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Are You Good Enough to be on the starting line-up, but Don't?

Are you Being Mentally Prepared: Dealing with being on the bench or being ‘dropped'?


A frustrating experience none the less and something that if not handled correctly can become a bigger issue than it needs to be. For an athlete who is part of a team, this will be one of the most challenging situations to contend with. Knowing you're good enough to start, or you feel deserving of more playing time, or your role is constantly changing, or it could be even making a travel or touring squad, but you are not given an opportunity by the coach.


The psychological affects surrounding not getting a chance to contribute to a team can erode confidence. It may make you feel not even part of the team. Emotions like regret, anger, frustration, and animosity can become overwhelming if not handles maturely. The number one feeling that needs to be protected at all times is confidence. This is both yours and the coach's responsibility. It is the very thing you need when it's time to show others you can perform and do the job assigned.


However, most athletes, unfortunately, lose their confidence when others do not believe in their ability. It is eroded because uncertainty is prevalent in the athlete's mindset.

Sulking, distaste, arguing, badmouthing can easily eventuate and become toxic not only to the player in question but the wider team and cultural environment. The mindset of an athlete in both the good times and the bad is your responsibility. Make no mistake, your mindset matters.


If you think you are not good enough, if you think you are not fit or strong enough or have the skills set necessary in a team or individual setting then naturally, you will "talk yourself" into thinking you cannot compete at a level you belong. It's a downward spiral from there. An athlete needs to understand that thinking this way can affect your effort, motivation, and commitment to achieving your goals. The cliché of believing in yourself only matters when the going gets tough.


As they say ‘when the going gets tough….the tough get going'


Most times, the athlete does not have the correct supporting mechanisms in place, especially if the resources are lacking in the club, team, etc. However, with help of a sports psychologist, coach or mentor, the athlete can easily through a process, re-frame the situation to one in which an increase in work ethic, overall effort in preparation and recovery, leadership and focus on developing yours and other skills takes place.


This is character building and indirectly will help improve the athlete's mental toughness needed to prove that they do possess what it takes to compete at the next level.

The athlete needs to see this period as an opportunity to grow.

The athlete is at a crossroad. They either turn left and sulk and let it truly affect their desired outcome or they can turn right and focus on improving both as a person and a player inside the struggle aforementioned.


Now that we have established the question to the athlete - Do you choose to give up or do you work to put yourself back into the line-up? I can give you some examples of some factors that may factor in an athlete that does not get picked


· Poor training form

· Poor fitness

· Team balance

· Opponents line up

· Poor preparation

· Character

· Age profile


Example:

A great example of professionalism is the situation Toronto Raptors point guard Fred VanVleet found himself facing a few years ago in the NBA. VanVleet had a tough road after not being selected in the 2016 NBA draft. VanVleet spent a substantial amount of time playing for Toronto's G-League affiliate, the Raptors 905.


In 2018, VanVleet signed a free-agent contract with Toronto and has played a significant role in the Raptors making it to the 2018-19 NBA Championship. VanVleet averaged 27.5 minutes per game, 11 points, 4.8 assists and 2.6 rebounds per game in that season.

It's well documented that VanVleet whilst he was upset about not playing full-time in the NBA and spending time between the Raptors and their G-league affiliate during his rookie season. He used it as a platform and motivational tool to get better


But VanVleet's mindset was all about moving forward. Setting goals toward developing his skills and investing in his mind and body and proving to all what he believed all along and justifying why he was taken so high in the draft. Most importantly he wanted to show that he can contribute at the NBA level.


VAN FLEET: "The grind of going down there [G-League] and not wanting to go. Feeling like I was good enough to play [with the Raptors] in my rookie year, but not having the opportunity. Having to go down there and prove what I can do. You go down there, you play, you develop your game a little bit and decide what kind of player you want to be and at the same time prove that you belong up here."


In many interviews, he highlights that when you meet and confront difficult challenges head-on with the correct mindset, the development of character is available to the athlete if chosen. You can develop both the confidence and mental toughness essential to advance your game or to reach the next level.


There are numerous stories surrounding athletes being dropped or having fewer minutes on the team. The fact is, the best athletes are the ones with the most consistent performances, and you have to see what these athletes do off the court, field, etc. I'm 100% certain they are the most consistent preparers and invest their time and money into preparing mentally and physically as best they can.


The key is to focus on what you can control:

  • Focus on improving day by day

  • Communicate how you feel, do not bottle it up

  • BE THE ULTIMATE PROFESSIONAL


In this time, try and encourage and make others around you better – that's true leadership!

By staying confident through challenging situations and trusting the process of personal growth, an athlete can come out of the situation an even better player. It sounds simple on paper yet may sound difficult to believe, but your own opinion and relationship that the athlete has with himself/herself matter the most. Your belief and opinion about your skills, your capacity to handle pressure, your ability to improve, your mental game and your overall potential effect your effort and the teams. The athlete has to become a mountain, a symbol of strength and stature. The mountain does not move regardless of the weather, wind, fire or flood.


So If you find yourself sent down or sent back to the lower leagues or team or be asked to go player lower-level tournaments, rest assured it can be a good thing and chance to look at yourself, evaluate and assess and most importantly as a chance to improve your skills, train hard, knowing that on the other side when you come back you can perform at that level consistently, and prove to yourself and others you can get back to the level you deserve.

In every delay – there is a blessing!

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