is a spread in terms of playing time, there is a concious effort not to allow the differences to get too great. At the present time, the player with the lowest average playing time is at 40 minutes (game length is 70 minutes).

    The aim is for all of the kids to develop, so that we’ve got strength in depth and that I don’t look at the bench and see four or five freezing kids who I feel I can’t put on, because they’ve already fallen behind in their development.

    Despite all of this and despite that we have won 7 out of 10, I still get complaints from parents about playing time. This, believe it or not, doesn’t come from those who’s kids are getting below average playing time – but rather from those who are north of the average playing time line. Which just goes to show, you can’t please all of the people all of the time!

    Going back to your original question – you pick a youth team to develop, so that all of the players can develop to their true potential. The winning that their parents desire so much will come in the long term as a result of this.

    Sorry its a long one – like I said, close to my heart.



  2. Kenny Fotheringham says:

    Our U13s local league play 3 20min periods. I to only take 14 and try and give each player at least 20mins, although sometimes my weakest player may only get 15mins.

    What I find difficult is that I have 26-28 at training and outside first 11 the squad is relatively weak. So I try and rotate different subs every week. Not easy trying to keep all kids and parents happy especially when better players know when a weaker player is in the team.

  3. kevin says:

    Great article,I manage a U 10 team and I keep a log of time played as well.I have 3 players who never played before ,its important for them for confidence ,development etc to get same game time as every one else,you wouldn’t always have your better players.A lot of managers only worry about todays result not the long term goal .

  4. Paul says:

    Hi Tim, great article. Last season we played u10 7v7 and
    I had 3 subs. We made two subs on 10 mins, two at half time
    And 2 at 30mins. All players got 20/25 of a 30min game.
    Ability didn’t come in to it but it did hamper results at times.
    We are now at 9v9 with two subs and continue with fair playing
    Times. Only difference is that the back three generally play more minutes. Players happy with this. I’ve noticed a few things:
    Players don’t mind starting as subs as they know once they come on they stay on.
    Players don’t moan about coming off as they know they have played their part if the game.
    Ability gap is closing.
    As the boys get older I know that I will need to bring in certain caviars into play to ensure they don’t become complacent but for the last two seasons this approach has worked well. Whilst we’ve not won leagues etc we haven’t lost any players with 8 out of the 11 having been with me since 5.
    It’s not an easy approach but it’s very rewarding when things go well. Shame that more aren’t brave enough to give it a go.

  5. Jason Cooke says:

    I coach U10B’s & U6’s. I was called a fool for recording match time for the U10’s and then told we must play to win rather than to develop!
    When I had 2 teams and played one per half I was told to favour the better players at the expense of the weaker.
    Next season they want an U10 C’s to allow the B’s not to be bogged down.
    7,8 & 9 year olds!
    Great article and keep up the good work.

    I need a new club.

  6. hen says:

    I have raised issues about with our manager about game time, rotating subs so players can develop. I see the same children subbed every week, the same group of boys playing full matches each week. My point was that when there are easier matches that we are winning give those players who are always subbed longer time n the pitch. This has results in the managers wife having a problem with me and my son being treated unfairly as since I raised points he got less and less time on the pitch and the manager has been offish with him, rough tackles, dirty looks and generally not being as talkative to him as the rest of the team. We have an u13 team that has just played a decider match for 2bd place to go up to division 1. My son sat in the dugout with another boy for the whole match whilst the 11 others played the whole match, extra time and penalties. My son wasn’t even acknowledged by the manager, he never said one word to him and he and his wife gave my son stern looks. I have taken this to the club officials but they have said that its a mixed ability team and going up to division 1 they want to recruit strong players to move upwards. My son has been there for 3 seasons and has been fine for the first two. This year when I mentioned about being fair for all the subs, as we had 18 players at one point, my son’s time playing football has got worse and worse and has affected his confidence.
    I wish all coaches had the same attitude with fairness and development of all players.

  7. Coach Tim says:

    It is a real pet hate of mine to see kids sitting on the touch line. Our year groups we try to have no more than 7 turn up for 5 aside (any extra players play internal small sided games), 10 @ 7 aside, 12 @ 9 aside & 14 @ 11 aside.

    I also feel managers / coaches need to be honest. After season one we had 2 players in one age group that we knew would not get as much football during season 2 with the squad we had. We were honest to the players & parents. Awful conversation to have but better than the players to become disillusioned during the season. We offered the boys to continue training with us but to play for another local side to maximise game time as that is what they required.

    One of the players returned this season & played the full season. He was just presented with the Players’ Player of the Season as well! He has went to another level!

  8. Gloria says:

    Inspirational article. My son attends every training session at Evesham United U12 but plays only about 10% of matches. There needs to be more of a “Team” approach and less of a winning mentality in youth football.

  9. Coach Tim says:

    Hi Gloria, thanks for your comment. Your son might enjoy my 1-on-1 Coaching book @

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