If you’ve played sports yourself or been a youth sports parent for any length of time you’ve probably come across a situation where you or your child has spent time on the bench. How do you handle your young player sitting on the bench as a parent? How should your child handle it? It is not easy to be a “bench warmer, sub, role player, scrub”, or whatever term you want to associate with not being in the starting line-up. There is no more difficult job in sports than that of a bench player. Hopefully, your child will have a supportive coach and teammates who value role players and their important contributions to a successful team. Unfortunately, this may not always be the case. Sometimes teammates, and even coaches, look down on bench players and make them feel like they are not critical to the team’s success. Regardless of the type of teammates and coaches your young player has there are things both you and your child can do to make the best of this challenging situation. If you are a coach, it is your responsibility to foster team unity and help the players on your bench fulfill their role to the best of their ability.
Recognize that you may not be the most objective observer of your young player’s abilities. When the player playing in front of your child makes a mistake, do you attribute it to their lack of ability? Or ask other parents, “Can you believe the coach is playing him over my son?” Do you make excuses for your child’s mistakes or not recognize their flaws as a player? Like, “She didn’t have time to get warmed up, that’s why she missed that shot!” The coach is almost always in position to make a better judgement about who should play than you are. Please don’t talk bad about the coach in front of your son or daughter. All you are doing is setting up a situation where your child will lose respect for their coach, which certainly won’t help them get back on the court, or help them deal with their next coach, or help them deal with their boss later in life. If you want to have a discussion with a coach regarding your child’s playing time, don’t do it after a game, but rather try to schedule a time when both of your emotional states will be calm and collected. Frame the discussion in terms of what your young player can do to improve. It may just be that they are not good enough at this point on this team. Be ready to hear and accept the truth if you ask the question. Try not to be like the parent in this video.
Do not bad mouth the players playing ahead of your child. This does not help your young player. Your child may begin to question their own ability even more if they think they cannot get onto the court in front of such a terrible player. Also, this is not good for team camaraderie and it encourages your young player to resent the kids playing in front of them. You are also promoting a me-first attitude that goes against the spirit of teamwork. Remember, you are using basketball to teach life lessons. Help teach your child that everyone has a role on the team and should be playing that role to the very best of their ability. Your young player may not like the role the coach has assigned them, but for the team to be successful everyone has to do their job. Encourage them to be a supportive teammate who wants to see everyone perform well in their role, even those players they are competing with for minutes.
Don’t badmouth the coach or starting players to other disgruntled parents. I have seen entire teams/programs taken down because of poor parent behavior that trickled down and affected the team dynamics. It is your job to be a good role model for your young player. Keep your grumbling to yourself in a public forum. Discuss things at home with other family members (someone other than your young player, maybe a spouse, sibling, or your own parent) if you feel the need to get your feelings off your chest.
Encourage your young player to direct their frustration into getting better. Nothing in life comes easy or without sacrifice. Maybe some extra work before or after practice will make the difference. Help your child to see that they have control over their own skill level. When they believe their success is related to their effort and not just subject to the whims of their coach they will feel less stress and use their experience on the bench as a motivation to get better. Teach your child to deal with adversity and disappointment by fighting through it with hard work and determination. That is a life lesson any kid can benefit from learning!
Most importantly, don’t pout or complain! If your goal is to earn more minutes and not spend as much time on the bench, trust me when I say that pouting will not help your cause. Coaches hate players who pout, whine, and complain. They want players that are great teammates who grind it out with hard work every day. Bring a positive attitude to your team, you’ll feel better, work harder, and be less frustrated. Understand what your role is on the team and then give your best effort to fill that role. Every member of the team has an important role to fill on a successful team, including you. Find ways to make contributions in practice and games even though you aren’t playing as much as you’d like. Ask yourself, “What can I do today to help my team win?” Then, go out and do it with enthusiasm.
Accept your role, but work as hard as you can to expand it. Strive to improve your skill set each day in practice. Challenge the player ahead of you in drills and scrimmages. You’ll make yourself better, your teammate better, and ultimately your team better. Come to practice early or leave late, or both. Don’t allow your current position on the team to affect your determination to get better in the future.
Put the team first, yourself second. This is very hard to do. Playing time is a ME issue and team success is a WE issue. How do you resolve that internal conflict? You may actually need to “fake it” for a while. We all have internal conversations with ourselves about why we should be playing more or why we are better than someone else. It’s ok to have those thoughts as long as they stay in your head. Use them as motivation. Outwardly, what we show to our teammates and coaches should be a selfless team player, not a selfish me first player.
If you’re not sure why you aren’t playing, schedule a meeting with your coach and ask. Any coach should be happy to sit down with a player and share how that player can improve. Be prepared to hear the truth and work on the weaknesses that your coach discusses with you in the meeting.
Stay involved during the games. Pay attention to what is happening out on the court. Listen carefully during time-outs and at half-time. Let the coach see your energy and enthusiasm. Cheer and support your teammates during the game. Be the type of player that comes to every game with a great attitude no matter what. Trust me, coaches notice!
Lastly, don’t ever give up. If you keep working your time will eventually come!
The key to getting role players to buy in to your team concept is to make each and every player feel like they have an important role to play in the team’s success. Spend time with all of your players, not just the stars. It’s the team that plays best together, not always the most talented team that wins the championship. Your team’s success is depends on how the team comes together, that elusive concept known as team chemistry. It depends on each individual player to sacrifice “me” for “we.” Each player must accept their role for the good of the team and play that role to the best of their ability. This is where you as the coach can have a huge impact. Treat your role players with respect. You must send the message to all team members, that regardless of their role they are valued members of the team with a critical part to play in your team’s success. If you only spend time working with your best players, if you do not treat all players fairly, if you don’t respect the role that your second team plays in your success, you are sending a message, not everyone on the team is valued. Your starting unit may begin to feel the same way you do and team chemistry can fall apart as resentment grows amongst teammates. Make it a point to value all of your players as people and important members of the team. Communicate this message to all your players every single day and you’ll develop a winning culture that helps kids learn more than basketball.
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