Dear Athlete Sitting the Bench…

Not playing in games can be discouraging and frustrating.  However, you must find ways to contribute to your team’s success while working to get better individually. 

Finding ways to contribute to your team’s success can take on many different forms and getting better individually will require journeys down various paths.  They both require an accurate assessment, and acceptance of, your “Point A.”  Only when you are realistic about where you are can you begin a journey that will get you to your “Point B.”

( To be clear, your “Point A” is your current skill level or starting point and your “Point B” is the end goal.   An inaccurate Point A will lead you on the wrong journey and to an unknown end point.  For instance, if I think I’m in Dallas and plan a route to Kansas City, but in reality I’m in Indianapolis, I’m going to end up in Toronto. )

To start your journey off the bench, turn your frustration into fuel – Use that fuel to identify a true Point A, formulate a plan for getting to Point B, and trust that engaging in the process is the way of the champion.

If you are on the bench and don’t cope with it directly, you will likely stay right where you are—on the bench and at the same “Mistaken Point A.”  Being discouraged and frustrated on the bench is not a good look.  You might think this goes unnoticed, but talk to any coach and they’ll tell you otherwise.

 Many college coaches, myself included, have either passed on recruiting an athlete or refused to put them in a game because of their demeanor on the bench. 

 “The energy contribution you make on the bench is very noticeable. Negative thoughts create a negative energy—an energy that acts like a vacuum—which saps the surrounding good energy.”

Coping – directly involves identifying your “Point A,” accepting it without judgement, making a plan of action towards your “Point B,” and enjoying the journey. From this place of acceptance and engagement – you can grow your skill-set individually while contributing to your team’s success.  The energy you carry while coping directly helps you and your teammates, and makes it more likely that you’ll get an opportunity.  

“There are several factors involved in getting off the bench, and many of those are not in your control.  That is life.  Focus on what you can control, do your best, and you’ll be able to look back at your journey and be satisfied. “

Coping directly also means your energy will be positive.  Instead of draining the team of precious energy, you will be amplifying the team energy as well as your efforts to improve.

I wasn’t a great football player, but I was fortunate to play at the NCAA Division 2 level. Sitting the bench my freshman year wasn’t much of a shock to me because I felt in over my head.  I laid low for several weeks—believing the inner voice telling me I wasn’t good enough—before I decided to make a change.  I decided to compete and find a role that would help the team.  That role ended up being on special teams, where I thrived.  The energy I put out had unexpected results—I earned respect from my teammates and coaches and eventually earned opportunities for playing on defense.

 “Being honest with myself about my abilities was hard, but it also gave me the freedom to be myself.  I began a journey of getting better while contributing to the teams’ success.”

Throughout my 10 years of coaching women’s volleyball I have guided athletes through their time on the bench many times.  Some never started until their senior year—a couple of times it wasn’t even until mid-way through their senior season.  However, they stayed with it and when an opportunity came around they capitalized on it.  Some quit after their freshman year—how could we not see their “talent?”  They never realized that it isn’t about where you are, it is about where you are going.  Others stayed on the team and played the blame game, and when they did get an opportunity they couldn’t capitalize on it—back to the bench they went. Several found small roles to help the team on and off the court.  They were very important in our teams’ success, many times going unnoticed to untrained eyes. 

 “Each athlete had slightly different situations but my message to them was always the same:  Be honest with yourself about your skill-set, accept it without judgement, and start getting better.”  

Once again, remember there are several factors contributing to why you may be sitting the bench.  The scope of this article is on controlling what you can control and the consequences of how you choose to do so.  When you look back at your athletic career it is my hope that you can honestly tell yourself, “I gave it my all and became the best I could be.” Nothing—not even playing regularly—can compare to becoming your best.  Go for it! It is hard.  It is uncomfortable.  It is scary.  It is worth it.  You are worth it.  Be your best!

Lastly, I’d like to leave you with a quote and my thoughts on it.  Carol Dweck, in her book Mindset, says, “Becoming is better than being.”  I could not agree more.  Being is stifling. It is boxed in and unable to grow.  Being is, in a way, a death sentence.  On the other hand, becoming is invigorating.  It is brimming with potential—just waiting to boil over if you put in the hard work Becoming is life well lived.

Jason Muñoz

Praus Performance