Benched: 3 Tips on How to Handle a Lack of Playtime

Morgan! Catherine! Oscar! Gwen! Anna! Beau! Laura!

Sigh. Another point on the sideline. Another point where I’m not contributing. Is coach watching the same game I’m watching? Beau dropped it TWICE last point and Oscar looks like he’s never played defense before. This is ridiculous. Doesn’t coach remember how good my throws were looking last practice? Doesn’t Coach know how badly I want it? I deserve to be out on the field. I deserve to be out on the field.


Does any of this resonate with you? Be honest with yourself and think back: Has there ever been a time when you thought you deserved to be on the field, rink, or court, but were put on the sideline instead? If the answer is yes, put yourself back in that moment for a second. Try to remember the thoughts and feelings that went through your head. Maybe it was Universe point, or even just a random point in the middle of the game. Either way, you disagreed with the coach’s decision. You naturally wanted to be out on that field.

Dealing with playtime, or lack-thereof, is one of the toughest mental battles you will face in your sports career. Emotions of resentment, guilt, and frustration, just to name a few, are all too common when you feel like you are not contributing to the team the way you want to.  It’s okay if you’ve had those thoughts and feelings – everyone has been there at one point in their sports career. It’s natural.

Having said that, it’s time for you to make the choice: Do you want to be a true team player? Are you willing to do whatever it takes, no matter how painful, to help the team be as successful as possible? Then watch the following video and read on. The following three tips will help you master your mind when it comes to a lack of playtime.



1. You Are Important

As a rookie on Furious George, I knew that I should not have expected a lot of playing time. Nonetheless, I was frustrated, resentful, and thankfully, aware enough to know that it wasn’t healthy. I needed a strategy to cope with being stuck on the sideline. What I came up with was this simple yet powerful mindset switch: When the starting seven was called and didn’t include my name, I’d imagine the coach had called my name and given me the vital role of being the best sideline teammate ever. There was no bench to be sat on: my coach needed me on that sideline helping my teammates. I felt important again. I had a role to fill to help the team win.

What are the benefits to you with this mindset shift? Not only are you staying physically warm by running up and down the sideline, but when you do get put into the game, you will be going into it with a positive mindset as well, free from the negative distractions that are resentment and frustration. The coach should notice and appreciate the effort, and if they don’t, a strong sideline presence will not go unnoticed by your captains and teammates. So remember, whether you’re on the field or sideline, You Are Important.


2. Learn by Observation

This second tip is closely tied to the first point because it only works if you’re engaged on the sideline: Learn by observation. Your team’s starters are starters for a reason (hopefully not because they are the coach’s favourite) and you can learn a lot by watching. In games and practices, observe the player(s) in the position you want to eventually have (initiating cutter, d-line handler etc.) and note what their strengths and weaknesses are. How are they similar and different to yours?  If their physical attributes such as height are different from yours, what do you have to work on to get around that? For example, if the starting cutters are all 6’4 and you’re 5’8, you may need to work on your quickness and field awareness to compensate for your lack of skying ability.  I’ve improved a ton from watching players like Tim Tsang, a Furious George and Team Canada World Games handler, and while I may not be able to ever flick full field like he does, I am able to copy how dynamic and smart he is without the disc. When you’re on the sideline, take the opportunity to Learn by Observation.


3. Accept Reality


Not once in this article did I say being stuck on the sideline was fun or that your feelings of resentment and general sourness was unwarranted. No. It absolutely sucks not to be on the field or court, especially when you feel like you deserve to be there. However, by accepting reality, through the practice of mindfulness, you can achieve two things:

1. You will realize the coach does not owe you play time (This point is strictly towards an athlete on older, competitive teams. When you’re under age 14-16 ish, I am of the opinion the coach and organization do owe you play time.)

2. You will be able to react in a positive and helpful way, such as helping your teammates with your voice on the sideline, using the opportunity observe and learn, and taking the time to ask the coach what you can work on to earn playing time.

When you begin to feel negative emotions when you’re on the sideline, be mindful, and Accept Reality.



As an athlete, we closely, and perhaps too strongly, link our success and failure on the field to our identity. When we don’t get playing time, we feel as though we are somehow less human, less important, than the people that are playing. This is simply a trick of the mind. Everything that happens is a gift in disguise. It is up to you whether you can recognize and utilize the gift.


We want to hear from you! What are some tricks you’ve used to master your mind when it comes to playtime? As a coach, what are your playtime policies?

Thanks for reading.