I believe we should all spend some time in our lives warming the bench. I certainly spent my fair share of time keeping the bench warm for the starters on my middle school and high school basketball teams. It has been a long time since I thought about these days. Now I find myself reflecting on this experience as I watch my own son, Will, adjusting to life on the bench of his high school soccer team. While I was never consistently a starter for the teams I played on, Will has spent most of his young soccer career as a starter. This is a new role for Will and he is struggling.
I know what Will is going through. Instead of being on the field or on the court, you begin each game on the sidelines. You don’t know if or when you’ll get a chance to play. Brooding on the bench it’s easy for resentment and anger to get the best of you. You lose self-confidence and your love of the game. When the coach eventually calls your name, you have to shake off your stiffness, break free of your self-doubt, and give everything you have. This is tough to do, especially when you know that you’re only one mistake away from being back on the bench.
I believe that if Will can get past the disappointment he feels, he can learn a lot about life while he’s warming the bench along with others on his soccer team. He will understand that sometimes you get a chance to be a starter and sometimes you come off the bench. The fact that you begin the game or season as a starter doesn’t mean you end this way – there are bad breaks due to injury or worse. It is also entirely possible that you spend the entire season doing a lot of watching and waiting.
I recognize that it’s a lot to ask a teenager to be patient, but I know the waiting can be worth it. You realize you can choose to make the most of your time, whether on the sidelines cheering your teammates, or on the field playing your heart out. How you respond to this situation makes all the difference in the world. If Will can wait patiently on the sidelines and come into the game with a great attitude – he will earn the respect of coaches, parents, and his teammates. He will learn to respect and believe in himself as well.
Will has it in him to find his way to these hard-earned lessons but it will take time. It has taken me decades. When he does, I believe he will see his time warming the bench as helping him understand himself and all those who like Will, have found themselves watching and waiting for their chance.