Athletes often struggle with the tension between playing within their ability and pushing themselves to expand their game. Although the desire to improve is essential for any athlete, this drive must be tempered by a self-awareness of one’s ability. A proper understanding of the glory of the role player may help to solve this dilemma.

Are role players important?

Role players are essential to any team, yet their jobs are often overlooked and overshadowed. Today I intend to defend the importance of these players and offer some practical advice for athletes and coaches.

Most team sports have role players. The role player specializes in one or two areas of the game for the sake of the team. Some examples include the tough nosed defender in basketball (i.e. Danny Green or Derek Fisher), the quick slot receiver in football (i.e. Golden Tate or Wes Welker), or the “enforcer” in hockey (i.e. Marty McSorley–the “bodyguard” of Wayne Gretzky).

The role player focuses his attention on specific aspects of the game to serve the needs of the team.

He may accept this task due to limitations in his ability or simply because the team needs someone to accomplish it. In either case, the duty of the role player is defined by sacrifice. He accepts a limited job because, after all, someone needs to do it. The team cannot succeed if everyone wants to score, someone must get the rebounds!

When a player embraces a certain role, they accept the fact that the team is more important than the self. In doing this, they train themselves in the art of humility and position their team for tremendous success.

A team filled with individuals that will make any sacrifice for the good of the whole can become unstoppable.

Related: The Difficult Job of the Role Player 

glory of the role player

How should players and coaches facilitate the success of the role player?

Given the importance of the role player, how should players and coaches facilitate their success?

Coaches need to be intentional about assigning roles and emphasizing their importance.

A team is like a small company. A successful company outlines the job of each employee. By doing this, the company assigns responsibility and defines what success looks like for their employees.

Likewise, coaches need to avoid ambiguity by explicitly stating what they want their players to do. When coaches properly assign roles, each player knows how to measure their own success and understands why their role fits into the mission of the team. Clear communication from the coach to the player allows the athlete to understand what he needs to do to be successful.

No one can succeed unless they know what they are supposed to do.


Players should see their roles as opportunities for advancing in their sport and honing their ability.

Players who accept their current limitations, or their defined roles, do not stunt their development in the sport. On the contrary, if they pursue their current role with focus and zeal, they have the chance to master a skill that will help them when their role expands.

Many great modern athletes begin as role players who steadily expand their ability each year. Stephen Curry is one such example. He embraced a specific job (shooting threes) for the good of the team, but through continual hard work expanded his ability and become one of the great modern NBA players. ­­

glory of the role player


There is glory for the role player.

The role player shuns the glory of attention, praise, and impressive statistics for the sake of the team. In doing this, he revels in another kind of glory.