Motivating Bench Players

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Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.

The takeaway?  We’re all in this together and everyone’s role is important…different, but vital.  I’ve used that quotation with teams before, especially those teams where a couple of folks have risen to the top of the metaphorical heap.  And if you’ve got a situation where playing time may be hard to come by or younger players who have supplanted your veterans, it’s a good idea to talk to your team about embracing their roles.  That quotation is from the Bible and if your campus isn’t particularly churchy (like mine) or you just don’t feel comfortable citing where it’s from, I’ve found that the quotation is powerful enough that it stands alone.

No athlete wants to hear from their coach, “Your role is going to be sitting here next to me cheering on your teammates.”  Though someone has to fill that role on every team, most folks assume that it will not be them.  Once it sinks in that they will get limited playing time, how do we, as their coaches, keep them motivated, mentally engaged, and most of all…how can we help them to maintain a positive attitude?  Some of your most engaging and fun and strong personalities will come from your bench players.  If you want their impact to move your team chemistry along in a positive direction, rather than becoming cancerous, here are three ways to motivate them and make them feel as if they are an integral part of your team.

Make the team better:  Imagine if you had a track & field athlete who could go hard rep after rep…but just couldn’t make the leap from middle of the pack to the best on your team.  I mean, this girl is like clockwork…you tell her a time to hit and she nails it, every practice.  Now imagine if you could embolden this athlete to see her role as making her teammates better, that while she may not have that “next gear”, she does bring something very valuable to the team which will ultimately make the big dogs more competitive.  Now she’s not the girl who just isn’t good enough, but she’s your All-American’s training partner.

Be better than the competition: Hype up your reserve team!  Empower them to challenge your starters…they know their strengths and weaknesses better than anyone else.  While you certainly don’t want to develop any animosity between your starters and non-starters (that can be alleviated by moving people freely between the two sides…and maybe not calling them starters and non-starters), you do want to create a spirit of competition where your young ladies are getting after it in practice.  Then your bench players will feel proud because they’re giving your starters a run for their money and your starters will feel well prepared because they’ve run the gauntlet everyday at practice.

Learn the game and be ready: How many times have we seen one of our better players get hurt and have to sit…and all of a sudden, she’s the smartest player in the world?!  We all know that sitting back and becoming a student of the game is helpful, but it’s a luxury our top players cannot indulge in.  But our reserves can, and they should use it to try and work their way into the starting lineup.  If they’re just standing around yapping with the other ladies who aren’t starting instead of watching the game and trying to figure out how to get on the court, then they’re probably right where they deserve to be!  As much sense as that makes to coaches, you probably will have to let them know that you expect them to fight for a spot…that it won’t be handed to them.  You must also get across to them that it’s not personal.  I always tell my team that I love all of them and think they’re all great, but starting spots are not gifts…they’re earned.

So, how do you handle playing time issues?