Getting off the bench in football is a really demanding and mentally devastating process for the individual footballer. If you are reading this article, you have probably lived the “bench experience” at least once in your career so far. First of all, don’t worry. You’re not alone.
For every 11 players that are on the field, another 7 MIGHT get some game time and another 5-10+ players are left out of the squad with 0 minutes. Wanna get back on that starting XI?
HOW TO GET OFF THE BENCH & INCREASE GAME TIME
There is a series of actions you can take to get off the bench in football and earn more game time. Here are six steps you can take which will be broken down further in this article:
- Embrace the situation – don’t dwell on it
- Develop and maintain a winning mindset
- Feedback and performance analysis (communication with the coach)
- Taking action and building around your strengths and weaknesses
- Peak performance at team training
- Prepare and take advantage of opportunities
Step #1 – Embrace THE SITUATION
The first step towards getting off the bench in football is related to your mental approach to the situation. Given that the coach’s choices and squad selection are something out of your control, there’s really no benefit to dwelling on the situation.
Instead, what you need to do to make steps forwards – not backward – is to accept the reality. Stop dwelling and blaming others. Stop “feeding” yourself with a bunch of excuses just to feel comfortable.
The reality is that YOU are the person responsible for the situation. If your coach doesn’t select you for the starting 11, he/she probably thinks you’re not in a good form to perform or serve the needs of the match. And guess what. This is COMPLETELY fine.
Remember what we said in the beginning? For every 11 players starting the match, there are another 15-20 players with little to no game time. If you’re one of those 15-20 players, accept the situation and focus on the next step.
Stop dwelling. Stop blaming others. Take responsibility.
Of course, there are also some other factors that can get involved, such as football politics. However, we would like to only focus on game-related factors in this article as things can get pretty complicated.
Step #2 – Develop and maintain a winning mindset
This second step basically is an extension of the first one. If you really want to get off the bench in football and win in this game, you have to develop a resilient mindset that is going to keep you “bulletproof” in such devastating situations where you’re left on the bench.
A lot of questions may arise to you in regards to what we call a “winning mindset”. Our partners, Molliteum, suggest you focus on your PAW (Preparation – Attitude – Work ethic):
- Preparation – just because you don’t play doesn’t mean you should care less about your training and game-day performance. Show up ready to conquer no matter what. The day will come and the opportunity will arise. Be ready for it.
- Attitude – be an optimist. If you’re not ambitious and don’t believe in yourself, you will not succeed. The first step is to actually believe in the process of earning back your game time. Acknowledge that it IS possible and you CAN make it happen.
- Work ethic – win in the micro because details add up to big results. Once you recognize that every single day is a chance for you to improve and showcase a better “you”, you drastically increase your chances of getting back on that starting XI. Instead of focusing that much on the end result (aka game time), focus on the little actions you take every single day and do them with intent. Pay attention to the details.
Step #3 – Feedback & Analysis
A common issue many players that are getting benched experience is a lack of communication with the coach and coaching staff. What we usually suggest players do is schedule meetings and phone calls with the coaching staff to address performance-related issues. These meetings should be done pretty frequently during the season, no matter if you play or not (at least once every 2-3 months).
The reason behind that is that in order for you to fit into the starting XI you have to fulfill the needs and wants of the coach. Your coach’s opinion is the most valuable piece of feedback you can get. Only he/she can guide you through what the team really needs. During those meetings, you can ask a series of questions that will drastically help you take proper action. Here are some of them:
- “What are the individual roles you want a player in the position x to take on?”
- “Is there something I could develop within my game to earn more playing time?”
- “What areas of my performance need further development and what areas would you consider my strengths?”
- “What are the characteristics you’re seeking within a player for position x?”
- “Is there any issue you can recognize that is related to my mentality, or behavior that I can improve on?”
- “What are the tactical roles a player in position x must take on?”
- Any specific questions in relation to team tactics
We shall also mention that this conversation between you and the coaching staff needs to be done in a professional manner. Be respectful, don’t be rude, don’t ask questions that are “hard” to answer, and be genuine and open to feedback.
If your coach doesn’t provide you with feedback or something actionable (which happens really often, especially in the lower levels), don’t give up on this step.
Instead, you (also) need to evaluate your own game. Analyze game footage (if there is any), monitor your training performance, and find what your strengths and weaknesses really are. This third-person perspective can really give you great feedback you can’t realize during performance.
Do everything in your control to gather information and transform it into something actionable. So, get feedback from the coach and analyze your own performance on a daily and weekly basis to gain self-awareness.
Step #4 – Take Action
Now that you’ve got all that information about your performance you need to transform it into something actionable. Feedback and analysis are the tools that will help you come up with a strategy specific to your needs.
That strategy usually consists of individual work and team training. Structure your individual work around your weaknesses and solve the problematic areas of your performance. Team training is your chance to showcase your development as well as improve the areas of your game that can only be developed in a team environment (i.e. tactics).
Step #5 – Team Training
If you want to get off the bench in football, you need to treat every training session with the team like it’s a 90-minute game. It’s an opportunity that you get almost every single day. Approach team training just as you would do on a match-day. Good training sessions with the team can equal more playing time, and more playing time means that you’re getting closer to your ultimate goal.
So, make sure you prepare and approach team training properly. Set training targets, prepare well, and take action! Given that you get little to no game time, you should opt for peak performance on team training.
Step #6 – Grasp Opportunities
This last step might be the most crucial step of the whole process. Given that you took action on your coach’s feedback and solved problematic areas of your performance, you now need to take advantage of any opportunity given to you.
You need to turn those 5 minutes you get at the end of the match, into 10. Then, those 10 minutes into 20, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. This is not only about getting off the bench in football but also establishing yourself as a starter.
Whenever you’re sitting on the bench, don’t just go over the motions. Invest time and effort into analyzing the opposition and encourage your teammates to succeed. The last thing a coach wants is a miserable player sitting on the bench and destroying the team chemistry. Respect everyone on the team and prepare for an opportunity. You NEVER know when it’s going to come.
One thing that I like to advise players to do is to follow their usual game-day routine just as if they were starting that match. This will help you prepare effectively both on a mental and physical level to perform in any condition. You never know what happens until kick-off. Be ready for every scenario.
Being benched is something normal that will most probably happen to everyone at least once in their career. How you react to it is key to earning (back) your spot in the starting XI. Accept the reality, take all the necessary actions to elevate your performance, and bring it up to your coach’s/level’s standards. Be patient, maintain a positive, winning mindset, and control what is controllable. You got this.