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Dealing With the Frustration of Lack of Playing Time
by Thomas Emma, President Power Performance, Inc.
Commit to Traversing the Razor's Edge of Being a Good Teammate
On the surface the idea of being a good teammate would seem relatively simple. After all, teammates share the goals of winning and competing cohesively against a common opponent. Players on most teams also tend to be friendly off the court as well, as similar interests, backgrounds, and schedules breed closeness and loyalty. But when you're not receiving what you feel is just playing time being a solid teammate is much more complicated than meets the eye.
One of my favorite authors, W. Somerset Maugham, wrote a book titled, The Razor's Edge. Without going into extreme detail, let me just say that the book's protagonist, Larry, chose a path in life that required him to border two very different worlds. The challenge this posed parallels walking on a razor's edge, thus the title of the book.
The idea of moving forward on a thin razor's edge is not dissimilar to what a player must face when dealing with a lack of playing time. It is very difficult for a young athlete to straddle his ultra-strong desire to play and contribute to his team's fortunes with his duty to be a supportive teammate, especially to players who are likely poaching his precious minutes.
My advice in the above case is to take the situation as a challenge, one that is met with the same focus and intensity you exude when competing on the court. Reach down deep and endeavor with everything you have to traverse the razor's edge. Aspire to be both genuine to yourself in your desire to play and a genuinely supportive teammate to your fellow athletes. Dealing with these conflicting emotions successfully will not only make you a better player and teammate, but ultimately a better person as well.
Always Maintain Your Passion for the Game
Most of us who reached high levels as basketball players began the fascinating journey as fans. I for one rarely missed a televised NBA or college game growing up. (Keep in mind these were in the days before cable TV, so games were broadcast in limited scope compared to today.) It is of paramount importance that you maintain your love for basketball despite your playing time woes. One way to accomplish this is to continue to be a fan. Watch and enjoy other teams and players perform whenever you can. When I was playing less than I thought I should during my freshman year in college, I found that watching NBA games regularly not only kept my interest in basketball high, but it also allowed me to learn different techniques and skills that led to my improving on the court. I still remember as if it were yesterday watching and subsequently emulating NBA guard, Gus Williams, and his court long, full speed dribble drives to the hoop. After a productive summer of working on this aggressive style of attacking the basket, I found myself whipping by opponents with regularity and getting to the rim with relative ease. This newly acquired skill led to helping me earn a starting job, as our team was in need of a penetrating guard who could make things happen off the dribble. (Thanks Gus!) So regardless of how down you may be about not playing, keep your passion for the game alive and well. You'll be glad you did. I guarantee it!
Help Your Direct Competition as Best You Can
Okay, so you have remained positive through your frustration, implemented your coach's suggestions, worked diligently on your game, kept your playing time travails to yourself, maintained your passion for the game, and cheered your teammates on with gusto. But you are drawing the line at providing improvement oriented insights to your direct competition. It is just too much! Or is it?
Believe it or not, this high road approach, as counter intuitive as it seems at first blush, has many rewards. First, it will let you contribute meaningfully to your team's success despite the fact that your court time is limited (or perhaps non-existent). After all, who better to help the player in your position than you? I guarantee the sense of satisfaction you gain by being thoroughly involved and useful will be well beyond your wildest expectations.
Second, it will keep you fully engaged in the action on the court, especially on the position you play. Many of us when we're not receiving meaningful minutes tend to zone out and not follow what's happening right in front of us on the floor. The insights you recognize and provide to your teammate(s) can also be used by you when you enter the game, thus helping you become a better player, one who is deserving of more playing time.
Third, it will make you look at the game more as a coach than as a player. This approach is sure to improve your basketball IQ. And should you ever decide to pursue the coaching profession as so many former players do, the experience will prove invaluable.
Finally, don't think for a minute that your coaches won't recognize how you are selflessly helping the team. They will respect you greatly for your efforts and strongly consider you for more minutes over other players who stew in the background when not playing.
Take This Opportunity to Release From Self Absorption
Let's face it, most young athletes (and young people in general) are self absorbed. It's not a criticism but a fact that can be traced back to ancient times. It doesn't help that today social networks such as Facebook and Twitter promote self absorption to the nth degree by encouraging users to post their every move, photograph, and thought.
Part of growing up and evolving as a human being is shedding the self absorbed state. Sitting on the bench for more minutes than you feel you should gives you a great opportunity to begin this process. Instead of focusing on your own problem, in this case lack of playing time, you can choose to look at the bigger picture, things like team success, other player's plights, and yes even your coach's challenges and stresses (many young athletes and their supporters neglect to realize the tremendous pressure today's basketball coaches are under to win). Like many of the suggestions in the article, this will not be an easy proposition. Self absorption has a strong grip on most, especially when you're young, athletic, competitive, and used to getting almost everything you want. But getting a head start on breaking the ties of self absorption will ultimately lead to better relationships, more helpful insights throughout life, and a peace of mind you'll never achieve by focusing solely on yourself.
There you have it, eight productive strategies that will help you through the frustrating dilemma of lack of playing time. Implement these ideas to the best of your ability and you'll see your time on the bench become more tolerable, not to mention likely shorter!
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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