The role of a 'role' player
...though their playing time may be limited, their contributions go far beyond these parameters.
In a previous Right Way blog post the topic of body language as it relates to playing time and trust was discussed. This relationship has further reaching implications when it comes to team chemistry and overall success. I can remember early in my high school basketball career my coach at the time emphasizing to our team that we would only be as strong as our weakest link. Throughout my playing and coaching career, I have gained a greater understanding of how critical each member of a team is to its success, regardless of specific abilities. I would like to examine the role of role players and make an important distinction between role players and depth players.
The term role player refers to an individual player’s ability to fill a specific need on a team. Role players range from starters to those that play a supporting role off the bench. A player that shoots the three effectively might earn a role as a starter in order to stretch defenses even if other areas of their game may be lacking. Additional roles can include players that are great on the ball defenders, rebounders, ball screeners, etc. Often their specialized skills are used for situational play and when match ups dictate it. Playing time may be limited but their skill set is invaluable.
I think it is important to give special consideration to what coaches often refer to as depth players and how they are critical to the cohesion of a team, the glue guys. These are the players that have the potential to make practices more competitive and push those ahead of them on the depth chart each and every day. Within any team dynamic there is undoubtedly a pecking order that exists both from the coaches’ and players’ perspectives.
In the majority of team try-outs there are typically a handful of players whose ability or athleticism vaults them to the top of a team’s list. After this, coaches need to fill their roster with players that have potential and or character that aligns with the coach’s philosophy. It is difficult to measure a player’s willingness to sacrifice individual gain for the betterment of a team. However, over the course of a try-out, character traits often become apparent and factor heavily into a player’s selection.
As a team progresses over the course of a season, or a number of seasons, players’ roles become more defined and the depth chart is established. It is critical for a coach to communicate these roles to the players on the team. Getting individuals to understand and accept their roles is essential but challenging. Red Auerbach once said that “it's not what you tell your players that counts, it's what they hear." I have found that individual meetings early in the process and with relative frequency can lead to players embracing their roles. Players clarifying roles for each other is another key to team unity. Finally, it is important for coaches to acknowledge players’ contributions publicly and behind closed doors with the team.
As mentioned above the depth players not only recognize their role on the court but understand how the support of their teammates from the bench can have a huge effect on team chemistry. These players recognize that even though their playing time may be limited, their contributions go far beyond these parameters. Acting as a scout team, making team drills more competitive, stepping on the floor for a player in foul trouble or filling a void for an injured player are all part of this player’s domain.
Connor McSweeney a four year varsity high school basketball player and consummate team contributor reflects on his experience, “Over the years, I have been a part of teams where I would be lucky to see the floor for two minutes. No matter the situation, playing basketball has allowed me to develop attributes such as communication, leadership, and teamwork which really are not only essential on the court, but are also transferrable to the classroom and a work environment. One of the other major lessons basketball has taught me is that teamwork is not limited to the five players on the court; it also extends to the last man on the bench. Every game, those on the court rely on the bench for cheering and support while the game is being played.”
As players compete at successively higher levels, their ability to contribute to a team often depends on their understanding of what a depth player needs to bring to a team. The high school star that plays at the next level and is no longer the “go-to” option on a team, sees his playing time diminish and needs to carve out a new niche for himself. Can he now become the player that makes those around him better and puts his team needs ahead of his own? It can be argued that ultimately a team's success depends on a coach’s ability to get his players to understand and accept their roles.
Selflessness and a common purpose are what make teams great but are elusive for many. Upon reflecting on South Carolina’s Cinderella run at this year’s NCAA men’s tournament, Frank Martin intimated, “There’s only one ball, and only one player can shoot at a time. So naturally, this is a sport where egos can overtake teamwork if you’re not careful. But in that moment in particular, I could see there was none of that on this team. There was only love.” The importance of player “buy-in” and acceptance of one’s role is the key to team unity and ultimately reaching your full potential.
The role of a role player is not always easy to define or communicate. As a coach looking to create a winning culture, it is essential to recognize and utilize depth players for team success.
Fueling your body the right way
Nutrition should be treated just as seriously as any other part of your training
Head coach of the perennial powerhouse UConn Huskies women’s basketball program, Geno Auriemma must have read the most recent Right Way Basketball blog post and decided to add a few words of his own about body language and how to be a supportive teammate. This powerful clip can be found here. Now that we have discussed the psychological side of the game we will now examine one of the most important (yet often overlooked) biological factors to maximizing your training and being successful on the court - Nutrition.
Basketball is a physically demanding sport full of constant sprinting, stopping, accelerating and jumping, with only short periods of rest, truly requiring both strength and endurance. To keep up with the daily grind and rigours of practice, school, workouts and games, a balanced nutritional plan is the foundation to maximizing performance. This post is intended to provide a basic nutritional guide to help fuel your game and take it to the next level.
