No youth athlete wants to be known as the team benchwarmer, but even with the best intentions some coaches have a hard time ensuring every player gets equal playing time. It’s important that during the first few years of their athletic career, coaches do everything they can to keep kids engaged and interested, so benchwarming needs to be kept to a minimum. If they hardly ever set foot on the field it’s hard to build any real passion. But as players move through their athletic career, especially if they join a more competitive league or travel team, coaches start to care a little less about equal playing time and more about getting the best combination of players on the field. As Dr. Alan Goldberg pointed out,
When I worked with the University of Connecticut men’s soccer program, they had 27 players on their team. Almost all of these players could’ve started for a number of other Division I schools in the country. Instead they chose to come to Connecticut. A good number of these very talented athletes who were once stars in high school now found themselves assigned to the supporting cast. Right or wrong, they rarely got the opportunity to start. Fair or unfair, they barely got any playing time.
Parents never want to see their child on the bench for an extended period of time, and young players have the right to ask a coach why they aren’t getting as much playing time as they’d like or what they need to do to earn more playing time in future games. But here are 3 things parents and players can do to stay positive while they’re on the bench during a game:
1. Don’t badmouth their teammates.
Badmouthing their teammates (“Mike can’t catch, I don’t get why he’s playing shortstop and you’re sitting out!”) can breed resentment among players, which is the last thing a youth sports team needs. Encourage your child to be supportive of their teammates no matter what. That positive attitude can be infectious and bring the whole team up. Conversely, a sour player in the dugout or on the sideline can cause a lot of tension and bring everyone down. A teammate’s mistake isn’t a chance for them to gloat or talk about how they wouldn’t have made such a careless error–they should be focusing on encouraging and supporting their teammates regardless of what went right or wrong.
2. Ask the coach for pointers.
Especially at a highly competitive level, there is a reason why the coach chooses one player over another. Why is Joe getting more time on the soccer field than Ben? Is Joe a better dribbler? Is he better at getting open for shots on goal? Does he simply hustle more, even if Ben is more technically skilled? Encourage your child to talk to their coach after the next practice about what they can do to earn more time on the field. Chances are the coach will be incredibly impressed that a young players takes that kind of initiative, and their pointers can help your athlete develop as an athlete.
3. Don’t get into it with their coach.
As parents, it’s our job to think our kids are amazing and talented and special and wonderful. A coach’s job is to run the team as best as they can. Hopefully this means they are trying to give each player equal attention and playing time, but no one is perfect. If you feel like the coach has singled out your child for some reason talk to them, but be polite and respectful about it. 99 out of 100 coaches aren’t the kind of people that willfully bench a kid because of some devious reason. Maybe they don’t even realize how unequal the playing time comes across. But getting into a fight (either vocal or physical) isn’t going to solve anything. And that could cause some serious tension among the team!