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14 Bench Rules

While the five starters usually get most of the headlines and shine, in order for a team to maximize it’s true potential…it has to continually develop and maximize the other 10 players on the team. Bench players play an integral role in any team’s success.

I’ve been fortunate to sit at the end of the bench at two nationally renowned high school programs (Montrose Christian School and DeMatha Catholic High School).

Over that span I had the opportunity to work with 6 future NBA players: Kevin Durant, Terrence Ross, Victor Oladipo, Greivis Vasquez, Linas Kleiza and Jerami Grant.

However, the most successful teams in that span didn’t win because of those super stars – they won because they had outstanding bench players. And when I say ‘outstanding’ – I’m not necessarily talking about talent – I’m talking about their commitment to their role, their daily effort, their enthusiasm and their ability to challenge the starting five every single day in practice.

So it wasn’t players one through five that made those teams great; it was players six through fifteen.

Here are 14 Bench Rules to help you maximize the rest of this season:

  1. Clearly establish and communicate the role of every member of your team. Every player on the team should know everyone’s role. You probably did this at the beginning of the season. Do it again.
  1. Get each player to be a ‘star’ in their role, no matter how small it is, and to understand that their role is integral to the team’s success. Every player needs to feel important.
  1. Give just as much attention and love to your bench players as you do to your starting five every day in practice. Give them just as many reps when running sets, doing end of game situations, etc. They need to be just as prepared as the starters. Make every player on your team feel needed and involved in every practice.
  1. Make sure players know that playing time is not given; it is earned. It is earned every day in practice and it is earned during games. Convince players to make the most of every minute they play. Let them know that one minute of playing time may turn in to two minutes next time… two minutes may turn in to four minutes, etc.
  1. Try to get your main bench players in as early as you can – by the end of first quarter or at the beginning of the second quarter whenever possible. Getting players in the game early gives them confidence for when they are needed later.
  1. Don’t get stuck using the same starting five the entire season. It can lead to complacency for starters and be a huge de-motivator for the bench players. Use different combinations and different starting lineups when possible to keep everyone ‘on their toes.’ Only start players who have earned those minutes.
  1. Openly communicate and explain your process for choosing starters, substitution patterns, reasons for coming out of the game, etc. You don’t have to justify it, just explain it.
  1. Try not to yank players out of the game after one bad shot, foolish turnover, missed box out, etc. Let them learn to play through mistakes. When players feel they will be taken out for any mistake they make… they will play tentative, passive and hesitant. When you put in a bench player, you are looking for a spark. The last thing you want is to put in a hesitant or scared player. Now, if they make the same mistake again (take another bad shot or miss another box out), you should take them out and explain why. ‘The first time it is a mistake… the second time it is a decision.’
  1. If a player shows a lack of character – whines to the referee, points a finger at a teammate, etc. – take them out immediately (and explain why). Bad attitudes may be understandable, but not acceptable. This goes for every player on your team… but especially your best player.
  1. Encourage the players on the bench to stand up and clap whenever a teammate comes out of the game.
  1. Any time you can pull a player out on a good note… do so. That which gets praised, gets repeated. Let them know they did a great job and that they are coming out because… (explain your reason).
  1. Use film (I highly recommend Krossover) to show players why they aren’t playing as much as they want to play. Don’t do this in a negative way, but in a way that teaches a lesson. For example, ‘Brian… look at these three defensive possessions. The first one you let your man drive middle. The second one you chose not to box out. The third you weren’t in help position. I can’t afford to play you if you aren’t going to do what I need you to do defensively.’ Film doesn’t lie. NOTE: Use this same philosophy to show players why they do play (highlight ‘good’ plays)!
  1. Make your bench players lives by this mantra: It’s better to be prepared for an opportunity that never arises than unprepared for one that does.

  1. Great bench players are always:
    • Engaged
    • Enthusiastic
    • Energetic
    • READY

I hope this list helps your team maximize their potential to finish out the season.


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about rick torbett

Rick Torbett has taught thousands of coaches to win more games through his innovative approach to the game. He has created powerful training for coaches at any level so they can coach their best and win more games.

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Read & React 5-Player Coordination Drills

Enter your email address to get an inside look at teaching the Read & React Offense with the drills in this free video.