You wouldn’t hop in the car for a long road trip without a full tank of gas, so why lace ‘em up and hit the court without a full tank? While physical training and practice are critical to your development, it all starts with a foundation of nutrition to get the full payout from the physical work and sessions you put in on the court and in the gym. What you eat on a daily basis helps determine how much energy you have for intense, rigorous workouts, practices and games. Nutrition should be treated just as seriously as any other part of your training.
Daily Nutrition and Tips
If you want to run faster, jump higher and make good decisions, you need to feed your body healthy, nutrient rich foods. Weekly requirements for a basketball player include an assortment of carbohydrate heavy foods to provide energy and protein to build and repair muscles. Most carbs should come from healthy foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables and milk to maximize vitamin and mineral intake. Lean red meats, skinless chicken, nuts, eggs and beans will deliver high protein. Vegetarian? No problem. You can get the protein you need from quinoa, beans, tofu and nuts. In addition to all of the food we want to put into our bodies, try to greatly reduce your intake of refined sugars (candy, soft drinks, energy drinks, cookies, etc.) and saturated fat (butter, fried foods, poultry skin, fatty beef and pork, etc.).
General Nutrition Rules:
1. Never skip a meal. As an athlete, you need steady calories for energy, recovery, muscle building and performance. Remember when you wake up, your stores are 30-40% depleted. Skipping breakfast only further depletes your energy stores and may mean it’s too late to replenish what your body needs before your next practice or game
2. Plan your meals according to your training output. Easy training days should be lighter in calories. Higher physical output requires higher caloric intake
3. Eat food that helps reduce inflammation and speed up recovery. Some of these super foods include berries, nuts, seeds, spices, fruits, vegetables, tea, mushrooms, cherries, dark chocolate, ginger, oatmeal, greens (spinach, kale, arugula), Greek yogurt, flaxseed, fish, olive oil, avocado, sweet potatoes, pineapple, onions, garlic. Try to eat several of these daily!
4. Limit junk calories to less than 10% of daily total calories. This includes ice cream, candy, soft drinks, chips, fast food and deep fried food, etc.
When you're training hard through the daily grind of a long season, it is important to start each day with a healthy high carb breakfast that includes whole grains (bagels, bread, oatmeal), fruits (bananas, berries, oranges, grapefruit) and protein (eggs, cottage cheese, peanut butter). Each player develops their own pre-game routine to prepare mentally and physically. This routine, whether built out of superstition or from personal requirements should also include an individualized nutrition plan. The food eaten the night before and day of a game is always different from player to player but it is important that you eat something before you workout and play.
1. The meal eaten the night before the game is the most critical for maximizing energy stores but never skip meals, especially the day of a game!
2. Plan to eat a full meal 2-4 hours before tip off. This allows your body adequate time to digest. The closer it gets to game time, the smaller the meal so you aren’t playing on a full stomach
3. Drink sufficient amounts of water. Your urine should be a pale yellow colour before tip off. Avoid large quantities of caffeine and salty foods that will dehydrate your body
4. Pre-game meal should include good carbohydrate choices for energy but also has adequate protein to help ward off hunger
5. Restrain from eating fatty, spicy foods and refined sugars before you play. Instead, choose easy to digest foods that sit well with you personally
For all those tournament weekends spent in gyms playing multiple games, it can be difficult to regulate food intake. Preparation can be critical to maintaining energy levels from game to game. Pack sandwiches (Ex. Peanut butter and honey/jam or deli meat), nuts and trail mix, berries (Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries), oranges, bananas, grapes. Eat lightly between games and don’t forget, the closer to game time, the smaller the meal or snack. By following these maintenance tips you will gain a strength and stamina advantage over your opponent to push you right through to the final buzzer. Replenish fluids as well with plenty of water and a sports drinks to hydrate. It can be a good idea to add water to dilute your sports beverage making it easier to digest, adequately deliver those electrolytes where they are needed and minimize the amount of unnecessary sugars. Managing hydration will avoid cramping and help to evade potential injuries due to exhaustion.
Post-Game/Workout - Recovery
What you consume after workout sessions and games can be as important as what you eat before. To promote muscle healing and recovery, eat a snack that contains carbs and protein as soon as possible after stepping off the court. This can be as simple as chocolate milk, a recovery drink or a few handfuls of trail mix with almonds, cashews, or peanuts. A more substantial meal should be consumed within 1 hour that meets the same high carb and protein supply. The longer you wait to eat, the longer your body will take to recover and your gains will be diminished. Follow this plan to achieve the full benefits from the work you just put in and recover faster from difficult sessions so you are ready to perform again the next day.
