Getting the Best out of your Reserve Players
by Ray Eady
I was talking to a former colleague (who was also a former collegiate basketball player) and we were debating if basketball was a team sport. His reply, “Absolutely not, all you need is two all-stars and a decent role player and your team has a good chance of winning.”
Ok, I can understand his argument and we call all agree if you have a couple of “all-stars” on your team in any sport you can improve your chances of winning”. However, I still believe role players (reserve or bench players) are a key ingredient in the winning process. In many cases, you cannot become a championship team with just two good players. You need important players who can come off the bench and play quality minutes.
What is considered “quality minutes”? A few include:
• Substituting for a starter who is injured
• Substituting for a starter that has fouled out of a game
• Substituting for a starter that is having a bad game (it does occur!)
• Giving the starters rest during intense competition
• Helping to provide a momentum shift in competitive games because of renewed “spirit” and “energy”
• Preparing the starters during practice
• While on the bench, the good role player keeps their head in the game, and observes what's going on, where the weaknesses are in the defense, which opposing players are a threat, what's happening on the boards, etc.
The coaching staff at the University of Wisconsin constantly stresses to our bench players to "make a difference". Not just go into the game and run aimlessly up and down the floor, but play hard, hustle and become the “X” factor.
With this understanding, here are a few things I do with my reserve players in the weight room to foster that “X” factor mentality.
1. Assign leadership responsibilities to the reserve players and not solely to the captains, starters or the “best” player on the team. This gives the reserve players some team ownership and keeps them engaged.
2. Have the starters’ partner with the reserve players during training sessions. This shows that everyone on the team is of equal importance [regardless of minutes played] and that the whole is better than the sum of its parts.
3. Empower your reserve players to make decisions for the team. Once again, this promotes leadership, decision-making, as well as confidence and competitiveness.
4. Constantly give positive feedback. Positive feedback promotes self-confidence, self-assurance and improves self-esteem. In addition, it shows that you care!
5. Continue to challenge them physically and mentally. Put them in situations where they have to overcome some adversity.
6. Recognize their hard work, achievements, and efforts in front of the team. This develops player credibility.
7. Promote the perception that membership on the team is an honor regardless of role. Players feel more attached to the team when it makes them feel special.
8. Limit group competitions but incorporate more team competition where success is only achieved by the inclusion of all players.
9. Verbally communicate to the team the importance of role players and their impact on team performance.
10. Most importantly, continue to hold them accountable at all cost!
The good role player realizes that their "time will come". The role player is a special person because most players want to be starters; however, it takes great maturity to be a good role player.
With that being said, I guess basketball really is a team sport!