I’m not a “sports person”.
Typing that feels like I just confessed to a crime, but when I fell in love with a man who didn’t watch Football every Sunday and he proposed, I felt like I had hit the proverbial husband-jackpot.
And then after about 9 years of parenting, we both found ourselves thrown into the crazy world of competitive youth sports when our son had made our town’s travel basketball team.
He was so confident. So fearless. So determined–
and in the end, one of eleven– out of 40+ kids (!!) that tried out.
We’re not “sports people” but, color us proud.
At a parent meeting in the beginning of the season, his coach laid down the law in no uncertain terms.
He was a tough-love coach.
He played to win.
He wouldn’t pat them on the back and tell them good job if infact they hadn’t done a good job.
Play time was not guaranteed to be equal and was based on a merit system consisting of not only skill, but dedication, enthusiasm, and commitment.
Sounded fair enough.
We all nodded in agreement.
He laughed and jokingly told us “You nod now, but I am sure some of you will be emailing me this season.”
And then our son sat the bench–
almost the entire season (some games not playing at all).
I was down with the merit system and tough love but it was a heart-wrenching 4 months.
But he never complained.
And then during a half-time at our championship game– that he didn’t play in– the coach made a comment at his expense that was particularly stinging.
I felt like I’d been punched in the gut as my son who doesn’t cry, retold the story with tears streaming down his face.
As a parent, the tough-love felt like it crossed the line; the “merit system” and his spirit, broken.
I began to question our decision to “stick it out and stand up to adversity”.
What kind of parents allows their child to be broken like this?
Wait … was he broken?
Had he felt like this all season and just bottled it up?
Why hadn’t I picked up on this?
If we are being honest, a lot of parenting is done “winging it”. And not knowing if you made the right decision for your child, sucks.
That all being said there are a few things I hope our choice to stick it out taught our son while he was sitting on the bench.
1. Despite our own disappointment, we always celebrate our teammates
Though watching his unspoken disappointment game after game, broke my heart and even made me choke up a few times, I always tried to stay focused on the game– for him.
I cheered on his teammates loud from the stands hoping he was watching me, and encouraged him to do the same.
On the car ride home, instead of focusing on obvious disappointments, we would talk about the good plays and passes that were made, and how the team was improving as a whole.
2. The value of commitment, preparation & goal setting
We could have pulled him from the team, but we feared it would only teach him to “give up” when things don’t go his way– which in life, is something we all face.
We wanted him to understand commitment.
Even though there were games he went into somehow knowing he would not play, we encouraged him to be ready to go in if he was called on, because he committed to the team.
3. Mental toughness is half the game
“The mark of a true champion is in how they deal with sitting on the bench.”
It easy to feel confident and proud when you’re being cheered on in the limelight, but it takes guts and mental strength to sit on the bench and push through the confidence-killing moments. To soak in those moments and muster up the motivation to improve and move forward takes a different kind skill and strength entirely. A strength that even this “non-sports person” can tell you is half the game.
5. We believed in him every step of the way
Despite the play time or confidence he had or did not have on the court, we never doubted his passion or ability. We wholeheartedly believe he has it in him to channel his experience into something that makes him even greater not only as a player but as a person as a whole.
6. Setbacks and failure are normal and only temporary
When my son hit his breaking point, we first let him have his moment and then assured him this was not “the end”. Getting upset is normal and everything is only temporary –there will be more seasons, games, teammates, coaches– life. goes. on.–in the direction you choose.