1. Consume carbohydrate rich foods and beverages as soon as possible after you play to replenish your muscle’s energy stores
2. Consume a protein rich meal to repair and build muscle
3. Replace fluids that have been lost
4. Replace any potassium, sodium, electrolytes that have been lost during competition or training with fruits, vegetables and salty foods
Your body is made up of 50-65% water and requires proper hydration to perform. Water helps to regulate body temperature, lubricates joints and delivers oxygen to working muscles. Your physical and mental performance on the court can drastically decrease, especially late in a game, if you are not hydrated. To keep muscles working at optimal levels and avoid fatigue, it is extremely important to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after physical activity. By keeping hydration levels balanced you will increase your performance, reduce injuries, avoid muscle cramping and speed recovery. Your body loses water through sweat and the rate of loss increases in proportion to your physical output so drink up in relation to your sweat rate. To better understand how much sweat you lose, weigh yourself before and after a game or practice. Aim to keep losses below 2% of your body weight by consuming water throughout your game or practice and be sure to replace all of the fluids lost with water or sports drink of your choice.
1. Monitor your urine color; it should be a pale yellow colour when you are properly hydrated. Darker urine colour means you are dehydrated
2. Drink water throughout the day before a workout, practice or game
3. Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink up. You want to be hydrated before starting physical activity
4. Water should be the number one fluid but sports drinks during and after activity are great to replenish glucose levels in your blood, plus minerals and electrolytes, (sodium, potassium, magnesium)
5. Keep sweat losses under 2% of your body weight and always replace lost fluids
Right Way Takeaways
We all want to be the best player we can be and a great nutrition, hydration and recovery plan are essential to achieving success. This helps propel our training and achieve optimal gains. When it’s late in the 4th quarter and the game is on the line, did you do enough to fuel your game?
Why body language is hurting your playing time?
93% of communication is nonverbal.
The single most important factor that influences a coach (in any sport) when determining playing time is trust. The coach awards the bulk of the minutes to the players they trust the most. Simple as that. As a player, the next logical question is, “how do I earn the coach’s trust so I can get more playing time?”. There is no one answer and preferences can vary by coach, but I will tell you that a major part of building trust between you and your coach is your body language. Body language communicates so much, intended or not. Coaches are masters at reading body language so how you react in both good and bad situations will help or hurt your chances to grow the trust your coach has in you.
As a current coach and former player I will say that negative body language will break (or diminish trust) more than good body language will build trust. It may not seem fair but it’s just the way humans are wired. We are more likely to remember the negative. So knowing that as a player, you want to avoid repeated episodes of poor body language. Any of the following qualify as bad body language:
* Keep in mind that the above list is not exhaustive, but merely a small sampling of things a coach notices.
Another very important point is that negative body language is not to be confused with disagreement. Coaches are not perfect and as a player you have every right to disagree with them BUT…and this is crucially important…it’s how you go about showing this disagreement that is the key. A positive response in front of the entire team followed by a private conversation with the coach or teammate AFTER the heat of the moment is generally the best approach (see 4:00 mark in this tribute speech by Gregg Popovich for Tim Duncan for an example).
One last thing to clarify is that indifference (or glazed over look) will negatively impact a team just as much if not more than an active negative response. This look tells a coach or teammate that you have completely ‘checked out’ and have no desire or passion to change your behaviour or actions on the court.
The rest of this post will be broken down into three sections:
1. Why do players project negative body language?
2. What does positive body language look like? And,
3. What does positive body language tell your coach and teammates, and why is this important?
For a player to begin the process of improving their body language they must first identify the reasons why they are reacting the way they are to a situation. This is going to require humility, an open mind and some honest self-reflection.
1. Why do players project negative body language?
Most of the following reasons stem from the root of the problem….selfishness. However, there is some value in mentioning the other potential reasons, even if it’s only to help players to self-identify. If you’ve thought any of these thoughts…chances are you’ve demonstrated some “less-than-stellar” body language to a coach or teammates.
2. What does positive body language look like?
Positive body language is simple and straightforward and because it’s non-verbal, you don’t need to worry about crafting some eloquent response! Here are some markers of someone that is engaged and listening to the feedback they are receiving from a coach or teammate:
Another good piece of advice that I found from this great article from the folks at PGC is, “listen, with intent to understand. Miscommunication happens when we listen with intent to reply”. Listen to what your coach is saying before immediately trying to respond…you’d be surprised how this will help improve your body language.
3. What does positive body language tell your coach and teammates, and why is this important?
A team’s culture hinges on the body language of its members. Watch any successful team and see how they react to their coaches and teammates under pressure and I guarantee you’ll mostly see players that give some semblance of positive body language. Some players are more subtle with how they respond, but you certainly will not see much of the negative body language responses outlined at the beginning of this post.
So next time you find yourself ready to slough off your coach or look away when you are being corrected…stop yourself and think about how that action impacts your team. It may seem subtle but bad body language spreads across a team, is very detrimental to success, and can stifle cohesion and growth. If you feel like your bad body language is legitimized because you are being picked on or your coach doesn’t like you then try to remember this statement uttered by one of my former coaches, “If I stop yelling at you or coaching you then you should worry…because I’ve decided I’m just not playing you in games”. Coaches challenge the players they feel have potential and can positively contribute to the team’s success. How will you respond the next time a coach or teammate challenges you? Will you affirm and respond positively or will you revert back to blaming or feeling sorry for yourself?