This season, some of you will be confronted with a situation you’ve never experienced before: sitting on the bench. It happens to all kinds of players and at every level– if there is an older, more experienced, or better player ahead of you when you make your high school team, you will have to learn how to sit. College is the same way. With 9 guys on the field and rosters as big as 35 guys (or more), there are a lot of players on the bench.
Sitting isn’t easy. First, it takes an attitude adjustment. Just because you’re sitting, don’t think for a second that your coaches aren’t watching you. They want to see if you’re staying involved, watching the game intently, and learning from what’s going on out on the field. They want to see if you’re a team guy, or if you’re pulling only for yourself. It doesn’t mean you have to like being on the bench, but they want to see that you understand that it’s a team game and you are willing to help the team, even when you’re not getting your way. Believe it or not, bench players can make big difference in outcomes, even if they don’t get in the game. Second, you have to stay prepared to go into the game at a moment’s notice. You never know when a guy is going to get hurt, or is going to do something that causes the coach to pull him from the game. You have to be ready both mentally and physically to do one of the most difficult things in sports—come off the bench and be ready to hit the ground running. Finally, make practice your game. For bench players, practice becomes the place where you can show the coach that you deserve a shot. Practice hard, stay focused on improving, and keep being ready to take advantage of your in-game opportunity when it comes.
You never want to get used to being on the pine, but here are a few tips for adjusting to life on the bench.
- Talk about the game. It’s hard to stay involved while you’re on the bench. Find someone else who is sitting and start a conversation about the game. Talk about pitch selection, defensive positioning, and what players on the field are doing, right or wrong.
- Pick pitches and steal signs. You can be invaluable if you can pick pitches or steal signs. Don’t believe us? Read this example of bench players making a huge difference in the outcome. Try and find something the pitcher is doing that gives away what he’s about to throw. See if you can figure out the pitching coach’s signs to the catcher, or the third base coach’s signs to the hitter.
- Watch the guy playing your position. Learn from him. Why is he playing while you’re sitting? If you can answer that question and start improving, you better your chances of getting more playing time and closing that gap.
- Stay loose. Go for a jog between innings. Stretch. Keep your arm loose by warming up the outfielder. Be ready to go at a moment’s notice.
- Simulate at bats. It might look weird, and people might ask you what you’re doing, but it’s the best way to stay prepared to take an at bat while you’re on the bench. Pick a hitter in the lineup who is similar to you, and every time that he comes up to the plate, you can simulate an at bat. Get your batting gloves, bat, and helmet. Make your plan. Watch the pitches and see what you would swing at. Stay mentally in the game.
- Do not pity yourself. Everyone knows that sitting on the bench is hard. But if you make it clear that you are upset that you’re on the bench, people will not feel bad for you. They will see you as a bad teammate. Keep a team-first mentality.
- Seize your opportunity. You might get just a few chances to prove yourself. Be ready for every opportunity and do your best. Have a quality at bat. Throw strikes. Make the routine plays. Show that you are ready to get off the bench and play.