Coach’s choice: Prioritizing seniority or skill in high school sports


Savanna Martinez

When faced with the choice of skill or seniority, coaches struggle with making a decision.

There comes a time when a coach needs to make a decision. On one hand, there’s a bright-eyed freshman with raw talent and athleticism. On the other, there’s a senior who has trained for four years.

Although an athlete can have both experience and natural skill, when it comes down to two athletes having one or the other, choosing between the two causes problems for coaches. They’re forced to choose: seniority or skill. The idea of skill over seniority creates an internal conflict for coaches and athletes alike.

“Skill isn’t measured by age, but by determination,” Barcenas said. (Adam Kamuda)

Freshman and volleyball player Alexandra Barcenas understands the inner struggle. She often tangles with the idea of taking a senior’s place in a varsity lineup.

“I overthink like ‘why am I playing?’ If I always think of the seniors really high[ly], just playing always makes me feel like I get anxious, especially on the court to play because I feel like I’m expected to do really well,” Barcenas said.

Athletes of all ages have differing opinions about who specifically belongs in a starting line up. Junior and wrestler Sampson Price believes prioritizing skill over age helps develop programs overall. One benefit he mentioned is seniors can help freshmen hone their craft.

“…We should be focusing on those who are better in skill,” Price said. “…By using seniors to teach [athletes], it’s going to only make the programs better. We shouldn’t really focus on who’s older; we should focus on who has the talent and who we can build up and make better.”

“I worked really hard to get to where I am; I put in a lot of time,” Price said. (Lily Myszak)

Although each opinion differs, some coaches struggle with prioritizing either the skill a freshman has or the experience a senior possesses. Golf coach Lindsay DeGiulio has had to make that choice.

“…[Choosing players] is hard because [the seniors] have been committed but unfortunately, sometimes performance is the factor that will help us advance in the state run,” DeGiulio said.
“We’ve been in a few tough situations where some underclassmen have beat out some upperclassmen, and I know it is definitely hard.”

Some coaches feel they have a hard time picking out what qualities they want to include in their varsity roster. Others have clear standards of what they expect from their players outside of valuing seniority. Volleyball Coach Madisen Babich has made it clear to her athletes that age doesn’t guarantee a spot in a starting lineup.

“When you have that comfortable mindset, things tend to be taken from you,” Babich said. “As much as I would love to keep all 11 seniors out on that court in a lineup… if they’re not holding their own and holding that spot, then I’m going to give someone else a chance that’s working just as hard, or harder.”

…By using seniors to teach [athletes], it’s going to only make the programs better. We shouldn’t really focus on who’s older; we should focus on who has the talent and who we can build up and make better.”

— Sampson Price

Some athletes’ experiences aren’t affected by exclusion from a lineup; seniors welcome the prioritization wholeheartedly. Senior and swimmer Catherine Gadomski appreciates having the chance to cheer on her underclassmen teammates from the sidelines at meets.

“We all are going towards one purpose, and I think the best team building thing is cheering for [teammates in] races. I sometimes feel thankful that I’m not swimming because I get to cheer for my team now. Even if I’m not super close [with a teammate], I’m still super pumped to cheer for them because I also know what it’s like to be in the water,” Gadomski said.

No matter how a jazzed freshman with natural talent or a trained senior with practiced techniques may feel about a built lineup, the final decision comes down to what a coach sees in and wants from each athlete. Whether the priority is skill or seniority, athletes still need to work hard in order to earn their place on varsity lineups.