How To Get Off The Bench & Into The Starting Lineup

At our core, beyond all notions of winning and competition, we play soccer because we enjoy the game. Playing any sport is about fun, but what happens when you find your minutes in a game reduced, or your role as a starter reduced to starting on the bench? What if you were never a starter, but are ready to fight for that spot? Are you forever destined to sit on the sidelines and watch your teammates enjoy the game that brings you so much happiness? No, of course not! Here are a few tips to help you find your way into the starting lineup and increase your playing minutes.

Tip #1: Hard Work Pays Off
If you want to increase your time on the field during matches – it starts on the training ground. Dedicate yourself to being better every day. Take every session seriously – every drill, every rep. Don’t practice until you get it right; practice until you can’t get it wrong. This is the first way to grab the attention of your coaches and fellow teammates. When others see how hard you are working, it will inspire them to do the same, and now you’re impacting the entire team. Coaches want players that make the team better. If the team is working harder to match your level, coaches will notice, and want you out on the field with the same intensity when the game starts.

Tip #2: Attitude is Everything
Whether you believe it or not, coaches see everything. They see the way you hold yourself on and off the field. They see your expression when they announce a fitness drill. They see your reaction to winning, losing, playing, and sitting. Mental strength is very important to coaches. Soccer is an emotional game, and if your coach doesn’t think you can handle the ups and downs of training, how can they trust you to handle the ups and downs of a match? In addition to working on the technical side of your game, work on the mental side of your game, too. Show your coaches that you can handle adversity, so when they need to rely on someone in a match, they can count on you to be that player.

Tip #3: Communicate!
If you’re not playing as much as you would like, there is probably a reason for it. Ask your coach! He or she knows exactly why you’re not starting because they pick the lineup. If you don’t know why you’re not playing, how can you know what you need to work on?

There are two ways to go about this conversation with your coach. The wrong way is to ask your coach why you’re not playing and demand more time. These players tend to start the conversation in a confrontational tone, point out other players’ inadequacies, or use stats or previous awards to show they "deserve" to be on the field. This shows the coach that you don’t really care about the team – all that matters to you is playing time, not the success of the team.

The right way to approach your coach about your current role on the team is to ask questions, not state facts. Coaches have their reasons – let them explain. Here are some great questions to ask your coach:

  • How do you see my current role on the team?
  • What areas of my game do you think need improvement?
  • I think I can make an impact with more time on the field. What can I work on to see more minutes?
  • Is there any way I can reinvent myself to fulfill a different role on the team?

Don’t be afraid of the answers! The answers are the key to achieving your goal. The answer may be that you need a higher level of fitness, or that you give the ball away too much. Sometimes the answer may be that they value your role as a substitute more than as a starter. A good coach will have an answer for you, so take that answer and turn it into your inspiration. Work at it everyday, and periodically check in with your coach to discuss your progress. 

Never underestimate the value of hard work. If you want more minutes, work harder and be better. Remember your attitude. Carry yourself as a starter. Show the coaches and your teammates that you have the mental toughness to be an integral part of the team. Open yourself up to criticism, and then own it. Go back to the training ground and work tirelessly to turn your weaknesses into strengths. 

Photos courtesy of the Nike Academy.