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Should a Coach Bench Their Stars?

Posted by naterb on January 7, 2009


“Uh-oh!” My two-year-old son’s words resonated in my ears as they broke the silence I was enjoying while drinking my morning coffee. After setting down my coffee and getting out of my comfortable leather chair I walked into the bathroom where my son stood there sheepishly after dropping my wife’s new earrings in the toilet. He knew he was in trouble, and rightfully so. Before I could say a word he looked up and said “I sorry.”

As a father one of the things I have learned quickly is that when your child acts up there needs to be swift consequences for the trouble they are causing. Whether they’re pulling the dogs tail, flushing mommy’s brand new earrings down the toilet, throwing a temper tantrum because you don’t get them that new toy, or just being outright defiant, there has to be structured and appropriate consequences for the poor decisions that they are making.


For a basketball coach and his players it is the same. If a player is showing up late for practice, fighting with teammates, breaking team rules, or not following instructions during practice or games, the player needs to see direct and immediate consequences for his actions. Nobody is above the rules or the consequences.


Russ Pennell demonstrated that by benching Nic Wise and Jordan Hill for being a few moments late for practice.


Lute Olson did it several times, one of the most notable was when he benched Pete Williams, Joe Turner and Morgan Taylor for missing curfew before a big game. After the rules were broken, Olson benched the three stars for the entire first half in a late-season match-up with UCLA.


Ultimately what causes the coach to bench a player and a parent to discipline their child is the fact that that the player/child is hurting themselves and those that count on them. When players aren’t hustling, like Jamelle Horne earlier this season, they’re hurting their team by not giving 100%. Pennell laid the consequences out by taking away Horne’s starting spot. Horne got the message and has since been averaging around 10 points and 10 rebounds a game.

But what do you do when a player isn’t hustling because they’re frustrated with their performance? That’s the exact case Pennell is dealing with in regards to Chase Budinger who is currently mired in a four-game slump. Frankly, benching him isn’t the answer. When deciding what action to take with a player and the negative effects they’re having on the team, you have to consider the root. If Pennell were to bench Budinger it would only amplify the problem by demoralizing Chase’s confidence even further. So, while benching a player is often a good solution to lack of effort or poor decision making, it isn’t the case here. The only solution that Pennell has within his means is to run a few set plays early in the next game to find Budinger coming off a screen or rolling towards the basket.

Coaching, as with parenting, requires appropriate responses to player/child problems. Occasionally a player must be benched, suspended, forced to run extra wind sprints in practice, or even be kicked off the team all together. Coaches have to take careful consideration as to the effects of the issue at hand and the consequences they implement.


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