We have all ran into this scenario, it’s a few minutes before your game is supposed to start and you are counting the number of players the opposing team has, and they don’t have enough to fill a team. You are debating on how you should handle the situation. The other team could play down a player, but how would that improve your players? You could offer the other team a few of your players, but how will the parents react when their kid is playing on the other team? You could offer to play with the same amount of players on the field, but then you will be taking away time from players by adding an additional player to your bench. So, what is the best way to handle the situation? There are three factors that should be taken into consideration when deciding how to handle this type of situation; age, level, and type of competition.
The first thing you need to consider is the age of your players. If you are coaching a youth team you need to consider what your goals are for your players. The most important thing for youth players is to be having fun and to play. They do not care about winning (even though I’m sure a lot of parents do) and they just want to be running around with their friends. Communicate with the opposing coach and ask them if they would want you to loan one or two of your players so you can get the kids as much time as possible to play. If you are coaching a team where your child is on the team, send them first to show to the other parents that you aren’t showing favoritism. This will eliminate the typical parents question ”why was my child the one to be put on the other team?” If you want, at the end of your quarters or halves, switch it up and send over different players. Remember, you want the kids to have fun and you want them to be able to play as much as possible.
The next factor you should consider is the level of play in which you are coaching. As in the above scenario, if you are coaching a youth rec league, the kids just want to play and be with their friends. If you are coaching at a higher level such as travel, premier, or high school, playing a man up would probably be your best option. At this level, your players are beginning to compete for playing time and their competitive levels are at an all time high. You will have more of a problem from parents and players if you are loaning out some of your players. At this level, winning becomes more important, and therefore whatever fair competitive edge you can get you should take advantage.
The final factor to consider is the type of competition you are competing. If you are in a scrimmage where the outcome of the game won’t determine your position there is no doubt that you should loan a player to the opposing team. The more touches, the more experience your players can get, the better your players become. If you are coaching in a game where you already hold an advantage in the league that you can’t be caught, again, loan out one or two of your players. Not only will your players get more playing time, but this will give them an opportunity to maybe play against better competition. If you’re in a tournament you should take advantage of being a man-up. A non-competitive team would not be participating in a tournament, therefore it’s your right to play up a player. If the game gets out of hand dont’ run up the score but rather, communicate with the opposing coach and maybe suggest that you loan a player or two, in exchange they will forfeit the game. Remember, it’s about the players, not about you or the parents.
As a final note, as a coach it is your responsibility to make sure you are able to field a team. There is nothing worse than wasting everyone’s time who has traveled to the game to either watch or participate in the game. Make sure before the game (maybe at the practice before) you are in touch with your players their parents so you can confirm who will make it and who will not. If you are going to be short, talk with the opposing coach and see if you can reschedule the match. Your decision on how to handle the situation should be a factor of age, level, and the type of competition. The ultimate decision should be a reflection of what is best for your players given these three factors.