Is winning a game of football more important than a child's happiness?

"...I approached his coach and asked the score. He told me that "we are winning 9-0". "Any chance of the lad on the bench getting a run out?" I asked. "No chance, we need all the goals we can get and he is absolutely useless," he responded…”  

    I was told about this encounter with a youth coach from someone recently and it made me almost throw up in my own mouth. This clearly struck a chord with the person who was telling me about it and I have been asked about this type of situation several times. I was one of those coaches who would have made a similar comment as the one above, at one point in my coaching career. Do I regret having been in that situation and having been that type of coach? For the sake of the kids = Yes…for what I have learned from being an immature, irresponsible and philosophically lost coach and how that forced me to grow in a positive direction = No. Yet, the issue of playing time is one that affects the game at almost every-level and I personally, know how important this issue is. I also know how important it is for coaches to figure out a way to resolve it and how to best manage their players' playing time.
  Coaches born between 1945 and 1965 (i.e., Baby Boomers) should remember what it was like being on any type of sports team. I was not born until 1973, but even I experienced it. Experienced the mentality and athletic culture that no one was guaranteed anything and if you wanted to play, you had to earn it. Even in some of the youngest aged leagues in the sports of baseball, basketball and football it was an unwritten rule. Kids sat the bench. I sat the bench. Whether I liked it or not, it was just the way it was and it was accepted as such. Parents never stuck there nose in the soup and sneezed. That was unheard of!
  Like many youth soccer coaches, I've sometimes had difficulty making the "right" substitutions during matches.
  The number of players that you have to manage as a coach at any given time is extraordinary. Most coaches at the youth level don’t have any help in the form of assistants, etc.…, Even at the college-level, a coach will sometimes find themselves in that same situation. Now, with the total number of players in the United States (and all over the world; the US is not an exclusive member of this club) increasing, the coach to player ratio is bound to extend even more. One thing I have learned since being in Australia is how cognizant clubs and teams are about the ‘coach to player ratio.’ The simple rule of thumb that most is: there should be a qualified coach for every set numbers of players. The number of players that would require a qualified coach is equivalent with their age. For example; a roster of 22 eleven-year olds, would need two qualified coaches. 22 divided by the 2 coaches equals 11, which happens to be their age. This has proven to show expedient results in both the growth and development of young players here.
   Elsewhere should be no exception. Managing players and in particular; substitutes, strikes a chord with almost every coach and there have been many coaches whom I have spoken with that enforce that fact. They will tell me how important this issue is, without hesitation. They will complain, inquire and vent their frustrations, but only a select few will ever ask the right questions: how can we best resolve the issue of playing time and how can we best manage our players and their playing time?

Managing substitutes; the thorn in a coach’s side

In 2011, the Soccer Association for Youth (SAY) reported that 9,644 players had self-selected out of the game of soccer due to a lack of playing-time. This number is drastically up from the 3,666 players who just a year earlier in 2010, cited playing-time issues as their reason for stepping away from the game. In fact, the number of youth players making the decision to not play anymore because they are not getting a quality amount of playing-time almost tripled in the span of one year. The reason I use the numbers from SAY is two-fold. First, because SAY is primarily a recreational soccer organization and a majority of their participants are playing in recreational level leagues where playing time should not only be expected, but mandated. Secondly, SAY does not even register 1/4 as many players as the United States Youth Soccer Association (USYSA), and thus, the number of players who have left the game due to this issue can be seen as much more profound.
  How to use substitutes during matches seems to be a difficult problem for many youth soccer coaches.
  As I have mentioned earlier, the sheer numbers of players an individual coach is called on to manage in the youth system is unbelievable. Add onto that the plethora of other things a football coach has to consider and is it really any wonder these issues exist and thrive?
Let’s take a look at some of the numerous issues that coaches of all levels may have on their plate.

