What To Do When You’re Not Getting Playing Time

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I wrote this for the struggling athlete, but the principles apply to anyone who’s having a tough time dealing with a superior — boss, coach, business partner — who doesn’t see the value in you that you see in you.

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This is for athletes who play team sports such as basketball, football, baseball and hockey, and it’s about dealing with coaches and playing time issues in whatever sport you happen to play.

If you’re in a situation where you’re not getting the type of playing time that you want, how do you deal with that situation? How do you approach the coach with that situation (if at all)? What do you say?

There are certain things you should say, and certain things you should not say. What do you do depending on the outcome of those conversations — and what do you do if you don’t have that conversation?

My name is Dre Baldwin. For those who don’t know me, my background is a professional athlete. I played basketball overseas for nine years. I have a ton of experience when it comes to dealing with basketball coaches, basketball teams, and playing time situations: from playing every game to play in none of the games.

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Over the last 11+ years, I’ve been posting videos on YouTube and blogging on my website, DreAllDay.com. Basketball players and also athletes in other sports are coming to me all the time and asking me about issues with coaches, playing time and issues with the team. I get parents sending me very, very long emails telling me the situations of their kids and asking how they can possibly help their children to get into a better space in their sport because they feel their child is either not playing to to his/her potential, or not getting the opportunity that the parent feels their child should be getting because of the coach.

I’m going to tell you three things that any athlete, at any level, needs to do when they feel like they are not getting the type of playing time they want. If you happen to have a child, friend or a mentee who is an athlete who’s having coaching issues, this conversation is not for you to have. I made this  for you to share this with the athlete, because this is my direct conversation with the athlete who feels that he/she is not receiving enough playing time.

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If you’re on a basketball team and you’re not getting enough playing time, here are the options that you have:

  1. Shut The Fuck Up And Work Harder And/or Get Better.

This is the option that 80% of you need to take.

Don’t pick one, do both. 80% is actually a very conservative number. Let’s put that number out to about 96%. 96% of players who claim they’re not getting enough playing time from the coach, it is not because the coach is hating on you, the coach’s son is playing in front of you, you’re not friends with the coach, he’s a coach from a certain neighborhood and he only likes players who look a certain way, you’re not tall enough, you’re too tall and it’s not because of anything else that has nothing to do with your game. 96% of you, if you’re not playing enough, there’s a 96% chance it’s because you are not working hard enough and/or you are not good enough.

My sophomore year of college, I was at  Penn State Altoona; an NCAA Division III School in Altoona, Pennsylvania. I didn’t get a lot of playing time that season. It wasn’t because I wasn’t good enough, it’s because I didn’t work hard enough. I didn’t have good practice habits; I didn’t know how to push myself every single day in practice. When I was in college, I hadn’t yet understood the principle of pushing myself when I didn’t feel like pushing myself. I didn’t work hard enough in practice, as a result I didn’t receive much playing time. When I went to the coach and asked, “Hey, what can I do to get more playing time?” The coach replied, said, “You need to work harder in practice every day.” He was absolutely right.

The other challenge may be that you just might not have any game;that might be the real problem that you need to confront head-on. You address it by working on your game and getting better at your sport. If your sport is basketball, I can help you with that at HoopHandbook.com.

The number one reason 96% of you are not playing enough is that you are not a good enough performer and you just need to get better. You need to improve your skills and improve your in-game performance. Just because you did it in practice or you do it when you’re by yourself, does not mean you deserve playing time in a game. What you do in the game determines what you get in the game; What you do in practice determines whether you get a chance to even show what you can do in the game.

So, to recap: If you’re not getting enough playing time, there’s a 96% chance you need to just shut the fuck up, work harder and get better. Because, no player has ever reached a point where he doesn’t need to get better. I don’t care who you are. The best player in the world still needs to get better.

  1. You Go To Your Coach And Ask The Right Question.

I will share  the proper way that you’ll phrase the statement,  the specific question that you will ask your coach.

You don’t demand more playing time. You don’t need to state that you’re not getting enough playing time, because the coach doesn’t care about what you’re getting. Remember: your coach’s job is to help the team win. The coach’s job is not to give you playing time, or to make you a better basketball player It’s your job to make you better.

The coach’s job is to put each player in the position to do  what’s best to help the team win. If you’re a bum player and you’re not very skilled, the best position for you to help the team win, is the bench. Every player needs to  understand this. If you’re a good player, the best position for you to help the team win is on the court, on the field, or on the ice. If you’re not good, your best position is on the bench. That’s what it is.

