How to be a Great Player.. While Sitting on the Bench


That’s me, second from left, watching Steve Nelson convert an easy lay-up for the Worthing Bears… I’m not even wearing kit !

No-one gets into a sport to sit on the bench… Sitting on the bench sucks. I certainly didn’t get into basketball to spend (what was then) 40 minutes at the end of the bench, sitting in my tracksuit with the only shots I was taking during the pre-match warm-up.  No one wants to do it. Every player would prefer to be out on the court showcasing their talents to everyone inside the gym.

But the fact is that all players will spend a lot of time on the bench at some point. As a player progresses further in their career and makes the step up to the next level they may find themselves going from 35 minutes per game to 5 minutes per game.

If you’re that player only seeing 5 minutes of playing time per game what are you going to do with the other 35 minutes you spend on the bench to help your team be successful?

What most people don’t understand is that bench players have a huge influence on the outcome of the game.

Most coaches don’t talk about what it takes to be a great bench player. Most players I know don’t think there’s such thing as a great bench player. But there is. There really is.  Believe me, I got damned good at it !

I’ve played for coaches who had little or no respect for the bench players… I’ve also played for coaches who appreciated what each player did, regardless of playing time.  I’ve played alongside some great bench players… and I’ve also played alongside some really lousy ones and I’ve played alongside some very talented “starting five” players who had no idea that I had had a direct influence on their performance that night by what I was doing from my office at the end of the bench.

The secret is to have eight great players and four others who will cheer like crazy” – Jerry Tarkanian

Here are 5 qualities of a great bench player.

  1. They Bring Lots of Energy

Energy is the most important thing for all bench players to bring to every single game, especially when their team is on the road. We all lace them up because we have a passion for the game, and what better time to show it than game time – regardless of where we spend the game.

A great bench player is loud. Shouting out words of encouragement to their teammates. Standing up and cheering each time their team scores or makes a great basketball play.  I lost count of the number of times I left the arena after a game with a sore throat.  I was one of the ugliest cheerleaders the club had ever seen !

When a time-out is called a great teammate will be the first one off the bench to go out and high-five the players that were on the court. When the time-out is over the great bench player maintains the energy with supporting comments “Yeah, Mark. Keep looking for the 3 pointer and keep an eye on Drew inside !”.

All of these little acts lift the energy and moral of the team.  Your teammates and coach will appreciate it.

  1. They Are Aware of the Importance of Body Language

Body language is just as important on the bench as it is on the court.  Are the bench players leaning back, slouching, and looking disinterested? Or are they on the edge of their seat engaged in the game?

Poor body language on the bench tells a coach a player cares more about themselves than the team. A great bench player proves that they’re a team-first player by having great body language on the bench.  It also shows your teammates that you’re involved in what is happening on the court and they’re more likely to engage and take advice from someone who they perceive has been reviewing the play and analysing the opposition.

Great bench players all sit forward, don’t slouch, and are engaged in the game.

  1. They Don’t Ruin Your Teammates Focus

Want to know what’s worse than a player not engaged in the game while on the bench? A player not engaged in the game that ruins the focus of their teammates.

If a player is unable to stay engaged in a game this does not give them the right to ruin the focus of anyone else.

Players shouldn’t talk about things that aren’t related to the game, during the game. That goes for talk between bench players too.  It is important to maintain focus and save non-game related topics for after the game. No one cares what you’re planning on doing that night while the scores are tied mid-way through the fourth quarter.

I can’t emphasise enough the damage that can be done when a player on the court glances over to the bench and sees players goofing around, clearly not appreciating what is happening on the floor.

  1. They Watch What the Opposition is Doing

While most players hate starting on the bench it does give you a BIG advantage over your starting opponents. By starting on the bench you have the opportunity to scout your opponents; you can be an extra pair of eyes for the coach.

Here are a few things the players on the bench can watch for:

    • Look for weaknesses in the defence

If you’re a rim-attacking guard, which players on the other team have slow feet? Which players do you think you can easily beat off the dribble?

If you’re a three point shooter look for holes in their defence. What defence are they running? How can you take advantage of it?

    • What plays are they running?

Learn the names of the plays and the basic premise. Where will the ball end up? What can you do to stop it?

    • Scout your probable opponent

Is he/she left or right handed ?  Do they exhibit good peripheral vision ?  Are they a natural passer of the ball or do they like to be the offence themselves ?

Many coaches have patterns of substituting. If you know you usually get subbed on for a certain player, look at that players defender. What are they doing that you can exploit? Are you bigger than them and will be able to post them up? Are you quicker and will be able to take them off the dribble? Will you be able to get rebounds? How can you help your team?

Don’t wait until you’re out there to figure it out. You’ve got the advantage of watching the game from the start. A huge advantage.

  1. They Stay Ready

Be a great teammate on the bench by staying ready for when your number is called to go on and help your team.

When your number is called your team expects you to go on and play your part for the team. Don’t let your teammates down by not staying engaged and ready to do that.



Being a great bench player really comes down to being a great teammate. Being able to put team success before personal glory.

You can’t ignore the fact that the players on the bench do play a big role in the outcome of the game. The intensity and moral of these players has a huge influence on the players on the court.

So a huge respect to all the players out there who, like me, have spent more time sitting than playing… who have spent more time cheerleading than they have rebounding and who have, more often than not, been completely undervalued by many of their teammates.


This article was written using source material from  Many thanks to @BballCoachMac for kindly allowing me to use it.