A fantastic video did the rounds last year, featuring University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma discussing the behaviours he expects from his players both on and off the court.
One of the points he touched on was the things he wants to see from his players who aren’t in the game – the players currently occupying the bench.
Now, it’s easy to make the decisions Auriemma sometimes makes (when he leaves a star off the court etc), when the team is full of stars and at that point had won 109 consecutive games, but much of what he said still resonates.
Let’s be honest: no player likes being on the bench. And the feeling of disappointment at not being on the court is often even stronger in netball, where, unlike basketball, there’s no such thing as substitutions any time there’s a stoppage in play – being on the bench usually means spending at least the next quarter there.
But sitting off for a quarter or two isn’t the end of the world.
So what should we expect from our netballers when they’re not on the court?
To be honest? We should expect plenty. But that doesn’t mean the responsibility sits squarely with the player to ensure their bench experience is productive and positive – coaches have a role too.
Here are some of things we should be looking for in our players and coaches to get the most out of our benches.
PLAYERS – BODY LANGUAGE
As if coaches don’t already have enough to worry about, we’d like to add one more thing: keeping an eye on your bench.
Are the players who aren’t on the court actively supporting their teammates? Are they clapping and cheering that fantastic intercept your goal defence just took? Are they helping to build defensive pressure on the opposition team by being vocal?
Or are they slouched with their arms folded and silently counting the minutes until they get their turn on court?
These are all things you need to be aware of as a coach.
It’s happened many times that we’ve gone to one of our players at quarter-time and said, “I’m sorry, you were supposed to be on the court now, but you’ve spent the last 10 minutes sitting in silence and watching another court, so unfortunately I can’t put you on”.
Watch how quickly the bench becomes a hive of activity and a truly positive place to be once players realise that their on-bench performance is factored into selection decisions just as much as their on-court performance.
PLAYERS – ENGAGEMENT
Are players on the bench ready to step onto court? Are they REALLY ready?
Have they been watching the game and actually taking in and processing what’s happening?
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If a player is coming from the bench and grabbing a bib for the next quarter, they should be able to tell you at least a couple of points about what their opposing player and team has been doing in the previous quarter, and what they need to do in order to beat them or play effectively against them.
Periodically ask your bench players what their opposing players are doing and how they can beat them. It’ll help them hit the court focused and ready, rather than wasting half a quarter working their way into the game and trying to find out how the opposition is playing.
COACHES – FEEDBACK
Don’t waste an opportunity to help your players improve. If a player has had a stinker of a quarter and is now on the bench, give them a second to compose themselves and then give them some feedback, constructively.
Chances are you’ll need them back on the court the next quarter, so you need them feeling positive and confident in themselves that they can do the job.
Remind them straight away about the good things they did in that quarter (there’s always something), as well as offering some tips for improving the areas that didn’t work so well.
COACHES – TURN THE PLAYERS INTO COACHES
Players of almost any age should be able to look at what’s happening on court and tell you at least a couple of simple things that are either working well for your team, or that the opposition team are doing that your team needs to counteract.
Give your players a specific focus area that they need to watch for as they sit on the bench, and ask them about it throughout the quarter. Not only will it ensure they stay switched on, but it also develops a player’s ability to analyse what’s happening on court, think for themselves and alter their own play during a game.
If players are old enough or mature enough, you can even ask them to provide feedback to their teammates about what they’re seeing from the sidelines.