What level should your team play? Usually, teams have the option to play at various levels. Should you place them at the top level, “A”, or place them in the average level, “B”, or in a developmental level, “C”? Is it better to play at a higher level against better competition and probably lose every game? Will that increased competition make your players better? Would losing demoralize them? Is it better to stay down a level and totally dominate your opponents? Would winning every game make your players better? Does it give them a false sense of superiority?
Ideally, in a perfect world you want to play at a level where your team goes .500. That reflects that you are winning some and losing some. You’re in the right league! Hopefully the games are also closer and more competitive. If you have a higher winning percentage, then you might have been better served playing at a higher level, and vice-versa. So how do you decide which level to play?
1) What are your goals? Is it to instill a winning tradition? Is winning the most important thing to you and the players? Does winning give you a lot of self-esteem at the office? Get to brag to your co-workers and the boss? Then by all means “sandbag“ at a lower level.
But if your goals as a coach is to challenge your players in a competitive atmosphere, teach them many of life’s lessons, such as losing and handling adversity, then you might play at a more competitive level.
2) Check your ego at the door. Take a step back and take a realistic look at the talent of your players. Think of “lipstick on a pig”. Just because you have them playing at the “A” level doesn’t make them “A” level players.
3) Use your experience. If you’ve been coaching the same team for a year or two, go back and look at your record and decide if they are ready to move up. If you’ve dominated the “C” level with this group of players, obviously move them up. If you’ve struggled, check the ego and move them down. Look at your players. Have you gained or lost the better players?
4) See what the leagues dictate. Often, the leagues will dictate what level you play. If your town has 4 or more teams, then the top teams have to play at the “A” level. If your town has only 2 teams, that’s when you may decide which level.
Big picture, make sure that you realize that it’s THEIR experience, not yours. Make the decision that will enable them to be in the most competitive league where they will experience some victories and some losses. There’s nothing wrong with going .500 if you’re in the right league.