sport in a pandemic: Crisis or opportunity? Chapter 4

sport in a pandemic: Crisis or opportunity? Chapter 4

Sports in a pandemic: Crisis or Opportunity

Chapter 4 Ashley Clark, Being a Substitute


Sitting on the bench sucks.  As young players we all worked hard to improve our game so we would be on the field come the opening whistle.  Since 1958 when subs were first allowed to enter a game to replace a non-injured player, being a sub has taken on its own challenges.  No player dreams of being a sub, but with only 11 on a field at any one time for a team, it’s now commonplace in the game; especially this year, when FIFA allows a maximum of 5 subs per game due to COVID.   The mentality of coming off the bench is critical for success and not something to be taken for granted.  From how you choose to deal with it when a coach tells you the day before a game you aren’t in the starting 11, to that moment during a game when you are told to ‘go warm up’ and get ready to enter the game, being successful coming off the bench requires a very specific attentional focus.

In Chapter 4 of our Sports in a Pandemic series, Ashley and I will examine the most effective way to handle it when you are named as a sub.  This is Ashley’s fourth season with Le Havre, 1 of 12 teams in top women’s pro league in France.  See Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and Chapter 3 for more info on Ashley and how she began this mental training journey.  After a couple games coming off the bench for Le Havre, Ash earned her way back in the starting 11 for the November 21st game vs Montpellier scoring a goal in the 17th minute!


Hello everyone, it’s Ashley again sharing more about my journey playing D1 Arkema in France during these Covid times. I hope y’all are staying safe and healthy and also trying to push yourself to be better every time you go to training.  I want to share a couple updates about what I’ve been going through on the pitch within my team in the last couple weeks.

With us moving up to Division 1, the competition has been so much stronger than D2, and each opponent every week throws something different at our team. For that reason, and also with there being more competition within our team, there have been a few matches so far this year where I haven’t started but came on as a substitute.  In the past not starting has shook my world because I’ve approached it the wrong way and not been able to embrace the opportunity or my value to the team.  This time I wanted to be different and learn through the process.  As players, we don’t have control over every detail such as if we start or not, that’s our coach’s decision.  On the other hand we can control how we handle ourselves in the situation and how we can still help our team.

The first match I was a substitute I had a great conversation with Derrek about how to have the right mindset going into the match when I knew I would be coming off the bench.  I knew I wanted to make an impact if I got in the match so the most important mental skills, I chose to focus on were having positive self-talk, managing my emotions, and concentrating on the most helpful things as the game went on rather than being out of it or pouting on the bench.  When players get listed as a sub, often I have noticed their first thoughts are usually “I’m not good enough” or “what did I do wrong?” Neither of these are really all that helpful.  A successful player who needs to make an impact when thrown into the middle of a match can’t believe those thoughts ever!  For me I focused instead on my 10/10 (which is a way Derrek and I define my most successful abilities on the field).  I chose to remember think about the positive ways I impact the game and talked to myself in a such way to be confident when I went in during the match.

When gameday came, two other mental skills really came into play. On the day I really had to be a good teammate with positive emotions rather than having a pity party during warm-up or on the bench.  I had to not be stressed when my coach gave me the chance to go in, but relaxed and energized all at the same time.  The final mental skill that I used once the match started was to dial in my concentration to examine the spaces and moments I could change the game once I stepped onto the field.  I knew I had to be focused during the warm-up even though I wasn’t with the starters, I had to watch the match and see areas where I could break apart the opponent when I got on, and I had to concentrate on my cues and attacking spaces during in the minutes I got to play.

Everyone wants to be a starter, and as athletes we compete every day for those spots but sometimes it’s not the card we’re dealt. To be successful as a substitute, we have to clearly see how we will make an impact in order to do what’s best for our team.  To do that you have to start with yourself.  We have to communicate positively with ourselves; always being our biggest fans, handle our emotions and anxiety in ways that lift us and our teammates up.  We must concentrate on the things we can control and be ready to adapt if stuff isn’t going our way.  By keeping my focus on the ways I can positively impact our team, I know I will keep making an impact here with HAC.  My goal is to do everything I can every single day try to help turn our season around as a starter, or a substitute.   

Working every week on my mental skills is really improving my game and I challenge you to do the same, it can even help you with life in general if you approach it the same way!  Stay safe and healthy! Do something every day that scares or challenges you and never give up! Until next time… Follow me on social media to see more of my life. 


Mental Training Tips from Derrek and Ash:

1).  When you are notified you will be a sub, avoid getting down on yourself or placing blame.  Adopt a neutral mindset and shift gears immediately into what you can control in training, or if it’s the day of the game, to focus on the things you do well on the field.  Be present in training or the warm-up. 

2).  Aggressively employ your self-talk to shift your attention to technical and tactical cues which will be needed during play for you to be your most impactful self.  If you need some motivation, move your self-talk into 3rd person narrative to give yourself a shot of nitrous:  “Ash, you dominate the wings”, “Ash, attack spaces”, “Clark, you will lift your team when you come on!”

3).  During the game, lock in your concentration to observe what your team is doing well and how you will help them keep doing that, look for weaknesses/spaces in the opponent you can help attack when you step on the field.

4).  Manage your emotions to help you be your 10/10 effective self once you step on.  If playing with a little edge to prove your coach wrong helps you feel energized, then adopt that mindset as long as you can stay under control.  Or maybe, take your deep breaths after your sideline warm-up is done and calm your mind so you can exploit those opponent weaknesses you saw from the bench.  The key here is to control your emotions so you stay focused on controllable technical and tactical choices once you step on to play.

~Derrek Falor, M.Ed., CMPC


~Ashley Clark

Instagram: ajclark9

Facebook: ajclark09futbol

Derrek Falor
Latest posts by Derrek Falor (see all)