7 Tips to Promote Yourself from a Backup to Starter

STACK Expert Jim Carpentier offers sound advice to help reserve players contribute to team success and promote their value.

In sports, making the final cut is huge. But if it's opening day and you're second or third string, it's easy to be disappointed, and you might be temped to sit at the end of the bench and brood. If you're a reserve athlete—whether a pinch-hitter, relief pitcher or second-string quarterback—here are seven suggestions to help you stay focused, promote yourself, make a positive contribution and get elevated to a starting position.

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1.  Appreciate Making the Team

Be thankful that your athletic skills were good enough to prevent you from being cut.

2. Impress the Coaching Staff and Your Teammates

Show your value as the ultimate team player while being a reserve. Your coaches and teammates will take notice. Examples:

  • Be punctual at team meetings, practices and games.
  • Volunteer to set up equipment before practices/games and collect the equipment afterwards.
  • Be the first to arrive at meetings/practices/games and the last to leave.
  • Ask your coaches if they need assistance with anything.

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3. Observe the Skills of the Starters

Play dual roles as a reserve and as a team "scout" by noting the elite skills and sports-enhancing components of those in the starting lineup. Starters may be faster, stronger, bigger or have more endurance than the backups. Spend extra time in the weight room to get stronger/bigger; or devote extra time after practice to improving other sports performance attributes such as power, speed or endurance—by doing uphill Sprints or running the bleachers. Or spend more time on sport-specific skills. If you're a punter or kicker, put in extra time practicing accuracy and building your leg power to kick long field goals or punt deep downfield. Need to improve your free throw accuracy on the basketball court? Attempt more free throws before and after practices.

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4. Be Prepared To Sub At All Times

The starter could get injured or be pulled from the game for poor play—meaning you could be called at any time to substitute. Mental and physical alertness are key, so as a reserve, always be sure to get enough sleep throughout the season, be well-hydrated and eat well. Seize the opportunity.

5. Be the First to Congratulate or Console Teammates

Congratulate a starter for a game-winning basket, touchdown or home run.  And be first to console a dejected starter for a costly error, dropped pass or missed field goal.

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6. Be a Team Cheerleader and Fan

Rather than stand or sit in the background as a reserve and act subdued and inattentive, be front and center as a passionate teammate during games, cheering and encouraging the starters. As a backup, one can be inspirational in words and actions, playing an indirect role off the field by rallying the team to victory.

7. Study Opponents and Be Aware of Game Situations & Conditions

Reserve players can learn a lot about an opposing team during games—and from watching and studying game films. Observing the strengths and weaknesses of opponents—e.g., an opposing pitcher's pitch selection; how an opposing quarterback moves out of the pocket; how to defend against a basketball point guard—is advantageous when you enter the game as a backup. Likewise, observing game conditions before and during games—e.g., dry, slick, or a muddy field—and  weather—e.g., direction of the wind when kicking field goals or throwing passes; angle of sunlight/shadows when subbing in the outfield or facing an opposing pitcher as a pinch-hitter.

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