Why is unequal playing time the norm in youth sport?

I have written previously about my thoughts on playing time, click here to read them (scroll down to see them all).

When I tell coaches and parents that I believe all youth sports should have equal playing up until age 12, regardless of competitive level, it is not a popular idea. Especially when I say I really think the age should be 14! I thought  of a few more facets of this complex and contested idea in youth sports that are worth discussing.

As adults who play recreational, but competitive sports, equal playing time is almost always the norm. If playing time isn’t equal, problems, resentments, and hard feelings arise. For example, I play on a recreational women’s ice hockey team. We have 10 skaters, which means 2 lines. We all pay the same fee to play. Everyone plays equal ice¬† time. When one line takes a long shift and the other line gets shorted, people get upset because it is supposed to be equal. We don’t put special lines out on the power play or penaltly kill, whomever is up or feels like she has legs, they go. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, which we work with together. We try (and like to) to win, are competitive, and strive to win every game (which we don’t). We enjoy being active, doing something we love, battling to win, hanging with friends and enjoy camaraderie with other teams.

Do we think this is different for kids?

So why is it that as adults in our own sport endeavors we structure equal playing time, but when adults run and control youth sport recreational, competitive programs….we justify unequal playing time. (NOTE: recreational teams are just as competitive and want to win just as much as travel teams, the skill level is just different). As adults we don’t like sitting on the bench, we want to play, think unequal time is unfair, unjust and annoying, makes us feel poorly about ourselves, and is not fun or enjoyable.

Do we think this is different for kids? What is the rational for unequal playing time in youth sports before age 12? I’d like to hear it…seriously…I want to hear from you. I think this conversation is worth having.

I say equal playing time at ALL competitive levels because if you have a kid on a team where he/she doesn’t play much, if at all, then he/she shouldn’t be ON that team. Move that kid down a team so they DO play and have the opportunity to play, learn, and develop skills in competitive contexts. No kid should be on an elite travel team, pay high fees to play and then not play equally…that seems wrong. As adults we’d NEVER put up with that policy would we? (I understand parents and kids “choose” to be on that team, I also understand that some kids want to play with their friends even if it means not playing, but those are different blogs on the broken system of youth sports).

If equal playing time is what we prefer and what we like and enjoy as adults why should it be different for kids?