Playing Time

Should you implement an equal playing time policy (for the younger ages), even if it means losing games that you could have won if you had kept your best players on the pitch? First of all, if you selected the team and cut players at try-outs, then you made the decision that all of the players you kept can play at the level you’re at, so there should not be that much of a drop-off when you substitute anyways. You made your bed as a coach when you chose the team, so now you have to sleep in it! Secondly, the moment you start to put results ahead of development, then you should not be coaching anyways and this dilemma becomes a moot point. Play the kids…let them all play, even if you lose. They won’t get better if you don’t play them and on-top of that, they won’t enjoy themselves and will give the game up all together; which is something no one wants.
Along with this issue, most coaches have to decide whether they start with their best players or some of their weaker ones? How do you handle your star striker who did not have a good reason for not turning up for training last week? Should you leave her out of the team for the next match?
Then, once you decide how you are going to handle that situation, you have the issue of how are you going to keep track of the amount of time your players spend on the pitch? Not only can that be some beneficial information for you as a coach, but it can also be a highly-powered sniper rifle for those parents who shall not be named.
Another issue you’ll have to face is when you should sub. Should you make your substitutions every few minutes, the middle of the half or at half time? This is a decision that affects every coach at all levels, even when the substitution rules vary from league to league and level to level…and…what about lil’ Johnny; you know him – he’s the player who stands off to the side with his head down kicking the grass. Well, what do you do with him? First off, I have to ask: did you select him during try-outs? If so, then the answer is simple – he needs to play! Otherwise, what are you to do? Do you take the risk that comes with getting lil’ Johnny on the pitch even though everyone in the State knows that he has "two left feet?” If you do play him and he does not play well (which you expect), will it destroy his confidence?

Uuuuuuhhhhhmmmm…if this is really your primary concern and the legitimate reason about NOT playing lil’ Johnny, then you are the most sincere, caring and genuine coach ever in history– in any sport – CONGRATS!
However, you and I both know that is not the case, so let’s get right down to what is: you’re looking for any excuse to not play lil’Johnny because the odds are he will be a liability on the pitch as opposed to an asset…and…you want to win. I know you do! Little Johnny knows you do! Your entire team knows you do! Their parents and other fans know you do! The officials know you do, so don’t go ducking and hiding behind lil’ Johnny’s inadequacies. Step-up, be a mature adult, accept both his weaknesses and his strengths, BE A COACH and develop!

Nationwide, two-thirds of the registered soccer players in the United States have complained about playing-time at one point or another and 73 percent of those players have parents whom have complained about the same thing. This is one reason why soccer clubs, organizations and administrations all-over have targeted this group so heavily in recent years.

One thing I discovered that has made things so much easier for me in so many different ways when it comes to dealing with reserves is just simply writing down a substitution “template” in advance. This ‘template’ has made managing my players on match days so much easier at almost every-level I have coached at; high-level club, high-level high-school and even college.

One thing I like about this is that it allows me something to resort back to in order to collect my thoughts. There is so much going on during a match that it's easy for me to make embarrassing mistakes such as the wrong tactical substitution or trying to re-enter a player who has already entered the match (which I have done accidentally on more than one occasion). Having a written plan, whether I follow it or not, at the least affords me some place to turn that has some sort of cognitive cohesion to it, especially when things become hectic.

Having a written Player Management Plan also comes in handy when a child tugs on your sleeve and asks, "Where will I be playing when I go on?" This question even gets asked at the elite club and collegiate level more than we think it does. Having your ideas on paper that you can refer to easily also allows you to concentrate on the game instead of thinking about whose turn is it to go on or come off; about the psychology effect on a player about whether they get a run or not and all of that other garbage that can pollute a coach’s mind before, during and after a match.
In addition, and what may be the most important benefit of writing down a Player Management Plan (especially with the helicopter parents of today), you'll have a record of who played, how long they played and what position(s) they played for every match over the course of the season. It’s an understatement to say that would be very useful information to have if (rather; when?) you're confronted by a parent who thinks their son or daughter is not getting enough playing time.

Make Them Earn It

Lack of playing-time is a silent killer. Unlike other forms of negative experiences including unfriendly teammates or a coach that yells, a player who is not playing may carry their feelings for long periods of time, even if they are unable to process the feelings. The longer this goes unregulated, the more passive a player will become and many times the negative symptoms caused from their lack of playing-time may not manifest until years down the road.

I have mentioned this before, but I will say it again for emphasis; if you don't think a kid will get significant playing time, don't accept him/her on your team. I can't stress this enough. It is better to have a roster of 15 kids you will play rather than roster 17 kids, when two of them will spend most of their time having to stand and watch.

As for those of you who would like to apportion actual playing time, one of the more successful ways I have both done and seen this done is to guarantee every player will see at least 10 minutes less than half of the match on the pitch.

In this situation, you have a tremendous amount of lee-way and you can also dangle a carrot in front of them. For example; I would reward players for showing up for training, exhibiting good work ethic and having a positive attitude, by bumping them up to play at least half the match.

