In 1997, Impact worked with the British and Irish Lions before their rugby tour of South Africa. As part of this work, we helped shape the Lions’ laws – 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 whoever was starting, enabling them to be the best version of themselves both on and off the pitch.
A team mentality and a culture of togetherness is vital if we are to handle this period well. Whether you are on the pitch (still working) or on the bench (furloughed), it takes everyone to pull together to achieve success.
A big threat to togetherness is friction between those starting and those on the bench. Players understand that they can’t all be on the pitch but nonetheless they do not always think rationally, especially when they are passionate about what they do. In my experience, when a team does not manage this dynamic well it can erode team togetherness and lead to underperformance.
Many lessons can be learnt from being on the bench in elite team sports. Here are six top tips to help those who are furloughed to better manage their personal situation, promote a team mentality and hit the ground running when they are back working.
1) Harnessing your self-belief
Being on the bench, especially repeatedly, can have an impact on your self-belief and cause you to question yourself. 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 dent your confidence and cause you to seek out confirmation that somehow you are not as great as you once were. It is important to proactively work on your self-belief during such times. There may be various reasons why you aren’t starting, and it doesn’t mean you are a bad player or that you aren’t an asset to the team.
Remind yourself of your strengths and achievements, and the importance of your role in the team. This 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.
2) Be comfortable being uncomfortable
Finding out that you are on the bench can trigger many different thoughts and emotions. How is this fair? How does this look to others? What does this mean for my future in the squad? Avoiding or hiding emotions can negatively impact on your wellbeing and affect team dynamics. It is important to acknowledge and accept your emotions. You can then think clearly, have good conversations and make rational decisions about how best to manage yourself.
3) 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 able to bring people back at any time. To be prepared to perform at your best when called upon, it is important to keep match fit. Stay updated on the game plan, keep connected with teammates, attend development sessions, remain curious and stay mentally switched on, aware of the potential of being called up at any minute. Leaders can do a lot to support this, but ultimately you are accountable for being prepared and feeling connected.
4) Support others
However much we want to achieve as individuals, the success of any team depends on collective effort. To win at the elite level, you need everyone in the squad supporting each other and pulling in the same direction. The first step is to make sure that everyone shares a clear and compelling goal. Keep connecting back to this goal as a reminder that, whether you are on the pitch or the bench, you are all working together in the pursuit of a common objective. Great team players take pride in helping their teammates – whether this is helping in practice, giving honest feedback or providing encouragement. Help to set your teammates up for success; your input could make all the difference. In addition, when the shoe is on the other foot, you may need this person’s support.
5) Your support
However good you are at accepting and managing your emotions, you will undoubtedly experience moments in which you need support. You might need someone to energise you when you’re down, a confidant to share feelings with, or someone to challenge you about displaying behaviours which are to the detriment of the team. Using a support network will really help you manage situations as well as setting you up to bounce forward brilliantly. It will also prevent you from becoming distant from others, which can cause negative thoughts, feelings and behaviours to persist or even worsen.
6) Control the controllable
All these recommended actions are within your control. Focusing on factors outside of your control, including being on the bench or what the media focus on, can generate further negative emotion and waste energy. Take the time to get clear on what is and isn’t in your control and maximise your effort on the activities that will make a difference to you and your team.
Stuart Kelly is a performance psychology consultant at Impact International. You can connect with him here.