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Riding the Bench: Tips for maintaining a positive attitude

08/10/2012, 3:35pm CDT
By Brandon Warne

Every athlete recognizes the emotions captured in the chorus of John Fogerty’s smash-hit song “Centerfield”—“Put me in coach, I’m ready to play, today!” It’s a feeling that can have you counting the days, hours, and even minutes until your next chance to compete.

Every athlete recognizes the emotions captured in the chorus of John Fogerty’s smash-hit song “Centerfield”—“Put me in coach, I’m ready to play, today!” It’s a feeling that can have you counting the days, hours, and even minutes until your next chance to compete.

But what about the times when the game starts, and you’re relegated to watching from the sidelines?

From Little League all the way up to the major leagues, almost every player, at some point or another, has had to deal with playing second fiddle. So how do we cope with this disappointment?

Here are four tips:

1. Don't worry about what you can't control

Rick Aberman, who is the Minnesota Twins Peak Performance Director, and has a Ph.D. in psychology, suggests a few ways to keep everything in perspective. “You want to make sure you base your self-esteem on things you can control,” he notes. Otherwise, anger over starting lineups and playing time can start to overshadow the more important, positive parts of athletic participation. Likewise, when a bench-warming player finally does get into the game, it can lead to harmful obsessions over performance, which can bring with it more bad habits. “If you do well in a particular game, that’s validating. But when you get dependent on success, bad games will make you feel lousy.”

2. Don't let success dictate your feeling of self-worth

Hitting a home run or scoring a hat trick is the pinnacle of on-field achievement, but as we all know, that doesn’t happen every game. As a result, young players have to be able to compartmentalize success on the field and success in life. “You need to feel good as a person apart from the game,” Aberman explains. “After all, you can be a jerk or an angry person and still get three hits. But if you base your self-worth on yourself, rather than something from in-game performance, you can remain happy regardless of how you perform.”

3. Realize why you aren't playing, and use the reason as a motivator

“I was hyper-competitive young athlete,” says Paul Murphy, a native of Jacksonville, North Carolina. “I had a really bad attitude, and would literally yell at guys on the field when things would go south.” When Paul was young, he was an accomplished pitcher. But when arm injuries ate into his mound time, he became a brooding, unpleasant teammate. Then, in high school, something inside Murphy clicked. “I learned that my coaches and teammates received me better when I was more positive. Guys wanted to play behind me once I got back on the mound, and the coach’s portrayal of me was better once I realized what I had to do to become a good teammate and influence.”

4. Life gives you back what you put in

Sports can be a great way to learn this hard lesson. On every play, there is success and failure. And sometimes it's tough to accept that you are the only one to blame when you're sitting on the bench. Brandon Walzer, junior varsity baseball coach in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, had to drive home this point to a player last season. “Our [JV] team was mostly guys who just wanted to have fun with friends,” he recalls. “One of our players came to me early in the season and confided in me that he didn’t like how much hard work was involved. I told him to think about the other things in his life, and asked if he was willing to work hard outside of sports too.” The player, Walzer explains, quickly got the message. “From that point on, he worked even harder, and by the end of the season, got to play in the State Tournament.”

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Tag(s): Play + Life