By going this route you can establish a “rewards”type of incentive to encourage players to attend training and thus improve. Players can earn even more playing time through improved ability and showing that they are developing. This would allow for the possibility of a weaker player who is working hard and learning new skills to get as much playing time as the strongest player. This process helps potential late bloomers flower-out earlier and it also helps keeps everyone motivated.
However, I don’t believe sports should ever serve as a “charity” case. With this in mind; all bets are off pertaining to playing-time if a player is injured, ill or if he/she has exhibited bad sportsmanship. There would be no minimum amount of playing time at that point. However, it's critical to always explain to the player and their parents why you've reduced their playing time.

Playing time, or the lack thereof, circulates in the blood stream of a team infecting every player on the team, regardless of how much playing-time they respectively get. Inside the minds of these young players (and when I say “young,” we can include anyone up to the age of 18 in that category), the social and self-effical ramifications of playing time causes damage to the team concept leading to two of the most feared complications of youth coaching: ‘clicks’ being formed among players on the team, and a phenomenon known as a “Black Hole.” A ‘Black Hole’ is the sub-conscious, or sometimes in severe cases; the conscious, mindset of players thinking that if they play a ball to a certain teammate then it won’t come-back out because that teammate does not have the ability to deal with the ball. I would argue that this is one of the leading causes of cancerous issues within a team.

About two out of every ten players with untreated playing-time issues will eventually quit the game all together. The risk is highest in players who are under a coach that either does not know or does not care about the effects that playing time has on their players.

Do Your Strongest Players Have to Start?

Many coaches find themselves in sticky situations because they have difficulty determining who should start, where they should play and then who should sub in for whom and when. Many coaches start with what they consider to be their strongest line-up with their weakest players starting on the bench, but then they get caught wondering where to best insert the substitutes without hurting the team.

What if you created a roster with a range of skills right from the start? Then you could trade players with like-for-like skills so you minimize any possible weaknesses on the field when a substitution is made. This would also allow you to put a weak player in a position where they can receive quality playing time and also be a productive part of the team.

There are many ways coaches can organize their players to assist with player management during a contest. Any coach, regardless of what level they coach at, will at some point in their coaching career have to institute some type of player management plan for matches. Unfortunately, many new coaches are not ready for this when it occurs and if not prepared, can find themselves managing the sidelines more than the game.

Managing Your Players is Not Rocket Science!

Regardless of what angles I approach in this blog or what others may believe, personally I don't think managing substitutes is really that difficult at all. When you look at matches as a means of Developing Players, the only way a player can develop is by playing. It does not matter what level your team plays at, and more specifically, I believe that until a player reaches high-school age, they should be offered equal playing time; and not just because it is the "right thing to do".
First and foremost, as youth football coaches, we are in the business of Developing Players, not winning matches. Players do not develop by sitting on the bench or only playing five minutes each half. This type of playing experience destroys a player’s confidence. It is obviously not any fun for them and if they are not having fun they will soon lose the desire to play.

Secondly, unless you are involved in those rare, far and few between clubs where player fees are not extravagant, then each and every player on your team pays the same fees as anyone else on the squad. So, if we can’t get around the detrimental issue of the high cost of playing this game, then we’ll spin it around and use it to our advantage here. As a coach, when you don’t play a player or really minimize a player’s playing time, you are doing them and the person paying their fees a huge disservice by having the player "ride the pine."
Additionally, what will you do if you happen to find yourself in an elimination match (i.e., a semi-final or a final) and one of the players whom you have played every minute of every match over the course of the entire season gets hurt or sick? What is your contingency plan? Well, unless you plan ahead, you will have to play the player who has sat the bench for most of the year and undoubtedly their confidence will be so low that they very possibly could make a huge mistake that could lead the team to a loss…and...guess what; IT WILL BE YOUR FAULT!
I’m going to be very direct and blunt here and not pull any punches: ANY Coach who only plays the "star players" on their team is a “WIMP!” Not only are they afraid to lose, they are also succumbing to the desires of the parents to win games and not doing, as a coach, what they know in their heart is right: To develop every player to the best of their ability!
My experience has led me to believe that until a player reaches the age of 12 or 13, they should play every position, including goalkeeper. This helps every player on the team to better understand the roles of their teammates, which will also help them to develop into a more complete, all-around player.

