Do Substitute Players Matter?

You’re reading one of the many lessons taught through (codename) Project Aries, an amateur esports organization founded by Joe Chee — a US wellness and gaming ambassador specializing in youth development. These lessons are taught in between competition and practice and are required learning for all team members. Any non-team members are able to read these lessons too! If you gain any value from this, feel free to incorporate these lessons, and please be sure to show some support for Project Aries or Joe Chee (twitter: @joejoechee)

Nearly all competitive sports teams field both starting rosters and substitute players. Both starters and subs are needed in order for traditional sports teams to succeed.

But it’s been less than 24 hours since our esports rosters have been announced, and already Project Aries has come across the most common concerns among all competitive players:

“Why did they put ME as the sub? Will I get PT (play time)? What’s the point of “staying on the team” if I don’t get to compete?”

If you’ve ever been on a competitive team and asked these questions, don’t feel bad. It’s only natural to want to be on the starting roster. You should feel no shame in asking yourself these questions, and hopefully I can answer them as we begin our lesson. It’s within my teachings as a coach and mentor to help you face certain truths that you may not want to hear so that we can grow together.


To begin, let’s address the question: “Why did they put ME as a substitute player?” I remind my players often to remain objective and to try their best not to take roster decisions as personal attacks. I remind YOU to do the same while reading these two truths together:

TRUTH: If you are regularly a substitute on your team, your current skills as a player are not as developed compared to the starting roster.

Now promise me to read this second truth with equal intensity:

TRUTH: Your substitute status does not make you any lesser of a person. You are still valued, and in addition, you have the potential to develop your skills as a player on this team.

As a substitute player, you are far from alone in your emotions. Every competitive team player, including Michael Jordan in his high school basketball days [source], needed to objectively understand this before becoming a great player. Self awareness is a strength in which we can harness to create helpful goals for ourselves to improve. Embrace this early and often, as the most effective coaches and teammates will be there to support you.

Will I get to Play / Compete?

In my time as a high school esports coach, play time, or “PT” as it’s known in traditional sports, was the most important thing on the minds of my substitute or benched players. I understood how much it meant for any player to get a chance to compete in the real setting of competition. Though I can’t speak for every coaches’ methods, here was my answer for when a substitute asked if they’d ever get their chance:

“If a coach sees genuine effort from a substitute to continue their commitment to the team and further develop their skills, that player should get at least one chance to compete on stage.”

The ultra competitive players may not have agreed with me. But as a high school esports coach, here was my reasoning:

TRUTH: Winning should be only one of many other objectives for a youth competitive team. My role as a youth coach is to develop ALL of my players to form better social/self development skills.

Remember, not every coach feels the same way and not every starting roster member is willing to share the spotlight. But I believe that giving a chance for a substitute to play in at least one official match can build confidence, reward hard work, and give all members of the team a greater sense of belonging and purpose to the organization.

In competition, there are no hand outs, but players (and coaches!) should be recognized for their efforts. To be clear, play time, like starting positions, are earned, and it’s important for players and coaches to continue working with one another on improving their skillset.

Why Bother?

With play time being the only thing that matters to a majority of younger players, the question, “Why should I even bother with the team if I’m a substitute?” is often asked. Here are more truths and answers:

TRUTH: Choosing to leave a team in reaction to your substitute status is YOUR decision to make. At the same time, your actions (or inactions!) can reflect your work ethic and desires.

TRUTH: By continuing to attend practice with the team, you have opportunities to develop your skills with the support of your teammates and coaching staff in ways going alone don’t offer.

In addition to filling in for players unable to play on competition day, substitutes are welcomed onto the team for an opportunity to practice and learn from more skillful players. There’s a reason benched rosters from professional leagues show up to every practice to run through drills even when they don’t expect to start the following week.

In this moment as a substitute, you have two options, with neither being the “correct” choice, but simply choices you must make while exploring what you really want from life and what time you spend it on. These are heavier topics for children to think about, but it’s worth exploring even at an early age.

One option is to move on and find another team or hobby altogether. I can’t stress this enough about activities later on in life: If you do not feel valued and are not enjoying your environment, do your best to search for new ones.

Option two is to use the community to your advantage. Good coaches are willing to share with you life’s most precious asset: time. Check to see if your community values you as a person and has the willingness to lend their expertise and support.


I hope this information proves useful to you on your journey through competition. Remember: substitutes may not be the most skilled member of the team, but that doesn’t make them any lesser of a person. Being able to objectively identify what skills to work on and to take the action to improve is a player’s choice, but one that I highly recommend in if it’s a passion of yours.

Thanks again for reading this article from Joe Chee! If you found value in this, be sure to share this with people you care about. You can follow Joe for more articles like this through his Twitter account: @joejoechee




Youth Wellness Ambassador for gamers. Founded the nation's first after school program teaching wellness, respect, and empathy through gaming. Parent ally too

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Joe Chee

Joe Chee

Youth Wellness Ambassador for gamers. Founded the nation's first after school program teaching wellness, respect, and empathy through gaming. Parent ally too

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