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Dealing With the Frustration of Lack of Playing Time
by Thomas Emma, President Power Performance, Inc.
Through the years I've written hundreds of articles and four entire books relating to the sport of basketball. The subject matter has ranged from skill development and basketball-specific conditioning methods to sports psychology and the extreme challenges college basketball players face in the classroom. I even wrote a long, involved piece concerning how basketball players can best handle difficult coaches. One topic I have never touched upon, however, is how to deal with limited, or in some cases nonexistent, playing time. In my opinion, the major reason why playing time matters have not been covered adequately in the basketball improvement media (including by this author) is because most players, with their ego-oriented positive attitudes (not an entirely bad thing, by the way), don't ever see themselves riding the pine. Thus their interest in the subject is generally minimal. But the facts show that upwards of 85% of athletes participating in college basketball today will have playing time issues at some point during their careers. As such all players, regardless of talent level or their position in the current rotation, are best served preparing for the possibility of receiving less court time than they feel they deserve.
To give some perspective on how difficult sitting on the bench can be for a dedicated college ballplayer think of putting absolutely everything you have body and soul into something day in and day out, five to eight hours per, for more than half of your life. Then when you reach your goal, say being recruited to join a Division 1 basketball roster, you find yourself not able to show your wears on the court when it counts during game time. The feeling that all the time and toil were for not can be nearly impossible to bear for most. Needless to say, your self image takes a staggering blow as well. Basketball to a large extent has become your identity, and when it is taken away, albeit hopefully temporarily, through lack of playing time, it can be a bitter pill to swallow.
Making the situation even worse is that chances are you probably like and respect the individual or individuals playing ahead of you. You take no solace in him or them playing poorly. But you find out quickly that playing time is the life blood for the dedicated team sport athlete, and without consistent minutes in basketball, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to support your teammates wholeheartedly and at the same stay optimally motivated on earning more minutes.
Fortunately there are some proven strategies you can implement that will help you deal with the challenges and strong emotions that accompany not playing as much as you would like. They are listed and explained in detail below.
Without complaining or making demands, reasonable or otherwise, ask your coach what you can do to improve your chances of earning more minutes. This will accomplish three things: First, and most obvious, you will get a better feel for what you need to focus on in order to impress the coach and receive those precious extra minutes. This will erase any confusion you may have concerning why you're not playing, along with saving you the time and energy of trying to read your coach's mind.
Second, it will establish that you have a professional attitude. Instead of complaining to others or brooding around the locker room, you show your coach, the entire staff, and your teammates that you believe in the straight forward, no nonsense approach. Tell me what to do and I'll do to the best of my ability it will be your motto.
Third, and perhaps most important, it will let your coach know how serious you are about contributing on the floor. All coaches want athletes on their rosters who want to play and help the team win. This will show you are this type of player.
The advice to keep working diligently despite your travails would seem to be a no-brainer, but when you're not playing and deep frustration (or even depression) sets in continuing to give your all becomes quite a challenge for most of us. In addition to following your coaches suggestions, it is imperative that you work as hard as ever (or maybe even harder) on improving your individual skills and body on a daily basis. This will entail staying after practice working on your own and/or with assistant coaches on the court, hitting the weight room consistently, and getting in extra running to maintain game type conditioning levels (very important when your not getting many minutes). Adhering to a nutritious diet, keeping a regular sleep schedule, and following an appropriate treatment regime are also important factors in maintaining peak performance levels whether you're playing or not. All this work will ensure that you're ready to go when your number is called, along with keeping your general improvement process on track.
Always Remain Engaged and Ready Emotionally
During one of my seasons as a college basketball player I was penciled in as the first guard off the bench at the beginning of preseason practice on October 15. While I felt I played well enough during the preseason workouts to earn a starting spot, my third guard status remained in tact when the regular season commenced. Needless to say I wasn't happy, but I resigned myself to coming off the bench and giving it my all when it was my time to play. My mind set for the first time in my career was that of a reserve, which as any bench player can attest requires a much different mentality than that of a starter. Just a few things that a bench player has to deal with that a starter doesn't, include: 1) Not being involved in the game plan or scouting report. 2) Never quite knowing when you're going to enter the game. 3) Playing with players you likely don't share much court time with in practice. 4) Entering the action cold when all or almost all the players are warm and in the flow of the game. 5) Playing substantial minutes when games are out of reach one way or the other (i.e., garbage time.)
Low and behold during the first few minutes of the first game one of our guards missed a few jumpers, turned the ball over, and failed (in the coaches opinion) to step in front of a driving ball handler on his way to the hoop. As such, my number was called early. And as luck would have it (I'd like to say as skill would have it!), I immediately got a few good looks at the rim and knocked down the shots, dished off for a couple of assists, and made a steal that led to another bucket. I continued to play solid for the rest of the game as well, and our team came away with a convincing victory after a sluggish start.
After the game I was pleasantly satisfied with the victory and my performance. What happened the next day at practice, however, was surprising to me. After six weeks of practice, two intra squad scrimmages, and one preseason game playing as the third guard, I was suddenly inserted into the starting lineup. Not that I didn't think that I deserved to start (as mentioned above, I always considered myself a starter), but this drastic change within a 24 hour period would take a bit of adjusting to. It didn't help that I was taking the place of one of my best friends on the team, who after this game would be buried deep on the pine for the next 10 games or so.
My point here is that I wasn't 100% ready emotionally to start. Although it turned out okay, and I continued to play reasonably well throughout the season, I would have served myself better if I had kept a bit of the starter's mentality from the beginning. I learned through this experience to never resign yourself to coming off the bench or to receiving limited minutes. Always keep hope alive, and prepare yourself daily as if you're going to play the entire game. It just might happen!
Keep it Quiet
Other than asking your coach for suggestions concerning how you might receive more court time, it is generally best not discuss your plight of lack of playing time with anyone. Talking too much about your situation, whether it be with teammates, family members, or friends, will, in my experience, lead only to more frustration and anger (what you talk and think about tends to expand). It may also expose you to well meaning but bad advice from your inner circle of supporters. These individuals want the best for you at all costs, which leads them to not always see things with 20/20 vision when it comes to your playing time situation. Keeping mum, of course, is much easier said than done. Human nature, not to mention society, encourages us to communicate when something is bothering us. As such, it will be extremely tempting to look to others for support during this difficult time. But rest assured all the venting in the world will not improve-and will probably hinder-your chances of moving up in the rotation. So if at all possible, keep it quiet!
Thomas Emma is the president of Power Performance, Inc., a company that specializes in training basketball players and other athletes in strength, conditioning, and athletic enhancement techniques. He is the author of nine books on sports improvement, all of which are available at www.powerperformance.net.
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