The “Bench”. Most players fear being put on the bench only because someone told them that it is not a good place to be. Why is it perceived as not a good place to be? I’ve said it for years, you can’t manipulate playing time so if 7 players never touch the ball and only the pitcher and catcher can be guaranteed playing time, why is it so bad to be on the bench? Here’s a new perspective that every softball parent needs to share with their players. If there are 12 players on a team minimum, then if the 3 on the bench come in to play they have to sub for 3 other players, that means only 6 players aren’t on the bench. Half the team are “sub’s”. Any many more should rotate unless the rules in championship play prohibit the rotations.
You’re right, I grew up in the land of softball and raised my kids around the game where it was an honor to be on the bench for a team like the Orange County Bastbusters. You knew you made it… you would get recruited because coaches knew you were good enough to play on that team and to be on the bench on that team. Why you ask? Because you get trained by Coaches that know how to prepare you for the competition that you will face in college. If you’re not playing with or against your peers that you will play with or face in college then it makes it a lot harder to be ready to face that level of play.
Practice and training is where you get the tips and the repetition to be effective. The techniques and the experience can be created and repeated. You can’t get that experience in a game. I hear sooooo much crying from parents about playing time and I’ll share the magic secret, if you spend the time you spend crying and whining about playing time on preparing, teaching and training you’ll never have to worry. The hard work and effort will always pay off even if you just get one inning or one at bat. You can only play so long on natural talent as we have seen over the years the kid with talent and hard work will always outlast the kid with natural talent that doesn’t do the work. If you do everything YOU can to prepare your kid for the opportunities they’ll be more valuable and less likely to sit on the bench! Get it??
On the other hand, I’ve never understood why a Coach would put a kid on the roster if they can never find a place to put the kid in the game. Parents, put your kids on teams that they “can” play on. Take off your rosy glasses and put them on a team that they get the right training, coaching and can be put in the game without hurting the outcome of the game. Parents, get them to private or group hitting, fielding, technique training as a Coach will never have the time to individually train these kids as they have minimum coaching time to teach them to play as a team. It’s a privilege to be on a team where each kid is good enough to be on the field and on the bench.
I started playing this game in 1970 and it has changed significantly. However, one thing remains, the rules of the game that we all love puts 9 players on the field but you need depth on the bench to compete and to actually play the game. You need pinch runners that have speed and can slide. You need extra pitchers and catchers because of the amount of pressure and physical requirements. You need kids that can play another position at any time to cover injuries, sickness or absence. It made me crazy when we moved to Texas in 2007 and each team only wanted 10 on the roster. Then a kid gets sick or has another event or sport to play then it was left to the coach to find a “pick up player”. What the heck is that? Now you have another kid to train, teach and incorporate into the team chemistry all because someone else felt the team was a lessor priority. They all want their kids to stand there for the innings and act like that is valuable playing time. But they’re the least committed to the issues of the team and the Coach.
Let them all bat, what’s the big deal? Give them as many at bats as you can. What ever happened to playing 7 innings so the kids can get as many at bats as possible. Oh yah, the tournaments directors want as many teams as possible to make more money but it surely doesn’t create more playing time for the kids. You’re not preparing your kids to play the real game. Pitchers especially need to be able to get through an entire game to understand all the issues and challenges that lay ahead of them in college.
Play 7 innings! Host more “Friendly” games where you can play all 7 innings, teach and train and create opportunities for all kids on the field. The crying about being on the bench gets less when you can have the time to get them all in the game. Scrimmage your own team. I think it is ideal to have 16 to 18 on a seriously competitive roster, one that is trying to win National Championships. Never less than 12 or it becomes the Coaches issue because these are the classic teams where the parents complain the most and are the least dedicated because Susie has cheer, or volleyball or something else that is perceived as “balance” for them but not good for the team or the Coach. These are usually the families that have never coached because they don’t understand the responsibility of the Coach. Oh, I’ll have another blog about the Coach, don’t worry!
Here’s what the bench player should be doing. Cheering for their team. Keeping a score book so they understand the game. Charting pitches so they learn strategy. These tips can be modified by their level. I taught 10U players to keep the scorebook and they loved it. Have a coach talking to them explaining the game. Teaching the game to them while they wait their turn. Have them help the catcher get their gear on. Warm up a pitcher or two. There are so many things they can be doing. It is not punishment to be on the bench. Give them all a chance to be on the bench. Coaches… don’t make it so lopsided. This way they all get some opportunities and it will be obvious to the parents when you have to play only 9 by the rules.
It is a very rare moment for any player to NEVER sit the bench. And, those that haven’t, miss out on other aspects of the game.
I promise you they have less struggles in High School and College if they learn all aspects of the game including THE BENCH! This is a big reason why so many freshmen are leaving their college rosters, it is the first time the experience THE TEAM!
And FINALLY, no employer will ask how many innings you played, what division or anything other than a deep appreciate for a all the hard work, sweat, tears, teamwork and accomplishments they’ve made!
Teach the players the value of the Bench. Enjoy the journey, have fun along the way.
President, Collegiate Sports Advocate www.CollegiateSportsAdvocate.com