On the bench
eclipseteam / 19.05.2020

On the bench

We worked with the British and Irish Lions before their rugby tour of South Africa in 1997. As part of the work, we helped shape the lion’s laws. These laws were a code of conduct created by the players for the players. One such law was that if you were not chosen to start and were on the bench your job was to support that person starting to make them the best version of themselves whilst on and off the pitch. Yet still, the person not chosen to start was on the bench and that can be tough, but it also can be an advantage for your team and organisation.

A team mentality is important in order to handle this period well. Just as it does to win a World Championship, whether you are ‘on the pitch’, still working or ‘on the bench’ being furloughed, it takes everyone to pull together to be successful (whatever success looks like for your organisation). 

I believe a lot of comparisons can be made and lessons learned from being on the bench in elite team sports. The purpose of this is to share top tips to help people on furlough to better manage their personal situation, promote a team mentality and hit the ground running when they are back working. 

Team mentality and a culture of togetherness is important.

A big threat to togetherness is when the dynamic between those starting and those on the bench have friction. Players rationally recognise that only 11 out of 23 in a squad can start each match in football, but nonetheless they do not always think rationally, especially when they care and are passionate about what they do. I have both experienced that when a team does not manage this dynamic well, it erodes team togetherness and ultimately leads to underperformance. Therefore, I have created below are six top tips for those who are furloughed and playing their role ‘on the bench’. 

Harnessing your self-belief

Being on the bench, especially for numerous matches, can have an impact on your self-belief. You can find yourself questioning. Why am I not good enough to start? What do other players have that I don’t? Do the staff and manager believe in me? It can make you question your own ability, dent your confidence and cause you to seek out informed sources that somehow you are not as great as you once were. It is important to proactively work on your self-belief during such periods. There may be various reasons why you may not be starting, and not starting doesn’t equate to you being a bad player or that you don’t have lots of qualities and strengths that benefit the team. 

Remind yourself of your qualities and strengths, what you have achieved so far, and the importance of your role in the team. These will help to reinforce your self-belief. Right now, it’s more important than ever to take a step back, remind yourself of what makes you great and stay positive about the future. 

Be comfortable being uncomfortable

Learning you are on the bench often triggers many different thoughts and emotions. However, no matter how much you rationally understand the decision, emotions will likely kick in at some point. How is this fair? How does this look to others? Why was I not chosen? What does this mean for my future in the squad? Avoiding or hiding emotions is harmful and can negatively impact on your personal state and wellbeing. It can also lead to actions which negatively impact on team dynamics. It is important to acknowledge and accept your emotions. Once the emotion is acknowledged, you can then think, act and make more rational decisions about how best to manage yourself. It will also enable more rational conversations with others as and when appropriate.

Be accountable 

You can be called on at any point when you are on the bench. The same is true when on furlough, with companies being able to call people back at any point. To help you perform at your best when called upon, it is important to prepare as if you are starting and keep match fit. Stay updated on the game plan, keep connected with teammates and stay mentally switched on to the potential of being called on at any minute. Leaders can do a lot to support this, but ultimately you are accountable for being prepared and feeling connected. Actively look to attend development sessions, continue to be curious and keep up to date on the latest information. It is up to you to ensure this happens.

Support others 

However, much we want to achieve as individuals, the success of any team is what you achieve as a collective. To win at the elite level, you need everyone in the squad supporting each other and pulling in the same direction. This starts by having a clear and compelling outcome goal. At certain points, it is important to keep connecting back to this goal as a reminder to everyone that whether you are on the pitch or on the bench, we are all working together in the pursuit of a collective goal.

Linked to this, if we really challenged ourselves, I imagine we can all remember a time we didn’t fully support a teammate for whatever reason. Great team players take pride in helping their teammates in whatever way they can – whether this is helping in practice, giving honest feedback or providing encouragement. Take pride in helping to set your teammates up for success. Your input or contribution could make all the difference. In addition, when the shoe is on the other foot, you may hugely benefit from this person’s support. 

Your support 

However good you are at accepting and managing your emotions, you will undoubtedly experience moments in which you need or would hugely benefit from support. This could be in the form of someone to energise you when you’re down, a confidant to share true feelings and emotions with, or a person who will challenge you about displaying any behaviours which are not in the best interest of the team. Proactively using your support network and leveraging the help of others will help hugely in your management of the whole situation as well as setting you up to bounce forward brilliantly. Trying to manage everything on your own is difficult, so maximise the power of the people around you. This will also help to prevent you from becoming distant from others, which can cause negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours to persist or even worsen.

Control the controllable

Crucially, all the top tips above are within your control. Focusing on factors outside of your control, including the decision to put you on the bench or what the media focuses on, can generate further negative emotion and is ultimately wasted energy. Take the time to get clear on what is in vs. outside of your control and maximise your time and attention on the activities which will make a real difference to you and the team.

Stuart Kelly is a Performance Psychology Consultant at Eclipse. You can connect with him here.