Coaches seek balance between maximum performance and equitable playing time

Junior Tyler Patterson (20) takes a jump shot at the TD Garden on Jan. 25 during a game against Andover. Coach Luke Day made sure that every player on the roster got a chance to play on the famed parquet, a likely once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Photo provided by Chhany Minton.
Junior Tyler Patterson (20) takes a jump shot at the TD Garden on Jan. 25 during a game against Andover. Coach Luke Day made sure that every player on the roster got a chance to play on the famed parquet, a likely once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Photo provided by Chhany Minton.

Columnist Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe wrote an article in early March in which he vehemently defended the notion that coaches have an obligation to play every single player on their roster at some point during the season.

The article engendered much debate amongst coaches and players alike. After reading the article, social studies teacher and junior varsity basketball head coach, Mark Wheeler, wrote an email to Shaughnessy in which he expressed some issues he had with Shaughnessy’s argument.

“I had just written it to say that ‘I don’t think on some level you are being fair, and I think it’s way more complex than just saying coaches are clueless, and here are my reasons why and here are some scenarios I deal with just as a JV girls basketball coach,’” Wheeler said.

After reading the email, Shaughnessy called Wheeler to discuss the differing viewpoints.

“One of the points I made with him is that there is no unwritten rule. There’s no code of coaching,” Wheeler said. “Sometimes as a coach you take kids on the team for the experience of it–not to start every game or be there for crunch time minutes, but just being part of the team, and, at those sub-varsity levels, maybe being part of a program and getting better as a player.”

Shaughnessy told Wheeler during the conversation that he was not one of the coaches that he had written about in his column because Wheeler clearly thinks about these issues and is conscious of the interests of his players.

“I’ve seen incredibly insensitive, dimwitted, obtuse coaches who completely forget people and make them invisible,” Shaughnessy said over a phone interview from Yankee Stadium. “And I don’t know, in some cases it’s foolish and in some cases it’s ignorant or it’s just a small mind, I’m not a fan of it.”

According to Shaughnessy, getting the last player on the bench into the game does not have to come at the expense of winning. Instead of what he called in his article, “demoralizing” the player by not playing them at all, it is better for coaches to get them into the game when the score is out of hand.

“I understand in scholastic sports you’re there to win, and there’s a meritocracy to sports–the best players play. I’m okay with that,” Shaughnessy said. “When you have your 11th or 12th guy on the bench, I find there’s got to be a way to get them in. It’s not at the expense of winning or losing the games.”

Shaughnessy’s column raised the issue to many about whether or not the school should institute a policy regarding playing all players.

According to athletic director Pete Rittenburg, the school does not currently have a policy that requires coaches to ensure that every player on the roster gets game minutes. However, he said at the sub-varsity level, coaches should ideally be playing all players.

“I read the Shaughnessy article, and agree with his viewpoint,” Rittenburg said in an email interview. “In general, at the sub-varsity level, all players should be playing. At the varsity level, there is inherently more pressure to win and playing time is managed differently. BHS policies do not guarantee playing time at the varsity level.”

According to the school’s athletics handbook, playing time is decided by the coach, and the coach has the authority to allocate minutes however he or she wants.

The rule reads, “Decisions regarding placement at levels and amounts of playing time are made by individual coaches. There is no departmental policy on these issues out of respect for individual coaching philosophies. Playing time is not guaranteed in our interscholastic athletic program.”

Rittenburg said that he trusts coaches to use their best judgment regarding this policy.

“I believe that our coaches know how to manage their rosters during any single game and over an entire season so that all players see at least some game time,” he said. “My own feeling is that coaches do have an obligation, not a legal one but a moral obligation, to give all their players at least an opportunity, at least sometime.”

Sophomore Ally Lansbury, who is a member of the girls varsity soccer team, said she disagrees that all players must get the chance to play.

“I think that high school sports should be more about winning and that it shouldn’t be about everyone having the chance [to play],” she said. “I think that some players are just better used in practice and they can help the team a lot in practice and help everyone get better.”

Junior CJ Greenstein, a member of the boys varsity hockey team, thinks differently.

“In the NFL, obviously not everybody’s going to play, but at the high school level, I think everybody should get a chance to play,” he said. “The players who aren’t so good get better by playing in games.”

In his article, Shaughnessy urged high school hockey and basketball coaches whose teams got the chance to play at the TD Garden to make sure all players get a chance to experience the once in a lifetime opportunity.

When the school’s boys basketball team traveled to the Garden for the Good Sports Invitational, coach Luke Day made sure every player on the roster got a chance to play on the famed parquet.

“Every young man on that team is now able to look back on the event–not just that he was there, but that he played on that floor,” Rittenburg said. “In the big picture, that’s what high school sports are about.”

Wheeler agreed with Rittenburg’s statement.

“I think that’s a fair point that Shaughnessy made in the article. There are times where you should not be so concerned with the outcome, but with the experience of your players,” Wheeler said. “You try to be as fair as you can, you try to reward hard work and you try to reward the growth that you see in the players who are coming to practice every day and want to get better and put in the time, but there’s no magic solution.”

Seth Coven and Ben Miller-Schmidt can be contacted at [email protected]