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Saturday, December 25, 2010

Bench Player Mistakes

Possibly the hardest job in baseball.
The final post in the common mistakes players make series.

Failure to accept their role.  I have never met a baseball player who was happy that they were not playing in the game.  As you move up in levels, the game gets tougher and the players get more competitive.  Telling a competitive player that he is not going to be a starter usually does not sit too well with the player.  Of course, some handle this better than others.  Many major league players and coaches say that coming off the bench and being expected to perform at a high level is one of the hardest things to do in baseball.  Many young players have a hard time mentally grasping the idea that the coach thinks someone else is better in a particular position.  This is one of the reasons why managers generally do not like having young players be bench players in the major leagues.  Usually those spots are for veteran type players that have been around for a little while, are usually more mature, and understand what is needed to be good off the bench.  Success as a bench player all starts with accepting the fact that at this time they are a role player and therefore have a different set of expectations and responsibilities.  Good bench players always try to work their way into a future starting line-up but until that happens (if ever) they make the best of their current situation by being the best they can be at whatever role the coach assigns them.
Ignoring pre-game infield-outfield.  One of the best sources of information for all players (especially bench players) comes from watching the other team take infield-outfield practice prior to the start of the game.  Major league teams don’t take a pre-game infield-outfield practice like they used to but it is still routine for high school and college teams to do so.  There is valuable information to be found if a player looks for it.  For example, a bench player may have to come off the bench late in the game and pinch run for a teammate in a close game.  If he watched and studied the opposing team’s pre-game, he already will know which fielders have good range and which have the best arm strength.  As a result, the player is more capable of making better, quicker decisions in the game.  Yesterday’s post on base running mistakes mentioned the importance of knowing lots of information before the play develops.  Paying close attention during pre-game allows a bench player to store valuable information for later.  Unfortunately, many players, once they see they are not starting that day, don’t feel the need to pay attention.  They wrongly have the attitude of “if I am not playing, why bother.”  The most valuable bench players are usually those who are constantly trying to accumulate more usable information before and during the game.
Irrelevant bench talk.  This pertains to what was just stated above about trying to accumulate information before and during the game.  It is natural that players on the bench are going to have conversations during the game that might not always pertain to baseball.  Baseball is a fairly slow moving game where the opportunity to expand conversations away from baseball exists.  That being said, it is important that bench players try to keep their conversations related to the game.  “Talking baseball” with other players is a great way to learn about the game and keep your mind on things that are relevant to the success of the team and to yourself.  If a coach overhears a conversation on the bench about what the opposing team’s signs are or how the pitcher doesn’t vary his times to the plate, he will think more highly of the players involved.  On the other hand, if the coach overhears a conversation regarding who is having a party on Saturday, that’s not going to have the same positive reaction.  It takes discipline but talking baseball on the bench can be very valuable for a role player.
Not prepared to play.  Add up the previous mistakes and the result is that when asked to perform later in games, the unprepared bench player is probably going to fail.  This of course makes it more likely the player will not get more playing time in the future as well.  As stated earlier, being a role player off the bench can be very challenging even if you are prepared.  Sitting on the bench for 5 or 6 innings (sometimes in very cold weather) can make it extremely difficult to perform successfully.  However, there are some things that can be done to increase the chances of success.  Here is one.  Anticipate playing time.  If you are a good runner, look for situations where your coach may need a runner and start to get loose beforehand.  For example, if a slow runner is leading off the inning in a close, late inning game, chances are good the coach will call for a pinch runner if the batter gets on.  Knowing this, the bench player can get his legs loose well in advance in case he is needed.  Another bench player who can hit can do the same if a weak hitter is due up in a key situation.  Taking some swings or maybe even some soft-toss an inning before can help tremendously.  The key is to think ahead and don’t just wait until the coach says he needs you to go in.  The coach may not call for you but if he does, at least you will be ready.  Know what you need to do to get ready and do it.

I hope you found the posts in this series informative and useful.  Check in daily for posts designed to help players go from good to great!

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