Everyone wants their time to shine. The sideline is the reference to the bench and watching from the side as your teammates make all the contributions and get the glory. Sometimes we feel as though we deserve to be in the game and can't bring ourselves to understand why coach isn't playing us or why said player is playing over us.
When you get tired of watching helplessly as time is passing you by and you sit and spectate; below I have illustrated 6 actionable items you can do to help you end your sideline story and get in the game.
1. Show your coach you are making improvements without directly telling him.
One of the hardest things you are going to do is be honest with yourself and ask yourself "Am I really working as hard as I can?", "Am I really pushing myself to see the results that deserve the playing time I desire?" After your reassessment and you have determined that you need to make some improvements you should change your training. Whether that means hiring a coach or doing some different techniques you need to make some changes.
"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over hoping for different results"- Albert Einstein.
Why I have included this quote here is because obviously what you have been doing isn't working, so some change is now needed in order to get in the game. After you have done so not only will your game begin to evolve but you must now make your coach aware of it. But you must do it subtly at first, I suggest by showing your coach some videos of you training and asking for his advice/opinion.
Example: Showing a video of you doing some shooting drills and ask him "Hey coach so I have been doing these drills with my trainer do you think in our offense the corner three or top of the key shot is more open/important?"
"Hey coach so I was working on this attack move with my trainer, do you think my shoulders are low enough here?"
This indirectly lets him know that you are working hard and training while you don't have to tell him "Hey coach look at me I am working hard!! Please play me!!". This way you do not look desperate and you are putting the idea into his head that you are making improvements. Now when you make that shot in practice he thinks to himself wow that training is working. He is impressed and starts to see you in a different light. You are changing his frame of thinking and that is what we want. To change how he views you: as a player that deserves to play.
2. Surround yourself with better players.
A little background. I started at a different high school where I was playing varsity with that team as just graduating 8th grade and all over the summer as an incoming freshman. After 3 weeks into the school year I got the chance to transfer to a better and newer high school in my area and I took the opportunity. However, going to this new school since I transferred after beginning of the year, the teams had already been playing together and tryouts were already done. Teams were almost set. So since that reason the counselor said I must go to talk with the Head varsity coach and if he determined that I was good enough they'd change my class schedule to include basketball.
So here I go a wide eyed freshman, nervous to speak to the head coach to let me onto the team. I let him know that I played varsity at this other school as an incoming 9th grader and that I also play regularly with one of his varsity players named Sean who happened to live in my apartments.
So he decides to let me onto the team but onto the freshman team and not the varsity. And to his defense this school was significantly better at basketball than the one I had came from so I don't fault him too much especially since he never saw me play at all. He said he will put me on the freshman team and go from there.
So I came into the freshman team and after being doubted my play spoke for itself and I started on the team. However, my goal was to get on the varsity team and so I was constantly looking forward to being on there.
One of the ways that I helped to propel myself to this status as a varsity player was by putting myself on the Head coaches radar. I know the coach needed to see me play. Now the varsity team would practice and for some reason they had an odd number of players and so sometimes they needed an extra player and whenever they needed an extra player I was right there and ready to volunteer. Even if it was for dummy defense for a drill. While playing all I tried to do was not mess up or do anything too flashy.
Additionally, I knew that the players sometimes decided who they wanted on their team. They played in waves on 5 vs 5 and the players could select who they wanted when they ran for fun in the last period of school. So I came to the conclusion that if I became friends with these older players and they liked me then they would select me to play with them. Then I could get my opportunity to play in front of the head coach. It was all calculated and systematic. However, I did become good friends with these guys and as a result of playing with them all the time I became a better player.
I knew that I had learned all that I could playing freshman ball and that if I wanted to take my game to the next level I must play with better competition. From this varsity player Derrick I learned to not automatically assume a player is right handed and to play with calmness, from this player Nico I learned to respect the range of a shooter and how they can get a shot off in seconds. From this player Dathon I learned to not reach and about how to use my body effectively while driving to the basket. From these players Eddie and Atlas I learned about how to use my drop step and body in the post to get around defenders more effectively. All these little tactics that I wasn't learning fast enough in freshman ball.
3. Play somewhere that brings back your love for the game.
So as a result of my hard work and persistence I was pulled up to varsity my freshman year for what we call here CIF or the state championship. Now I didn't play but I began practicing with the team to conclude the season and prepare for playoffs and was basically just there as an insurance policy but nonetheless I was happy.
