Put me in Coach!!
I worked hard in the off season to prepare for tryouts this year, and when that test to perform and get on the team came around, I got to see my name on the list and it felt amazing. I’m on the team!
The first game came around and I only got in for a few minutes in the second half, my excitement faded a bit after that. Second game came around and again I only saw a few minutes out there. The next week at practice I started losing focus, ran a little slower, started to wonder if it was all worth it.
This is a common scenario among players on HS or tryout teams, the initial excitement of making the team can quickly wear off when playing time expectations aren’t met. But don’t lose heart, there are ways to turn this challenge into opportunity!
10 ways to Get off the Bench!
- Some of your teammates who played a lot in the game last night are going to be recovering at the next practice, if you weren’t pushed hard or played much then you have fresh legs and energy sources that can really make you stand out at practice. But only IF you push through the mental block from not playing and turn it up at practice. The day after games is YOUR TIME TO SHINE! Get the coaches attention, push harder on these days, step up!
- Get to practice early, bring some balls or cones and work on your weaknesses. Is it your left hand? Your dodging? Recovery times? Does the coach know you are putting the time in because they see you or even because they notice you are improving?
- Become a student of the game. Instead of chatting on the sidelines or just cheering for the team, start to study the players in your position that are getting the playing time. Try to copy the moves they make, where they go on the field, look at their mistakes and learn how to avoid those so that when you get on the field you aren’t repeating the same mistakes. After games, take a few minutes to grab a notebook or journal and keep some notes on things you can do to improve at the next game.
- Be coachable! I love when players ask me after practice what they need to work on the most, it means they want to put the time in to improve. Take some risks and try the skills in the way the coach asks even if it’s outside your comfort zone. Risk the dropped ball and get the mechanics right, the rest will come with repetition.
- Get in line with the ballers, not the distractors. When it’s time to pick a line, get in a group, or pick a partner, pick someone who is better than you – someone who is focused that will push you to be better. Pairing off with someone that is going to distract you or who gives minmal effort is going to reflect back on your own performance. Look to the leaders on the field as partners and ask them questions, it’s a great way to get ahead on your own skills. Look to find ways to set those players up to score if your own shooting is still weak. Find a role that the coach needs on the field and show that off at practice.
- Look for the good of the team instead of focusing on yourself. If you get a little time on the field and it’s all about getting your own goal or attention then you put the spotlight on yourself. That can be great if you do something awesome, but in many cases it’s going to highlight your weaknesses. Instead, focus on doing something that makes the TEAM look amazing, set someone up, make space, pull off a great slide, 1v1 body positioning, or double team. A great check is beautiful, but if you give up body position to take it then you’re probably not going to be on the field long. If your stick work is weak, become great at distracting defenders and opening up lanes for the shooters rather than driving in and asking for the ball repeatedly and highlighting weak catching skills. Coaches tend to pull out players when they think they might be a turnover risk, become an impact player while minimizing risk.
- Be honest with yourself about where your skills are and if you are really putting it all out there every day. Everyone has room to improve, if the blame on playing time is aimed at coaches then the growth mindset closes. There is always something you can work on, maybe it’s skills, conditioning, or attitude. Maybe it’s nerves, or mental toughness, or mental recovery after mistakes. Find your strengths and use them often. Don’t know what your strengths are? Ask the coach what you are doing well, not just where you need to improve. Find your weakness and train them up. Write down at the end of the day what you did that day to help yourself get better, what can you do better tomorrow?
- Be committed: schedule appointments and outside activities for non practice and game times. Players who miss a lot of practice will struggle to get playing time because they miss important instruction. Everyone wants to be in all of the activities that they love, but take an honest assessment if you are over committed to too many things and need to appoint more time to your team that is counting on you to be at practice and games.
- Above all else, remember that playing time is a small part of being on a team. Everyone loves to play the game, but on a tryout team usually the best of the best get on that field the most. You have the opportunity to let that push you to be better, and to complete like you’re at tryouts every day. While you are working to get better, remember to love the entire process, the experience of being a part of a group that is working together, each in their own roles of support and playmaking, to become great. Celebrate your teammates success, push the teammates around you that need help, and focus on putting out your best effort at all times. Players that hang their head after a win because of their own playing time are still learning the meaning of team.
- Remember: Success doesn’t come from one great play or one great practice, it comes from the little efforts you do repeated day in and day out over the course of the season. When you feel discouraged, remember why you tried out for the team in the first place, how it felt when you made the roster, and wear that jersey with pride- that’s YOUR team and you earned your spot, now go earn that turf time!