If you spend a game warming the bench, it can be frustrating. If you spend a season warming the bench, you have become better at precisely one thing: increasing the wood temperature. Every player, including Aaron Rodgers and Michael Jordan, has sat watching their teammates play at some point in their career. No one expects you to enjoy the situation, but how you handle it can stand you in good stead with your current coach and, more importantly, keep you involved in the sport for longer.
How much is enough playing time?
The answer is different at different levels of development. For young players learning the game, the answer is simple: you need to play. If you are only getting a few minutes here and there, you should consider moving to a different team or even sport, where you can get game time and have fun. Good coaches and teams recognize the need for everyone to play and be involved, which may mean running additional teams. At an early age, it should not be about winning championships but encouragement and participation.
In middle school, when children start to make more of their own decisions about sport, the two questions I would ask are:
- Am I having fun?
- Am I getting better?
If the answer to both of these is, ‘yes, then you are in a good place. You are enjoying the sport and improving. This is a perfect place to be, even if you aren’t the starter. However, people can get into your mind: teachers and parents and other adults can all add their opinions, whether helpful or informed or not.
“You should be getting more game time,” and ”I don’t know why the coach is playing X. You clearly should be starting.” Those may seem positive but can give you a sense of either entitlement or resentment. Neither are positive character traits.
Coaches make mistakes on selection. They are human beings, after all. They may be focused on winning the match this weekend rather than looking after your future career.
If you are not improving and think lack of game time is the reason, you may have to switch clubs. However, at this level, that is more difficult.
Look In The Mirror
The hardest thing to do is look in the mirror and say, ‘What can I do to get better?’ Some things are out of your control: height, muscle fiber type, your parents, and being drafted by an NFL team with a 3-time league MVP starting at quarterback ahead of you (Brett Favre). But many things are within your control, and it is best to focus on those things rather than what you can not control. Here are three of them:
- Do I work harder than any other player? (Effort is entirely within your control).
- Do I know what I need to do to improve? (I might need to ask the coach this).
- Am I good teammate? (Being nice and supportive will encourage other players to involve you and help you get better. It will definitely be noticed that you are a good ‘locker room’ person).
I was rarely penciled in as a starter when I was competing, and I spent many fruitless hours fretting about being selected. Remember that, unless your Mom or Dad is the coach, you are not in control of team selection: the coach is. You can choose to improve and get better and give the coach no choice but to select you, or you can gripe and whine and look for someone else to blame.
Sometimes, you do have to change teams to get more playing time, but that should be a second or third resort. The first is to look to work harder and get better. The second is to be patient and bide your time. You are only one tackle or one ‘flu bug away from being called on to replace the player ahead of you.
Make sure you are ready for it. And enjoy the time with your teammates while you can.