Bob Speroni has said that only 55 percent of athletes who experience restricted playing-time before the age of 14 do not continue to play the sport and self-select out before their 18th birthday.

Make Your Coaching Life Easier By Having Your Team Play at the Correct Level

Over the years my coaching philosophy has changed so many times that the coaching version of me from only three years ago would not recognize it. Yet, one aspect of my coaching philosophy that has remained solid and steady over the years, is that "we win together as a team and we lose together as a team."
Even when I have coached at the most competitive levels, including elite-levels of club, as well as the collegiate-level, I always try to give playing time to everyone, but, sometimes at the higher-levels, this is just not a possibility. Yet, when coaching at the youth level, I will frequently sit my “stars” and let the others carry the day.

I have learned through tinkering around with this process that if I handle it properly throughout the season, by the time I get to elimination matches that count, my “stars” would be due some playing time and it usually (not always, but almost always) all works out.
One of the essential elements in being able to properly balance playing time this way, is competing in a ladder with opponents of a similar level. I have learned the hard way that this system is very hard to pull off effectively if my team is getting pounded on every outing, as all kids like winning.

Let’s not forget that even lesser skilled players can enjoy the thrill of victory, even when it means their better skilled teammates (i.e., ‘stars’) pulled it out for them.

However, when leaning on stars becomes a coaching habit, almost always team chemistrywill fall apart. Therefore coaches have to recognize that there are more important things than winning and if they lose once in a while at the expense of giving their players a fair share of playing time, then so be it.

Speronicontinues to spend time investigating other causes of youth athlete self-selection, as it by far not a phenomenon restricted to football (soccer). For example, Speroni states that 45 percent of youth baseball players self-select before they are old enough to drive.

Who You’re Playing NEEDS To Be Taken Into Consideration

Once I had the reigns of a boy’s U-12 squad and this whole playing time issue was first and foremost in my mind. Tocompound the issue, the club decided to roster a squad of 17 players, even though the team would only be playing seven-a-side. So, how was I going to solve this conundrum?

Side Note: I have an issue with having 17 players on a roster of a team that plays 7-a-side. I will address my concerns about that very soon.
Here’s what I did: I took 10 players only to matches. The other seven players would be taken to the next match and I just kept a record of who plays when and for how long. It was really nothing more than a simple rotating cycle.

On match day, all players picked for that match WOULDplay at the least; half the game. However, I was always careful to only have ONE of my three key players off at any one time.

If we are playing a “tougher” opponent, the top players on the team would make-up the majority of the group of 10 that would play in that match. If our opponent was a weaker side, my less experienced players would comprise most of the group of 10 and sometimes they would even start and the three "better" players would come off the bench.

I found that by selecting my group of 10 for each match and keeping the opposition in mind when doing so, allowed the parents to give me the days their son would be unavailable, even a month in advance. This information was vital for me to get all of the players on the squad quality match time and allow all of them to feel as they are a part of the team.

It did not take me too long to learn that with careful planning and preparing several matches in advance I could field a well-balanced side for every match and still be able to keep all of my players involved.

I must admit that not all of the parents were happy and we did not win every match…but neither does Barcelona!

Dealing with soccer parents can be as uncomfortable as shingles and as terminal to a coaches career as liver cancer, and what happens way too often are these parents don’t even know they are transmitting a virus to others, especially when their child moves form one club or team to another. Current treatments for these types of parents would require a coach to accept a minimum sentence of 6-12 months. So, coaches whom are under this type of parental treatment must abstain from alcohol and other substances that might alleviate the headaches in the immediate, but remember the parents will still be there at the next match.

Do You Really Need THAT Many Players?

One thing I have wondered about and have never really gotten an adequate answer to is if U10 boys, for example, play 6 vs. 6, then why do so many of these teams have twelve players on the roster?
I have never coached this young of an age, but when I think about it, I might find myself in the perverse situation of hoping that at least three of my players didn't show up at any given game as most kids at this age will want to play the whole game.

At that age my primary goal would be 100% focused on development and not winning, however, I also would not want any of my players to feel demoralized, so there would probably be certain players I wouldn't put in goal or on defense as often.

However, what would I do when all 12 show-up and are available to play? Could I substitute them two at a time? How could I manage so many players and still give them all experience playing with each other?

Hopefully, the players would develop enough over the course of the season where I could trust them in certain positions, when maybe I could not do so earlier on.

One thing I believe I would try to do is to manage my substitutions well enough so that the game is close and my players must fight hard just to draw.

It still just boggles my mind why teams would ever roster that many players at that age-group? If there were fewer players on the team, then they each could get more playing time. Isn't that pretty simple?

Prevention of this type of situation is important because there is very little that can be done to any damage inflicted upon a young player’s sport psyche, after the fact. Coaches and those in positions to make decisions should use universal precautions when handling team selection, numbers of players, etc… - especially at the younger ages.

Why Would You Put Weaker Players in Difficult Positions?

At one of the clubs I used to coach at, the Girls Director of Coaching taught me so much in my short stay with thatclub than almost anyone else that I could ever claim as a mentor. Being the D. O. C. at one of the top clubs in the United States meant that he could pretty much choose what age he wanted to coach. Yet, what he would do is become involved at the youngest age and move up with a group of kids until they were U-13s…when he then would pass off the reigns to another coach and he would go back down and do it all over again. He was not coaching just one team in one age-group at a time, but rather would cycle himself, with the help of his staff, to be able to coach two different age-groups whom were equal years apart. This meant that when the older group moved up to U13, the younger group was approaching U11 and he would then cycle down and pick up another group at the younger ages.

What I learned from him is that if developed properly over the years, as the girls became better, the talent would even out and eventually playing time would not be that much of an issue.

However, it can become an issue in the early years when there are large disparities in player’s ability. In the younger ages I watched how he was careful not to place a weaker player in a position where she would fail. I observed him looking for chances to make substitutions at times when he knew they could do well, enjoy themselves and learn in a low-pressure situation.

He always made sure that every girl played in both halves and tried to give them a minimum of 50% playing time. In matches where this was not possible he made sure to let the girls know that playing time would balance out to 50% by the end of the year. What he did worked well and has been doing so since.

It was as if he was always taking precautions that were in the best interest of his players, but would also put them in the most competitive environment possible.

How Could You Be So Cruel To Single Players Out?

It is very difficult to manage substitutes especially when you have a squad of sixteen eager U13 players, but we; as coaches, need to be very careful to differentiate between what's best for the players and what is easiest for us as coaches.

One coach whom I observed that was coaching such an age-group responded to me upon an inquiry of his substitution methods that he told already his players and their parents that because no one wants to defend, it will only be the midfield and forwards that will rotate positions and be subbed.

However, some of his players were not as skilled in the center of the park or up high as some others on the team and once the coach was secure with his defenders, those lesser skilled players saw hardly any playing time. For whatever reason(s) this particular coach had for doing what he did, he ultimately made a select group of players on his team feel as if they were being singled out. In some feeble attempt to motivate his players to defend or maybe to generate an excuse for not playing certain kids, he established a “double-standard” that every player on the team was influenced by in a negative manner. Pardon me for my “French,” but that coach was a total prick!
I’m an assistant coach now, but when I was the “big cheese,” I would make mental substitutions before the match would even start so I had some type of idea what I was going to do.

Could this coach I referred to as a name that should not be said, start some of his lesser skilled players in the less meaningful matches? It may end up that sometimes his team would concede goals, but is that necessarily a bad thing? When you have to fight back from being down a goal or two, it builds character and most of the time the players will leave the pitch after a hard-fought draw with a big smile– wouldn’t you agree?

If I was in a position to evaluate this coach, there would be a laundry list of recommendations from just the short-time I observed him. Managing players properly involves a simple concoction of sincerity, honesty and putting the right priorities in the right places. Diagnosing coaching problems with player management early is important because cessation of these problems followed by proper coaching development can be lifesaving when it comes to the players love for the game.

If you notice this occurring with a coach in your area and have never stepped forward or informed someone in a position to do something about it, then guess what: I consider you A PRICK, as well!

So far, we have covered many different issues, angles, questions, etc… that pertain to the subject of playing time and even though I wish I could, I don’t have the ability to provide anything more than suggestions…possible answers to these questions?

However, there is always the one question that as a coach, you need to ask yourself... "Is what I'm doing in the bestinterest of every player on my team?"

Tums, please!

I don't think there is any issue that gives a youth football coach more heartburn than the issue of playing time.

Coaches try and try again to balance their teams out so they do not have either all of their more developed players or all of their less developed players, on the field at the same time.

Never-the-less, no matter how hard these youth coaches try; sometimes your options as a coach are simply limited. Players either don't show up for a match or they arrive late. Players get injured or request to come out of a match. For these and so many other reasons, "equal playing time" never quite equals out exactly as it should. However, many of those things are out of the coach’s control. They can only do their best to ensure their players feel like they are getting quality playing time.

When dealing with your less developed players, I think the trick is to find points in the match where you can enter them and put them in a position to succeed. It's completely fine if they make a few mistakes, as that’s how they will learn. However, I also believe that if they aren't making any positive contributions, even small, trivial, minute ones, it is sometimes better to have them come off.

It's counterproductive to their development if you keep a less developed player on the field for extended periods if they are getting overwhelmed by their teammates, opponents, surrounding or even the game itself. It's not good for their morale and it's not good for the team. They should be given enough time to make a contribution but not left on the field for too long where they can get discouraged.

This is one reason why it is so important to tell them they did a good job as they come off the field. This allows them the opportunity to build on that experience and earn even more for playing time. We always need to remember that developing confidence in our young players is as important as teaching those technical skills.

HEY…but…ummmm…What About These Parents?

Well, that’s a good question…and…one that I don’t know the answer to. Maybe if someone else does, then they couldprobably make tons of money!

…anyways…when you look at the youth development system through a magnifying glass, a question will quickly pop to mind: How can young players enjoy the game of football if the adults involved are allowed to lie to them by promising they will get to play when they in reality, they coach never has any real intention of doing so and, by not playing them, the coach is telling the kids; indirectly, but still sending the message, that they are rubbish?

Of course, from a tactical point of view, equal playing time is difficult, however, as long as money is going to “run the show,” we need to recognize the fact that all parents pay the same amount of money and we all expect our money's worth, especially when it comes to our kid's self-esteem!

However, that is no excuse for the numerous coaches who are only coaching to win, in spite of being a coach in a house or a recreational league where the kids are only five to 12 years old!

I understand that all kids love winning and it I know how hard it is to make everyone happy. That’s why the emotional conditioning of a team is so important. As a coach, we should always be striving to promote an environment for a well-bonded team that is accepting of their peers' faults and skills to prosper. A team that is prosperous in a way that competition is seen as a way to improve and not a negative thing.

From my own experience, I have learned that it is almost impossible to ensure that all youth players play the same amount of minutes. However, I have also learned why no youth player should ever have to sit on the bench, ready to play and not get at least some quality match time; no matter how important the result may mean to anyone.

What gives us, as a coach, the right to stop a child from playing the sport they love if they are signed on to play, they train regularly and have paid their “dues,” irrespective of how important a match might be?

"He's absolutely useless"

Do you remember the quote I used at the beginning of this blog entry? The one about the kid who was sitting on thebench and his coach said he was, “absolutely useless?” Well, there was much more to that story and here it is as told to me by a friend of mine:

“In the mid-1990s, I was the soccer development director to a city just north of London.
At the time I operated a Saturday morning academy for eight to 12-year-old kids.
One lad was not particularly gifted but simply loved his soccer. Always the first to arrive and the last to leave after assisting me to collect in the equipment.
On a bitterly cold Sunday morning I stopped to observe a junior soccer game. The lad in question was huddled up on the bench soaking wet from a non-stop drizzle of icy rain.

With about 10 minutes to go I approached his coach and asked the score. He told me that "we are winning 9-0". "Any chance of the lad on the bench getting a run out?" I asked. "No chance, we need all the goals we can get and he is absolutely useless."

Even more disturbing was that over a period of 28 games he had NEVER started a game and had only come off the bench five times for a total of 70 minutes.

I later learned that the lad had stopped playing soccer, had become very withdrawn and that his school work was also suffering. I also learned the coach in question had been awarded "Coach of the Year" for his team winning the league.

How sad it is when children are made to suffer by so called "coaches" who are only concerned with satisfying theirinflated egos.”


It is quite easy to agree that all players should play, but it's not always easy to stick to your principles in the last game of the season when you need to win to avoid relegation or win the league.

Yet, it's VERY important that we get this right and we get it right every time. How you use your subs will not only have an impact on the way your team plays, but it will also either make children happy to be on a team with their friends or make them feel sad that they're obviously not good enough to join in on the fun.

Your decision to leave a child on the bench could also make them want to give up the game, adversely affect their self-esteem and even make it harder for them to do well at school.

So, if you're coaching a team of eight-year-olds and you sometimes leave some of your players on the bench for most of a match... think again.

Is winning a game of football more important than a child's happiness?