If opportunity knocks, then be sure to open the door
As I sat watching Manchester United lose to West Ham in the Carling Cup quarter-finals on Tuesday my first thought for the second string team was, “you blew it.”
Here it is, you finally have your chance and have been eager to play on the big stage, but given the chance you failed to perform at the standard expected.
What will be your response if you are left out of many more games throughout the season? Will you still feel that you deserve a starting spot? This brings back memories regarding international football and cricket in Bermuda.
Moaning and groaning while sitting on the bench has no impact if once you get your opportunity your performance is less than desirable. Use the energy wasted in grumblings to analyse and improve your own game, so that once the opportunity presents itself, the coaches will wonder why they hadn't played you in the first place.
All coaches think differently and depending on their style some players just don't fit their make-up. You have to understand what a coach is looking for. Teams must realize that choosing the right balance is critical to a team's success.
No matter what the sport there is always a strategy that has to compliment the style of players and the style of play that the coach is looking for.
What is meant by balance?
As a football coach it would be crazy to select a team with seven defenders, two midfielders and one striker. Therefore, the pool of players that are lured to the team must fit the coach's strategy. My pick would be four defenders, four midfielders and two strikers.
With this being said a few of the best players could be left out due to the strategy used in a particular match. This calls for maturity on those left out of the selection, as the team is more important than any one individual.
The Manchester United match in the Carling Cup highlighted just how tough competition for places are as a professional. Players are being paid outrageous wages, but nothing compares to actually playing.
Money then takes a back seat and the primary goal is to just play. This desire is evident when looking at players wanting to transfer from one of the big clubs to a considerable smaller club just to have more playing time.
I believe that Manchester City is a good example of this.
The point I am aiming to make here has nothing to do with money. The point is directed towards the reserve player to be diligent and vigilant in studying the game while sitting on the sideline. Figure out what your role should be when you get your opportunity and make the most of it.
Coping and handling being a reserve is not easy, but it is how you handle it that counts.
I recall one personal situation when I was playing football that I found very difficult. In this situation I handled it correctly even though I wasn't pleased. If I am honest, it took every inch of my sportsmanship to keep it together and stay focused for the sake of the team.
It was a night game, North Village v Devonshire Cougars at Devonshire Rec. At that time I was working part time at Southampton Princess and actually knocked off early and raced to Devonshire Rec. arriving some 35 minutes before the game.
As I sat getting changed the coach was going over the team strategy, I was focusing myself for the task ahead as being the leading goal scorer of the team I knew I had a major challenge on my hands. To my dissatisfaction the coach did not name me in the starting line up. Shocked, stunned, furious are words I would use to describe my immediate feelings.
My whole demeanor changed at that point. As the team warmed up so much was going through my head, like why on earth did I leave work early? As the game got on the way I didn't speak to any of the players on the bench, as I was livid.
At half time we were down 3-1. Still vexed I had to go deep in my memory bank and remember what an old timer once said, “If you haven't sat on the bench before you have never played football, the best players in the world sit bench, all you do is stay focused and when you are called upon do your job and do it to the best of your ability”.
Immediately I got a renewed focus. Minutes later the coach called upon me. As I was warming up intensely we got a free kick about 20 yards out, I was like 'coach, coach, now, give me the slip'.
I ran on the field and took the free kick and with my first kick of the ball scored to make it 3-2. The game was a thriller and to make a long story short it ended up a tie 5-5 and I ended up scoring a hat trick.
As a player I learned a big lesson at that moment, a lesson that helped me through the remainder of my career. Not everyone can play, but everyone is important to the team.
But it is these types of experiences that can make or break players. Players have to be honest and put the work in that is required. I tell all of my players to pick themselves.
Many times I have sat and watched football games and after the coach has made his substitutes the players leave the bench. Or if it is cricket, the team is announced in the morning and a player is selected as a reserve and leaves before the game starts.
Team sport is, and will always be, team orientated, so if you are a person who does not think team first then you need to play a sport like tennis or squash.
No we are not always going to like the coach's decisions, but we have to weather the storm and relish and take the opportunity when it comes.