A friend called me the other day seeking advice on where and when and if he should approach his son's coach about a lack of playing time. In this situation, his son isn't playing at all, or maybe just getting in the last minute of a game when the outcome is already decided.
I think it's perfectly acceptable for a player or parent to ask the question. But I also firmly believe it's important to do so at the right time and place, and in an appropriate manner.
A coach who isn't playing someone must have a reason, or at least he should. And he should be willing to communicate the reason, no matter what level of youth sports we're talking about, from tee ball to varsity.
Players in elementary and middle schools probably aren't going to be comfortable approaching the coach, so it's OK for the parent to do so. At the high school level, it's the player's responsibility to find out why he isn't playing. It's a responsibility that comes along with the honor of being a high school athlete.
Whether you are the parent or player asking, you should approach the coach and ask to meet with him or her at a time convenient for both of you. In other words, don't go up to the coach right after a game and ask the question. The coach won't be prepared to answer and won't like the fact that he or she is being ambushed, which is how it will come across no matter how polite you are when you ask.
You also want to make sure you don't ask for this meeting after just one game. I'd suggest waiting until three games have gone by with little or no playing time and then move forward with the process.
Also, a great way to approach the situation when you meet with the coach is to ask what you need to do in order to gain more playing time. Coaches usually have good reasons when they don't play players -- skill level, poor practice habits, don't know the plays, etc. -- and so finding out the exact reason will help determine your next step.
Every player wants to play, and every parent wants to see his or her child play. Finding out why a player isn't playing much or at all is perfectly acceptable.
Just be sure to go about it the right way.