I play linebacker and I came off the bench last year, but there’s an open spot. Right now, though, the coaches love this other guy who’s a great weightlifter. I’m a better football player, though, but I’m afraid I won’t get a chance because the other guy has better muscles. Isn’t football about making plays, not pumping iron?
— O.T., Pleasanton
There’s a lot to unpack here, but let’s start with this:
Coaches want to win. If they don’t win, especially in football, they don’t get to coach very long. So if you give the team a better chance to win than the workout warrior, you’re going to wind up playing.
I know what you’re thinking. “My coaches aren’t smart enough to see the difference. They like him better and they’ll play him instead of me even though I’ll make more plays.”
It could be true that your coaches are idiots, but you know, I’m guessing they’re smarter than you think. It’s not like they just walked into the AD’s office and got handed the job — high school football coaches pay their dues, and they’re not dumb. (That’s not to say they don’t make mistakes, but you have to remember that they do know more than you do. In fact, they know a lot more …)
Assuming, though, that the coaching staff can see that you’re better, they will play you. Which leads to the question of why they seem to favor the guy who can bench 325 (or whatever).
I’m guessing that the weightlifting king puts in a lot of time, and you have to realize that counts for a lot with coaches. Offseason is the time that individuals improve, and the more players who are all-in during the offseason, the better the team will be. If someone comes to conditioning and busts their butt every second, the coaches are going to make sure everyone sees that they really, really appreciate that kind of effort.
They will also give those extra-hard workers every chance to succeed once the games begin. But again, the bottom line is winning, and putting the players on the field who give the team the best chance to win is the best strategy. So when the pads go on, if you can show the coaches you’ll make more plays, then it’s very likely you’ll get more playing time.
One other thing, though: Don’t go marching into the coaches’ office and claim you’re better than the other guy. It doesn’t hurt to talk to the coaches, but the conversation should almost always go like this:
“Coach, I really want to help the team win this fall, and I want to know what I can do to get on the field and help us win a league title.”
The coach will usually respond with some generalities and a couple of specifics. Your reply should be something like:
“Thanks, coach, I really appreciate the feedback. I’m going to work on those things and try to get better. Please let me know how I’m doing.”
And then you walk away.
You never mention the other player. You never talk about playing time. You never disagree. And you listen intently to whatever the coach has to say.
That doesn’t mean you think the coach is right, necessarily, but since he has the power, he makes the rules — and I’m pretty sure that whatever he tells you to work on, you need to work on. And I’m also pretty sure that if you get better at those things, you’ll find the coaches like you as much as the guy who has the biggest biceps on the team.
Clay Kallam is an assistant athletic director and girls varsity basketball coach at Bentley High in Lafayette. To submit a question for Behind the Clipboard, email Coach Kallam at email@example.com
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