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The Importance of Playing Time and the Justice of the Decisions Taken by the Coach

14 Jan 2022   ·   

In team sports, playing time that players enjoy in competition is a limited resource which is highly valued by athletes. In handball, for example, the coach should distribute 420 minutes of playing time (60 minutes per game x 7 players) among at least 16 players, which means an average of just 26 minutes per player. In football, the 990 minutes (90 minutes x 11 players) should be distributed among over 25 athletes. In this case, footballers should settle with a maximum average of 40 minutes per game. As a consequence of this fact, intrateam rivalry and fight for playing time are prominent characteristics in elite team sports.  Playing more or less time is closely related to the opportunity to show the talent they have, which could lead to improving a contract, or the opposite. For this reason, the coach should properly distribute playing time. A good or bad decision can have a direct impact on the team performance: players’ perception of justice in the allocation of playing minutes could have an influence on the team dynamics and on players’ motivation and satisfaction with the coach. An unfair distribution could start a damaging intrateam dispute that could lead to a poor performance in competition, while when justice is perceived, it could have the opposite result.

‘In basketball, the players who hate you are those who don’t play as long as they think they should.’   Phil Jackson, Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers coach in his book 11 Rings.

A recent research1 has analysed how playing time enjoyed by players has an impact on competition, and how their perception of justice with the decision of the coach is related to the athletes’ satisfaction. The research recently published in Cogent Social Science was based on the analysis of 231 Norwegian elite players of ice hockey (n=155) and handball (N=76). The age of the players was between 17 and 37 (average age 22.7) and the number of years played at a high level was between a month and 14 years (average time 3.7 years). The number of players per team that took part in the research was between 11 and 20 athletes, being the average 12.8 players. The players were distributed into 3 groups according to the time played: below average, average and over the average.  The justice perceived with the decision-making of the coach was measured with the De Backer (2011)2 questionnaire. The scale consists of 9 items from 1 to 5 points which analyse the players’ perception of justice with the coach decisions. For example: ‘The minutes I play are fair, based on my performance’ or ‘my coach makes decisions accurately and correctly.’ Finally, the satisfaction with the coach was assessed with the Athlete Satisfaction Questionnaire (ASQ) of Riemer and Chellandurai (1988)3. ASQ measures the satisfaction with training and instructions provided by the coach, personal treatment and satisfaction on how the coach maximizes the individual players’ talents.

The results suggest many relevant conclusions:

  • Playing time and the players’ perception of justice with the coach decisions predict athletes’ satisfaction with their coach. The more time played and justice perceived, the more the satisfaction with the work of the coach (p<0.01).
  • Justice in the decisions of the coach seems to be more relevant for the players than the playing time in the competition.
  • The quality of training and instructions, as well as positive feedback, are also closely related to players’ satisfaction with the coach.

In a competitive and performance-oriented environment, winning is a strong priority over other values.  To become an elite team member implies the subordination of one’s self-interest, and paradoxically, ones’ self-interest is better promoted that way.  Group interest means the most skillful athletes are playing because they increase the probabilities of success4. However, fair and respectful treatment from the coaches could facilitate players’ respect and pride, which encourages people to accept unfavourable decisions and to facilitate commitment, loyalty, and effort on behalf of the team5.

As Seirul-lo explains 6-7, in team sports the game is possible only if we count on our teammates, if we can achieve high levels of interaction with them and the commitment to necessary team participation that should transform the individual meaning of winning. So, the collective culture of the game emerges where the interpersonal relationships are confirmed, identifying different communication codes and emotional links with the team members that make us learn the events of the game from different specific dimensions.  To maximise the socio-affective structure and to allow effectiveness in the situations to come, the coach should plan training that:

  • Proposes communication channels for the flow of information, so those judgements are efficient and help optimise the players’ socio-affective personality.
  • Facilitates alternatives to conclusions on negative judgements during the performance of that event to try to modify the undesirable predisposition, and to make the player embrace the modification of their judgements in future events.
  • Optimizes the self-management levels in the group, so it immediately acts when negative judgements emerge and makes the player feel part of their self-management.


1 Giske, R., Rodahl, S., Johansen, B, & Høigaard, R. (2021) Self-reported playing time and justice as predictors of coach satisfaction: An analysis of elite ice-hockey and handball players, Cogent Social Sciences, 7:1, 1860452, DOI: 10.1080/23311886.2020.1860452

2 De Backer, M., Boen, F., Ceux, T., De Cuyper, B., Høigaard, R., Callens, F., & Vande Broek, G. (2011). Do perceived justice and need support of the coach predict team identification and cohesion? Testing their relative importance among top volleyball and handball players in Belgium and Norway. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 12(2), 192–201.

3 Riemer, H. A., & Chellandurai, P. (1998). Development of the athlete satisfaction questionnaire (ASQ). Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 20(2), 127–156.

4 Gaffney, P. (2015). The nature and meaning of teamwork. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 42(1), 1–22.

5 B Tyler, T., Degoey, P., & Smith, H. (1996). Understanding why the justice of group procedures matters: A test of the psychological dynamics of the group-value model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(5), 913–930.

6 Seirul-lo, F. (2010). Estructura sociafectiva. Documento INEFC – Barcelona.

7 Seirul-lo, F. (editor). (2017). El entrenamiento en lo deportes de equipo. Barcelona: Mastercede.


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