When I was in college, one of my teammates made the team as a walk on. His name was Martin. A few months into our season, our  coach called Martin aside and said, “Listen, Martin, you’re not going to play in any of these games. So, this is what I want you to do. You’re still going to come with us to every game, but instead of putting on your uniform, you’re going to handle our camera equipment and you’re going to actually film our games for us.” So, Martin, who made the team as a walk-on, became the team cameraman. I eventually started joking with him and calling him “The Cameraman.” It was an inside joke within the team. Basically, the coach decided, The best way you can help us is to film our games” (Mind you, this is 2001 or 2002 when no one was carrying around a smartphone. We had an actual VHS camera and VHS tapes).. The best thing Martin could do to help us was be on the sideline, filming the game. And Martin accepted that role.

The question that you will ask when you go to the coach is, “How can I earn more playing time?”

Let me repeat that question and emphasize the parts that are important; “How can I” is the first part. Second part is the word “Earn”. “How can I earn more playing time?” It’s not, “How can I get more playing time?” Because “get” denotes the coach is giving you something. Coaches don’t give you things. In sports, you earn things.

It’s also not, “How can I receive more playing time?”or, “Why am I not getting any playing time?” or “I should be playing more.” It’s not any of that. If you come to your coach with any of these,it denotes that you’re thinking only about yourself.

I’m not a sports coach. I have no desire to coach. But if I were  coaching a team, and a player came to me and said, “How can I get, or how can I receive, why am I not, or I should be getting more than–” I know that the player is only thinking about themselves. And I’m not even concerned with what this player  says, because my primary job is to help the team. If you’re only thinking about yourself or your question makes it sound like you’re only thinking about yourself, I don’t even care what you have to say. I’m concerned with how (or if) you can help the team.

Your question should be, “How can I earn more playing time?” Every coach wants to hear that statement. If I’m a coach, I want every player on the team, even the guy at the end of the bench, to come to me and say, “How can I earn more playing time?” If I was Martin and my coach came to me and say, “I want you to start filming the games for us”, the first thing I would have said was, “Coach, before I agreed to that, what can I do to actually earn more playing time on this team and how can I get an opportunity to show that I’m capable of it?” That way, I’m giving myself an opportunity to actually earn it. I don’t think Martin asked that question; Maybe he did and maybe the coach said nothing. But the point is, you never know until you ask.

“Coach, how can I earn more playing time?”

That’s an open-ended question for your coach to tell you exactly what he/she wants you to do that will prove that you are capable of putting the team in the best position to win by your participation.

Your coach may say, “You need to work harder and practice better”; “You need to get better grades in school”; “You need to make sure you show up to practice on time everyday”; “You need to stop turning the ball over when I put you in a game”; “You should start passing the ball around more and stop shooting every time you get it”; “You need to play better defense”; “You need to clap louder for your teammates when you’re not in the game”; “Your attitude needs to be better both on and off the court”;

Whatever your coach says, the fact is, he can’t say anything if you don’t ask the question. Asking, “How can I earn more time?”, gives a coach the power to tell you how you can help the team; Not just how you can help yourself.

If the first two Option number one is shut the fuck up, work harder and get better. Option two is, “How can I earn more playing time?” then what you need to do is —

  1. Find A New Team And Prove That You Actually Deserve The Playing Time That You Weren’t Getting On Your Previous Team.

Find a new team and prove that the previous coach was making a mistake by not having you in the game as much as you wanted to be in the game.

The player must  prove that the coach made a mistake by not having you in the game as much as you wanted to be in the game.

If you cannot complete step three, say for example  of you’re in a school which  you can’t transfer from, maybe you’re in a situation where there’s no other team in your area, maybe you’re in a situation where you already paid the registration for the team and you’re not going to be able to pay another registration fee or logistically, you just can’t make it to play for another team, so you’re stuck with the team that you’re on and you’re still not playing enough.

If you are in this situation, where you can’t realistically accomplish step number three and can’t find a new team, you go back to step number one: shut the fuck up, work harder and get better.

If you don’t like any of these choices, you have option number four, which is to  stop playing your sport. You always have options.

Here are the three steps:

  1. Shut the fuck up, work harder and get better. I guarantee, your playing time will increase without doing anything else if you do these three things. You don’t have to say anything. There’s a 96% chance that, this  is your best option.
  1. Ask your coach, “How can I earn more playing time?”
  1. Find a new team and prove that you deserve the playing time that you were not getting on this previous team.

#WorkOnYourGame

Podcast: Athlete: How To Handle Playing Time Issues

The Game Group is where we go to the next level of what you’ve just read, i.e. the how and strategies for doing it. If you’re ready for that, join us here.

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