Coaching tips

COACHING TIPS: The Plight of the Bench warmer – Part II

Because of the overwhelming reaction to my show last week about bench warmers, and what happens to the psyche of a kid who rarely gets into a game, I felt compelled to return to this topic during one of my on-air segments today.

Not surprisingly, the phone lines lit up immediately. More and more heart-wrenching stories from parents who felt their youngster was short-changed by the HS coach in terms of playing time.

Now, of course, my show is open to anyone to call in and voice an opinion. I realize that can be a two-edged sword, meaning that callers can make claims or put forth statements that may or may not be true. After all, we don’t have the time, personnel, or money to fact-check or to do due diligence on our callers.

And I realize that, emotionally, callers may exaggerate the facts of their kids sitting on the bench in HS, or rarely getting into games.

On the other hand, I also recognize that perception is key in all of these cases. That is, if a parent feels strongly that the coach never put their kid into a contest, even though the reality may be that the kid DID play on occasion, the parental perception may be totally skewed. Yet at the end of the day, the parent is convinced that the coach was unfair and insensitive to their son’s or daughter’s plight. So, in effect, while the reality may be different from the caller’s claims, the perception is that the kid got gypped in terms of playing time.


One caller this AM told a story about his daughter who he admitted was not a superstar soccer player, but was good enough to make the varsity team. Yet she never got into games. In one match, the father recalled with vivid detail and with great sadness, his daughter’s team was winning 11-2, and the coach made sure to get in lots of girls from the bench into the lopsided affair. Every girl, that is, except his daughter.

The Dad, of course, was crushed. His daughter came home in tears. Subsequently, the girl went to the coach and asked why she had been left on the sidelines. The coach – -and again, this is from the father’s account – told the girl that “I only play those girls who show enough talent that will develop.”

In other words, the coach was basically confirming to his player that she wasn’t very good, and that in the coach’s opinion, she would never be good enough to get into a game.

Now, let’s be honest. I don’t have all the facts in this account. I don’t know the girl, her Dad, the team, the coach, nothing. Maybe the Dad forgot to tell me that his daughter was lazy in practice. Or didn’t go to all the practices. I have no idea. But assuming that he was giving the facts in a straightforward manner, and that his daughter went to all the practices and worked hard, then this kind of story is very upsetting.


As a former youth, college, and professional coach, I still work from the philosophy that if a coach allows a youngster to make his or her team, then that means that the coach should have enough faith and confidence to play the kid when possible. Notice I didn’t say that the youngster should start. Nobody would argue that. But if the youngster makes the team, that strongly suggests that he or she had enough talent to convince the coach that they can participate in games. And honestly, the kid (and their parents) probably feel the same way.

Furthermore, Coach, if you play your bench warmers or subs even for a little bit of time in each game, that will allow them to increase and build their sense of self-confidence, and will lift their spirits to feel that they are contributing to the overall team effort. Even better, in my coaching experience, kids tend to raise their game to a higher level when the coach says, “Okay, you’re in!”

In short, Coach, if the kid’s on your team, find a way to play him or her. You’ll be amazed at the positive results!