However, my sophomore year we were very good and the guard that was in front of me was the 2nd leading scorer in our county and so I did not get very much run. In addition, we had a lot of seniors and I was only 1 out of 2 underclassmen. As a result, I began to doubt myself about whether I really did like basketball and if I was actually any good. I began losing sight of the love for the game.
Something that did help me garner my confidence back up and love for the game was playing travel basketball. In travel ball my coach believed in me more and allowed me to handle the ball more, experiment with moves and did not pull me after 1 mistake like it happened in high school. In addition, with travel ball we played faster, teams from all over the area and ran different offenses/defenses. As a result, I was able to learn different styles, schemes and consequently my game and confidence grew tremendously. (Thanks for this Coach Leon & the Aztecs, & my friend Chris for pushing me). I realized that I am a good player and I again just needed to get my high school to realize it. He needed to realize that I am worthy of significant playing time.
NBA players do this all the time by going down the G-league and getting their confidence and flow back. Then when they are ready they go back up to the big leagues.
So even if it means playing at a park with some average players, a recreation league or a travel team. Find somewhere where you can get good reps in, play minutes and practice your moves. This will give you the confidence to believe your game will translate to the next level.
4. Get in the best physical shape of your life.
A tired player is very rarely a good player. Once the legs go, so does shooting percentage, decision making, and defense. Even the legendary UCLA coach John Wooden said "In the long run the better conditioned team usually wins". Once a player gets really tired in a game a lot of the things that they would normally do goes out the window. They go after rebounds less aggressively, they resort to shooting jumpers instead of driving to the basket, they don't close out as strongly as they normally would. As a result, their game suffers and most likely get pulled out of the game.
What I am telling you all is that conditioning is one of the things that you can control about your game. Your coach doesn't have anything to do with this. Say you get your chance to play but after 5 minutes you are tired and gassed. Everyone can notice this and you will get pulled back out. Be ready for your opportunity and give yourself the chance to succeed by getting in peak shape.
If this means eating better, running 2 miles a week, lifting a bit harder at the gym, stretching every morning or whatever means you take to achieve this goal but you need to have a plan. Once you have this plan you need to execute it to your best ability. One of the ways I executed this was I got a personal trainer by the name of Taku. He helped by instructing me to do a lot of repetitive motions, core and strength building exercises and also work right before game time. This was all new to me. Some of the fundamental exercises were so boring to me at the time but after a while I began to notice the difference.
You'd be surprised just how much better your game can be when you aren't tired. Your ability to jump higher than another player and outwork them can do wonders. When you are in better shape than the opposing player you can score on them and defend them better even if they are more skilled or talented. It really is true that hard work can beat talent when talent fails to work hard.
5. Ask your coach what you can do to "Earn" your playing time.
Nobody wants to give something out to you. You don't deserve playing time just for being on the team. Being on the team is a privilege and playing time must be earned. Once you get this idea into your head it will help you to make the psychological changes to how you view getting off the sidelines and into the game. This is towards the end of the list but is one of the most important points.
You must ask your coach "Hey coach, how can I earn more playing time?" What do I need to do?"
Earn is highlighted here because this shows your coach that you are willing to work to achieve this goal. This lets them know that you are not solely seeking a handout. You are willing to put in the work. Then after you get the feedback I would work on what the coach says. If he says you need to improve your defense and shooting then go ahead and work on that. That way you can know what he is looking for. You'll never know if you don't ask!
6. Know your plays/Offense/Defense.
You'd be surprised by how many young players are so talented but can't seem to remember a play. No matter how talented you are if you cannot remember the inbounds play then how can you expect the coach to play you? You need to be in the right place during a last second play or else you are a liability. This factors in trust. In order to play in the game the coach has to trust you. If he does not have confidence in you and your ability he will not play you. His goal is to win the game and if you cannot remember the defense/offense then you are negatively affecting the team.
As a result, take the time to learn all the plays and schemes to perfection. This is one of the easiest ways to get in the game. You can even get in just as someone who sets a good screen or to inbound the ball. Use your IQ to show your coach you are dependable and know what you are doing.
Best of luck! If you do all of these 6 steps your chance of getting more playing time will exponentially increase and I wish you the best of luck. Thanks for reading!