Basketball Coaches Corner: Handling the “Swing” Player

It’s that time of year again.  It’s a season when anticipation has finally hit the hardwood.  When all the hard work spent in the off-season possibly comes to fruition.  How good are we going to be, after all?  The sounds of basketballs bouncing and sneakers squeaking on floors throughout Maine can only mean one thing:  it’s high school basketball season.

While our state’s coaches look forward to beginning the next chapter, secretly I’m sure many wish they could jump ahead past the first week.  The first two to three days involve tryouts at most schools.  Coaches will be selecting squad members for their varsity, and sub-varsity contingents.  Some coaches will have to deliver the gut-wrenching news to their young charges their basketball dreams have come to end, for this season anyway.

In some situations there will be those referred to as “swing” players, those who will practice with the varsity, wear the varsity uniform, while participating in the sub-varsity contests.  The reverse also takes place in some schools when a youngster will practice and play with the J.V. squad while suiting up for the varsity.

This practice of “swinging” has been a bone of contention in a number of programs.  It seems to be more prevalent in basketball due to convenience as the JV and varsity squads typically compete back to back.  When interviewing for varsity coaching positions, I’ve been asked on more than one occasion my philosophy in regards to  “swinging”.  First of all, I’m not big on having a set rule regarding such practices.  Each season has a dynamic all its own.  Coaches should have, and allow themselves, the flexibility to do what is in the best interest of their program.

In determining whether to “swing” a player, there are some guidelines which I believe would be helpful to consider.  I think you need to ask yourself when evaluating a player during tryouts:  Is this freshman or sophomore good enough to receive significant minutes on the varsity squad?  By significant, I’m taking about approximately 12-14 minutes per night.  How many players do you plan on playing key minutes?  Most teams, even teams with depth will play 7-8 kids most nights.  If an underclassman isn’t projected into this rotation, I would suggest placing that player on the sub-varsity.  Fill the remainder of the roster with those loyal upperclassmen, who are good citizens, work hard, and will provide a great example for the rest of the program.

Having said that, there are three key reasons why I would swing a varsity player to the J.V. squad.  First, there are not enough upperclassmen in the program to fill out a roster.  The worst thing you can do is select a freshman or sophomore for the varsity and have him or her ride the bench all year.  Secondly, you may have overestimated the young player.  Let’s face it, playing in the summer league is much different than suiting up in a varsity game.  That player who looked great over two days of tryouts may not quite yet be ready for prime time.  They, however, will likely contribute down the road, seeing minutes this year on J.V.

If you have a young big kid, without much size down below, that may be another reason to keep them on the varsity while having that player participate in the J.V. games.  In order to be a factor in a year or two, you may determine that player would not be significantly challenged in a J.V. practice, going against smaller players.

So, you’ve decided to swing a varsity player to play in the J.V. games.  How is the best way to handle this?  Many are concerned the varsity players will usurp the minutes of those who practice together as J.V. players.  The most important idea to communicate is you are one program.  All involved should not look at themselves as the varsity team, the J.V. team, or the freshman team.  They are the school’s basketball program.

If a player or players are swinging down from the varsity, in all likelihood the sub-varsity players eventually will be competing with them for playing time, anyway.  A good rule of thumb is to have the swing players get about three quarters of time per game.  They are, after all, likely your better young players in the program.  It makes no sense to have a varsity player sit the bench for the majority of the J.V. game.

For all involved, it should be a smooth transition when varsity players take part in the J.V. game.  Again, being one program, all coaches should be on the same page in regards to what they do offensively, defensively, and in special situations.  Detrimental to a successful program is the sub-varsity coach with his or her own agenda.  Varsity coaches, take note of this, and if J.V. coach doesn’t fall in line then maybe it’s time for a change at that level.

It is also not realistic to have the varsity player participate in both varsity and J.V. practice.  Again, if all coaches in the program are on the same page, the transition should be smooth.  Asking a player to practice two hours with the varsity and then an hour and a half or two hours with the J.V. team is asking a lot.  Remember, these are student-athletes.  There is much more going on in their lives than just basketball.  Two hours of basketball per day is plenty.

To promote unity in all teams, if possible, have the varsity and J.V. players wear the same uniform during the J.V. game.  The varsity swing players can then change into their varsity gear following the preliminary contest.

While the issue of swinging can cause controversy in many schools, it doesn’t have to.  With most things that arise, communication is the often the key to avoiding unnecessary concerns.  Best of luck to all teams for a rewarding season.


Bob Beatham

About Bob Beatham

Bob, a lifelong Bangor resident, has just completed his 21st season as the Public Address Announcer at Mansfield Stadium in Bangor. Bob is also the public address voice for John Bapst Crusader football. He also currently serves as the scorekeeper for John Bapst basketball. Bob is an avid follower of Maine high school athletics, particularly football and basketball. The University of Maine at Farmington graduate is the service coordinator at Aging Excellence, which provides in-home care for seniors..