It's easy to stay motivated when you're a starter, but maintaining your skill level and attitude while you're riding the bench can be a challenge for players and coaches.
Here are tips--for coaches, parents and players--on how to prepare bench players mentally and physically to stay sharp and make meaningful contributions to the team.
Challenge Facing Bench Players
Dr. Deidre Connelly, sports psychology at the College of William & May, states, "There are special challenges for athletes who are non-starters that involve finding ways to believe in themselves, stay motivated and enjoy their sport even when they are not getting the playing time they would like to have."
"There are challenges for coaches in these situations that involve helping these athletes accept their roles as players with limited or no playing time while still believing in themselves and striving to improve."
I will attempt to identify specific strategies for coaches, athletes and parents to examine relating to the issues of a 4th liner.
- A coach must communicate with their 4th liner with regards to the tangible and intangible contributions they make to the team. Dr. Connelly noted "the athlete who is most productive in the bench warmer situation is the one who has a good understanding of the coach's expectations for him/her and is able to accept that role." Sometimes it may be difficult to qualify the exact contribution that the athlete makes. The coach should communicate to the 4th liner intangible ways their presence enhances the team's potential for success. Such as being a role model of hard work and determination, always having a positive attitude, a model for the other athletes on how to face adversity.
- The coach must talk openly and honestly to the 4th-liner regarding playing time. These conversations are extremely difficult to have with your athlete, especially the 4th-liner, but not talking about the situation leads to many negative feelings and misunderstandings. The coach must meet the issue of playing time and roles with the team head-on so that all players understand their roles, know their responsibilities and accept their role.
- Utilize long-range goals to help motivate. It is crucial to the individual that is not getting a lot of playing time that they need to continue to work on improving their skills to be ready when they are called upon to play regular due to injuries, sickness, discipline problems, etc. Most athletes cannot think that far ahead, the present is important to them. Therefore, the coach must help them look long-term, present a vision to them and help them to be patient. The coach may need to reinforce their dedication and persistence frequently while at the same time helping them realize their value to the program. Each athlete should strive to improve their overall ability. Roles can change as players change.
- The value of participation. Emphasize the many worthwhile aspects of participation that are not tied into playing time, scoring goals or killing penalties.