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Are those players rooting for foul trouble?

I have seen a number of posts lately concerning parental interference with officiating and the resultant effect on those officiating ranks. Short of storming the field/court/diamond/pitch, I have seen just about every sort of ridiculous behavior from the stands – and even the coach’s box – pertaining to officiating. 

 While some of the officiating has been abhorrent, it is generally more good than bad. And while sometimes I wonder what it is the official saw when making a call, I quickly try to see where they were relative to where I was when the call was made. 

 But the thing I have a horrendous problem with is when they do not know the rules. That is just unacceptable. And the thing is, there are times when knowledge of the rules would prevent other problems from cropping up. 

 But this column is not about officiating and parental interference – it is about coaching and parental interference. Recently I was tagged by a coach friend of mine with an article about a high-school coach who is stepping down because of issues over playing time. 

 Nobody likes to sit the bench. I know I did not. I never had to worry about that in football, but in basketball – I played just two years in high school – I was the eighth man in a seven-man rotation. That meant I played in garbage time or when too many people got in foul trouble. (I actually used to root for foul trouble!)

 It was not until I had been writing sports for a few years that I understood why I did not get more playing time. I just was not good enough and putting me in too soon would have jeopardized the win. 

 But the question is: what is too soon? In basketball, when there is a 20-plus point differential with three minutes left to go in a game that has not been close from the jump, there is no reason for the benches not to be emptied, save maybe one starter for continuity. Notice I said the plural word “benches”. 

 The game has been decided. While I think one of the most overused words today is “deserve,” those poor schleps that work their butts off every day do indeed deserve an opportunity for some floor time.

 But that concept is not shared by a lot of coaches. There are many times when I wonder what they are waiting on in getting players into the game. And what is even worse is when teams with an insurmountable lead keep their feet on their opponents’ throat, pressing until the final buzzer with very little if any substituting. And even with subs in the game, there is no need to press. Some of my friends and I disagree on that point, but that is just how I feel.

 But absent garbage time, best players should play – period. The time for minimum play and required play end after grammar school, and youth success does not always translate into the high-school arena.

When I was a high-school coach I got cornered at halftime by a mom who ripped my behind about her son’s lack of playing time. I was so far down on the coaching ladder I had to reach up to grab the bottom rung, so playing time was not something I had much input with. 

 She went on to tell me how good her son was at the youth level and that there was no reason he should not be playing. It was not my place to tell her, but her boy was a dog. He screwed off in practice. He did not hustle. He had a smart mouth. 

 Of course he was not going to play. And while I do not know what happened with the coach the article was about that was sent to me, I can only assume she had her fair share of youth superstars who did not pan out at the high-school level. And from what I could determine, this coach had nothing when it came to administrative backing for her playing-time decisions.

 My advice – coaches, let your players play when the game has been determined. No harm can come from it. If the losing team tries to take advantage of it, put the starters back in and do so with a vengeance – full-court press, 3-pointers, the whole nine yards. Because coaches need to learn how to lose as well and not to take advantage of the other team’s good will.

 And administrators, you need to back up your coaches. Best players play – period – and some parents need to understand their little Johnny or Jane needs to focus on their SATs and term papers because there will be no next level for them. 

 But regardless, I will be there at the scorer’s table or the end line, covering or shooting, trying to work as many names in is as I can. And when the Dave Campbell playing time comes around, I will smile a little smile as I remember how happy I was to finally hit the floor – and I will wonder if any of those players were rooting for foul trouble!