Being “benched” or not getting the playing time athletes desire isn’t fun.
However, it’s bound to happen at some point in an athlete’s career. Usually the response to getting benched is negative and can easily cut a player’s confidence if she doesn’t have strategies to use when she finds herself on the sidelines.
Fortunately, there are some simple ways that athletes can regain their confidence in this tough situation.
Here’s what athletes can do if/when they get benched…
Focus on Breath + Thoughts
If an athlete is being pulled from a game (for reasons other than normal rotation or to give her a break), there are likely some emotions happening. Maybe frustration from the coach or athlete herself. There could be confusion. Maybe the team is losing and the energy is funky.
This is the perfect time to get back to two things that will ground and center the athlete from being carried away: Breath and Thoughts.
Taking some deep inhales and exhales will help calm the nervous system so the athlete can think clearly and not become lost in the anger/frustration.
Secondly, always become aware of the thoughts behind the emotion.
It’s natural and likely that athletes are thinking things like:
“What did I do wrong?!”
“I’m so embarrassed.”
“I’ll never get another shot.”
Remember, our thoughts create our reality. In the heat of the moment, simply changing what we are focusing on can make a huge difference.
Instead, think things like:
“I’m going to support my team no matter what.”
“There’s an opportunity here.”
“This is temporary.”
“I’m ready to go back in.”
Our thoughts control our emotions, so being aware of what we are telling ourselves in these situations is key.
Stay Engaged On The Bench
Experts agree that the majority of communication is nonverbal.
Meaning our body language and our facial expressions are communicating more than our words, especially when we get benched.
Now, I’m not saying that you need to pretend to be happy when you get benched. However, slouching, crossing arms, and becoming disinterested in the game or your teammates is an easy way to stay on the bench for good.
Good teammates and athletes remain engaged no matter where they are on the court or field (even if that means from the sidelines).
Follow the flow of the game, be ready to give information to your position group or the person who went in for you, high five and encourage your teammates, and make sure that you are still contributing to your team through your energy and knowledge (remember, you don’t have to be on the court/field to do this!)
You also never know when your coach needs you to go back in, so be ready and prepared mentally and physically!
Ask For Feedback
If your coach didn’t give you a reason for pulling you out of the game (and it wasn’t obvious to you), schedule a time when you can meet with her/him and seek some feedback.
This could be a good time to clarify your role on the team as well if that seems to be a little fuzzy (remember – not all roles include starting/playing all the time).
Some things to keep in mind:
- Choose a good time to talk to your coach. Right before, during, or right after a game when emotions are high and your coach is focusing on many different things is usually not the best time. Think before or after practice and give him/her a heads up like “hey coach, do you have a few minutes to chat? I have a couple questions about how I can improve.”
- Coaches bench players for SEVERAL reasons, and it’s not always because of something you did. Sometimes they are looking to break up momentum, give the opposing team another look, utilize a strength in another player, or mix things up. Think of big picture and what’s best for the team when considering your role as well.
- Be open to suggestions. If you are asking for feedback, be willing to take the feedback and implement it.
Bonus: Parents – Encourage Your Athlete to Reflect and Seek Feedback
Parents, one of the most powerful things you can do when your daughter is in this position is to direct her to focus on her own improvement.
Have her complete a post-competition reflection to get honest with herself and take ownership over how she can improve.
If she is still puzzled and confused as to why she was benched, encourage her to talk to the coach.
It can be far too easy to do things like:
- Tear down the coach “I can’t believe he/she did that!”
- Diminish the other player who was subbed in for your daughter
- Go directly to the coach/AD and demand answers
All three of these things (while maybe providing immediate comfort), do more harm than good and create division among your daughter’s team.
Encourage your daughter to advocate for herself through seeking feedback and never put her in a position where she has to choose between supporting you and your opinions about the coach/teammates and supporting her own team.
In short, being benched isn’t fun. But, just like everything in life, our athletes get to choose how they respond. With these strategies, they can use their situation as an opportunity to grow!
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