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How Do You Handle Being a Role Player

As we enter the middle of winter, I am working with numerous team sport participants who are frustrated with their roles on their respective teams. Players on basketball, volleyball, football and soccer have all been consulting with me about they’re playing time, or lack of it. Whether it be on a club or high school team, many of these athletes have been upset because they are either not starting or not getting many minutes in their games. And several of them have been very vocal about how they believe they are better than the players ahead of them. As long as there are sport teams with more players than positions, there will always be frustrated athletes, parents and coaches as well.

If you have read my newsletters, you know that I like to say, “A good coach is a good psychologist and a bad coach needs a sport psychologist”. I believe one of the most difficult roles a coach has is making everyone on the team happy, because it rarely happens. There are always going to be frustrated athletes for a variety of reasons. Playing time is usually the most common problem most coaches have to deal with. Whether it is an unhappy athlete or a steaming parent, a coach needs to know how to communicate clearly about their decisions about who starts, who is first off the bench and why he/she has made these choices.

In my opinion, the key to dealing with this starts in the pre-season meeting.
Before the season begins, a coach should explain his/her coaching philosophy about who starts, who comes off the bench and how and why these choices are made. By doing this in the pre-season meeting, you are setting up the foundation for the choices you make during the season. I believe one of the keys to this is establishing a communication channel for athletes and parents who will inevitably get frustrated as the season progresses. I know many coaches, especially in high school, will not speak with parents about this issue after the season begins. I feel once an athlete enters high school, they should have the self-confidence to be able to ask questions to their respective coach. However, many athletes have told me that they are ignored by their coach and eventually ask their parents for help. Often times, when the parent gets involved it can get ugly and confrontational. Effective and successful coaches understand this and usually are good at explaining why certain athletes start and what others roles are. They usually set up a communication channel that can give the athlete an opportunity to speak with the coach, which can eliminate getting parents involved.

However, many athletes are still frustrated even when they can speak with their coach about their role. The word “fairness” is commonly brought up in the conversation, with many athletes complaining that it’s not fair that they are either not starting or not playing enough. In our sessions, we often discuss that to give themselves the best chance of playing, they need to first focus on what they have control over. They can’t force the coach to play them, but they can impress the coaching staff with their attitude and effort in practice. I commonly suggest that they need to make their practices, their games. Approach practice as if it is the actual game with a positive attitude, and putting out the effort that can impress the coaches. In their discussions with the coaches, don’t complain about why they aren’t playing enough, instead ask the coaches what areas of their performance they need to improve on and set goals to work on these areas. Even though they may not change the coach’s decisions, they will eventually set themselves up for success. In the long run by doing this, they will not only improve their chances to play, but improve their skills as well. Many athletes are told that their role is to come off the bench and be ready when their name is called. By accepting this is their role and understanding this is how the coach feels they can help the team, they give themselves the best chance to impress the coach with their attitude and eventually have the opportunity for more playing time.

As always, your thoughts….

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