Setting the scene
Team selection can be extremely challenging! No matter who the coach chooses there's almost always someone who says they've got it wrong.
The following scenario highlights some of the issues and emotions that surround team selection. As you read through the material, think about what you'd do in each situation.
It is the last minor round game for the season for the under 12 netball team. If the team wins, they're in the finals. If they lose, they're out.
The coach has rotated the players evenly all season, however given the importance of this game she decides not to play Rayna, the weakest member of the team, but to use her as a reserve. She tells Rayna of her decision after training. Rayna is very upset, as is her mother, who phones the coach that evening to express her disappointment and question the coach about the reason for Rayna's exclusion.
Follow the discussion between the coach and Rayna's mother.
Scene 1: Exploring different opinions
The coach and Rayna's mother have a difference of opinion. Click through the conversation to better understand both the coach's and parent's perspectives.
Coach: "This is a very important game for us and the team has to win to make the finals. It would be silly not to play our strongest team."
Parent: "But this isn't the final, it's just another minor round game. You've rotated the girls all season, so why change the rules now?"
Coach: "The girls have worked so hard to get to where they are, they'd be devastated if they lost this game and missed out on the finals. I just don't think it would be fair on them."
Parent: "Well it wouldn't be fair on Rayna either if she missed her turn. She's devasted by your decision - it's discrimination! I thought junior sport was supposed to be about having fun and playing as a team!"
Coach: "The girls understand they're an important part of the team and it doesn't matter whether they're on the court or cheering from the sidelines."
Parent: "Well you've made Rayna feel like she's not an important part of the team at all!"
Scene 2: What action should the coach take?
Now that you're familiar with the positions expressed by the coach and Rayna's mother, what do you think the coach should do?
A) Keep Rayna as the reserve, after all the coach must think of the team's best interests, not just Rayna's.
It is not in the team's best interest to have a 'win at all costs' attitude. Sport at this level should be about learning, enjoyment and equal participation. We want young players to acquire a life-long love for physical activity and to develop social, physical and life-skills - this won't happen if the coach doesn't consider the well being of each child. Excluding someone from the team because they're not 'good enough' may result in them dropping out of all physical activity. And if the team does make the finals, what happens to Rayna? Is she on the bench again?
B) Give Rayna the full game as per rotation.
Good choice. The coach has had a rotation system in place all season and it's only right that it should remain for the last minor round game. Players and parents need to know that procedures will be followed and that all players are regarded as making a valuable contribution.
If players are to develp a true sense of self worth and belonging and a love for physical activity, then participation and positive experiences need to be equally distributed amongst the players.
C) Give all players half a game so everyone can experience the pressure of an important minor round match.
This could be a good choice, but it does deviate from the rotation. If the coach were to adopt this position she'd need to make sure that all players understood why she'd made the change and communicate this to the parents.
D) Give Rayna time on the court if the team is winning.
This strategy shows everyone that the coach believes winning is more important than team enjoyment, members doing their best or Rayna having her rightful turn.
In this situation Rayna may not end up playing at all. And if she is to play, how far ahead does the team need to be? How long should she play? Will she remain on the court if the other team make a comeback and look like equalling the score? Should she be taken off if her performance is mediocre?
These are all difficult questions a coach adopting this response would need to consider and may result in Rayna feeling worse about the situation than not playing at all, especially if the team were to lose and Rayna were to be 'blamed' for the loss.
Scene 3: The finals
The team has made it through to the finals with Rayna playing in the last round. The coach, team and the parents are pumped. The coach has some hard decisions to make, particularly as there are real skill differences between the players. But it's the first chance a junior team in this club has a chance of winning the competition.
What should the coach do?
A) Play the best team
Finals can be very emotional but if the coach plays the best team for the whole game she has lost sight of the importance of junior sport being fun - for all the players not just the best players. If it is a close game this may be difficult, especially if parents and even other children pressure the coach. But the coach sets the standard of behaviour and the culture of the team. She should have a strategy to involve all players and explain this to the players and their parents before the game. A negative experience during the finals may result in a child not wanting to play the following season.
B) Start with the best team.
It is not the best response but could be an acceptable strategy if:
- This has been the team selection policy from the beginning of the season and both parents and players have been informed about the policy.
- The team is in the upper age of the grades of junior competition.
- All players get a fair amount of time in the game.
If you start with the best team this should be explained to both the parents and children so that everyone is clear about expectations.
C) Keep playing on rotation and put on whose ever turn it is.
This would be a good response, particularly if the players were in younger age grades. It is important that coaches do not create a culture of 'playing for sheep stations' as junior sport is about creating a life-long love of physical activity.
However balancing competition and participation becomes more challenging in finals, particularly as teams move up through the junior age grades.
Scene 4: The coach and the administrator reflect on the issue
Coach: "I didn't think this would be such a huge and messy issue to deal with."
Administrator: "Yeah, I know. But look, at least it is over with. I think we just need to make sure it doesn't happen again."
What would be a better response from the administrator?
A) Leave the decision to the coach regarding selection issues.
This is not a good choice because the club should be providing guidance and support regarding participation and team selection.
Allowing coaches to make their own decisions can also result in very different outcomes, depending on the coach and his/her values. This is likely to lead to confusion, hostility and claims of discrimination and unfair practices.
Parents who coach their own children are in a particularly arkward situation and would benefit from having a policy to follow.
B) Use your experience from this season to deal with the situation if it happens again.
That's an understandable strategy, especially as club administrators are extremely busy and have enough to do running the club, getting enough players, coaches and so on. But what if the same coach is not there next season? What if there is a new coach and they have a win at all costs mentality? It is important that the club develops a junior sport policy (that emphasises a balance between participation and competition) as a guide for coaches and other personnel.
C) Develop a club policy on team selection before next season.
This is a good choice and a club's committee needs to provide leadership on this issue. However it will also be important to look at the grading of the junior teams. It might be necessary to regrade teams in the same age group so there's a better skill balance. Also developing a policy on junior team selection is only the first step. It is important that policies are distributed to all members, coaches and other personnel. A policy will assist and support coaches and provide information and clarity for parents and players.
Scene 5: Preparing for the next season
Team selection can be challenging. The selection of junior teams involves balancing individual participation with skill development and shift towards greater competition as children mature. Coaches and junior sport administrators both have a role in managing the selection process and should understand that:
- Junior sport should be fun, safe, enjoyable and inclusive and maximise individual participation.
- Children are less likely to enjoy sport if there is an overemphasis on winning, they don't get enough playing time or they don't play with their friends.
- Providing children with a broad range of experiences in different team positions adds variety, sustains interest and fosters skill development.
- Well graded competitions allow for better skill development and cater to children, particularly those in their teenage years, who seek competitiveness.
For more information about managing junior team selection click on your role below: