Does Your Playing Rotation Bury Players?

I just finished reading John Feinstein’s WHERE NOBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME, which deals with baseball’s AAA minor league life. A quote by a Durham Bulls’ player about his then manager, Charlie Montoyo, (now a coach on the Tampa Bay Rays staff) really had an impact on me as it applies to coaching at many levels. I’m paraphrasing but the gist of the quote is “Montoyo manages all of his players; he doesn’t bury anyone.”

Any time PT isn’t divvied up democratically by rule or by design, there is never a shortage of players who think they should be playing more. That will never change. It’s when players believe they are “buried” with no chance to have their playing time increased or their role enhanced, that’s behind the compliment to Montoyo.

Playing time is always a touchy subject for coach and player alike. I’m not here to tell any coach about how to determine playing rotations. Every coach decides that for himself based on a wide variety of variables. The question each coach needs to ask in this regard is, “Can players play their way into my rotation as the season progresses?” There are infinite ways to divide the 160 possible minutes of PT in a HS game and the 200 minutes in a college game. Whether one carries 12 or 15 players on a roster and whether the actual playing rotation is 7 players or 10, there are going to be many individuals who only play sporadically.

Ironically, the same day that I read the aforementioned quote, I was having a conversation with a friend whose two sons are playing major college football. However, one is a walk-on and the other is a redshirt freshman. Neither is in the playing rotation. I only asked my friend one question, “How are their frames of mind?”

In the end, besides physical health, that’s really the essential question for anyone who plays competitive athletics. There are many aspects that go into having a good frame of mind and certainly playing time is often at or near the top of the list. But just maybe a good frame of mind should have more to do with a player’s vision of himself in that program. Playing time is an immediate concern while vision extends beyond the temporary. If a player knows that immediate playing time might be limited but that his day will come, his vision can carry him through some disappointments

Whatever the case, the key to managing a player’s expectations in the context of reality can always be better served with good communication by the coach to the team as a whole and to each player individually. While a coach can’t necessarily assess each player’s frame of mind on a daily basis, it is important to know how each player might be trending in that regard. Very often assistant coaches can be very helpful in keeping tabs on players whose time is limited.

This issue is made more difficult for coaches everywhere because we’re living in an age of instant gratification. Just look at the alarming number of transfers in college basketball. Transferring at the HS level seems just as rampant. To be sure, players transfer for many reasons but the number one reason, whether verbalized or not, is playing time or the lack thereof.

The very thought of coaching in such a way just to prevent transfers would be distasteful to most of us. But, if we manage our players’ expectations and help them formulate their visions of themselves in our program, we can minimize disgruntled players. At the very least, we can avoid burying our players or burying themselves by helping them formulate positive frames of mind that will help themselves and the team at the same time.

How do you avoid burying players?  Do you avoid it?


  1. We keep 12 kids on our roster and play 12 kids per game. Granted, they don’t all play the same amount of time, but all of our kids know that they are going to get “meaningful” playing time. That’s important! No kid wants to go in for the final 39 seconds of a game when your team is up or down by 30. They’d rather stay on the bench and avoid the embarrassment.

    In 31 years of coaching (22 as a high school varsity coach), I have discovered that the only way your kids are going to really get better is to play. Nobody gets better just by watching. However, what you will discover is that your kids will improve as the season progresses and tournament time approaches. At the end of the season, do you want better plays or better players?

  2. This is a head scratcher type of question, but for what its worth, ill share my philosophy on this.

    Im a high school varsity coach that has all home-grown local players. We have a varsity and junior varsity team. This upcoming season , we will have about 24 players that will come out for our teams and i will keep them all, if they have attended our conditioning religiously or are coming from a fall sport.

    From the outside looking in, most people would think i would divide them up and put 12 on one team and 12 on the other team. The reality is that my belief is that only 6 of the 24 are ready to contribute on a varsity team this year . So those 6 will play the bulk of varsity minutes…..i work hard to find 7,8,9, and even a 10th opportunities to improve their chances to contribute on a varsity team. My true belief is playing time is earned in off-season.

    So our players on depth-chart numbers 7-12 play the bulk of JV minutes, instead of sitting the majority of varsity game, however i leave at least 2 quarters a night to be available for varsity games, for those players if they can contribute.

    Players 13-20 on depth chart will play leftover minutes in JV and 21-24 are usually players that may not be able to contribute in year 1.

    I do not leave many surprises to the player nor their parent. They both know their role early on and let them know its not for everyone. I will even tell incoming freshman and their parents that their child might not see a varsity roster in their high school career, unless their commitment to improving changes. Stats are a great tool to use and share with others for dividing up playing time.

    With all of this being said….i treat 1-24 the same. We have high expectations in classroom, on the court, off the court.

    So just because some kids arent playing a ton of minutes in year one, doesnt mean they arent worth investing in.

  3. My philosophy as a former college coach was to play everyone the first half. This was to ensure they were prepared if my rotation of eight had problems in the second half. I also shared this with my team. It is my responsibility to sub you in, but it is your responsibility to prevent me from subbing you out.

    1. Coach, Great comment! I haven’t heard your thought expressed that way before. Leaves absolutely no doubt in players’ minds that they’re in the mix to a degree but after that it’s performance based. Thanks.

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