Bench Your Players to Improve Your Team

By Olan Suddeth

Every league has one or two – superstar players who don’t put in their full effort, or who reserve that effort for games only.

Perhaps you have one of these on your team. As the coach, you were excited to land one of the “top” players in your league. And then, when you started practice, you discovered that your star shortstop doesn’t seem to take practice seriously. He has been told all his life how good of a player that he is – and he has the all star jerseys to prove it.

So he goofs off in the batting cage, since he can hit the ball without even trying. Likewise, during infield practice, he showboats a bit, missing routine plays more than he should, while making up for it with a spectacular throw or backhanded stop. Yes, he might pick up a bad habit or two while doing this, but during actual contests, he has his game face on, and still manages to play at a high level.

So what’s the harm? He can still help you win a championship, right?

If that’s your line of thinking (along with 90% of youth coaches out there), you should seriously rethink what your motivations as a coach really are. Should you want to win? Absolutely. As a coach, you should put the best team on the field that you can. But your first responsibility is to help each and every member of that team to develop into a better player than they were when you met them.

So don’t be afraid to discipline that superstar. Try talking to him first, privately. Let him know that you realize he has great talent and skill. Let him know that you realize he turns it on during the game. But explain that he is letting his team down by not putting forth his best every time that he steps on the field – his teammates look up to him, and if he dogs it, they may, as well. Furthermore, if he does not practice hard, he gives up the chance to improve as much as he could have, resulting in limitations to his game that simply should not exist.

You can try small discipline steps – give the player laps the instant you see him lagging in practice. Make him pick up trash afterwards. Give him push ups.

If he still does not respond, pull him from your infield and play him in right. Or better yet, let him start a game on the bench. Drop him to the bottom of the batting order. Explain why you made this decision, and make it clear that the requirements for every team member are the same – all players should be expected to give 100% all of the time; everyone is expected to earn their position. If your star is exempt, you are a hypocrite.

Ideally, you can identify this issue before the regular season starts, and have the chance to clear up any issues during the preseason. Even if not, know that the life lessons you teach this young man – and everyone on your team – are more important than the victory or two that might be in question because of your move.

Olan Suddeth is a Little League coach in the Birmingham, Alabama area. His website, Youth Baseball Info, offers free articles, drills, and tips for youth baseball coaches, parents and fans.

Advertisements