Lesson Learned: There’s No Shame in Being a Benchwarmer

Fantasies of my children playing sports fill my head as a father.

Sports played a monumental role in my childhood and the person I am today, as is the case with many young children. I often reflect on those times and the fun I had through all the successes and failures.

I still remember the worst season of my life when I was 12 and couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn. I was a layup for opposing pitchers flailing at the plate like a fish out of the water.

I still remember my team going undefeated when I was 15, winning the championship. I can still recite my entire stat line because I have always been an analytics geek.

All those fond memories still attach me to competing in your classic case of adult recreation leagues at 28-years-old. The biggest difference between now and then is I usually drink after.

It would be the ultimate high to watch my children go through those same ups and downs filled with triumphs and failures. I hope sports play a role in their life lessons as they did in mine.

I have learned how to handle failure, how to succeed, how to problem solve, how to be a team player and a multitude of other things. Plenty of that can be attributed back to sports.

I read a post that was shared a few months ago about how hard it was for a dad to watch his son warm the bench during his time as a college athlete. The dad was a former college athlete who played, so he talked about that and the journey that took him to accepting his son was a benchwarmer. Only, he learned along the way that his son was much more than that.

That post hit home for me.

I was always the kid on the bench for my school teams, both at John Curtis and Destrehan.

I played football in fifth grade and logged a grand total of four snaps. I was a wide receiver and defensive back. However, I played those four snaps at defensive end and got obliterated.

I never played organized football again due to being a glorified tackling dummy.

In 7th grade, I tried out and made the baseball team. Upon trying out, the assistant coaches taking the names asked my position and I told them second base. One of them said to the other (who’s son ironically played second base), he’s no second baseman. Meanwhile, the dildo never even saw me field a grounder before.

Things never got much better. I logged one plate appearance and less than a full game’s worth of innings in the field. Not sure on the exact number. It was uneventful to say the least.

The highlight came a little more than midway through the season when I was told to go get a foul ball and my response was “nah, someone else should get a turn.” I was told I would never play with that attitude. I laughed and said “I’ll take my chances. I don’t play now.”

In high school, I played freshman year. I use the term “play” loosely. I practiced. I logged no plate appearances and logged four innings in the field.

The highlight came during the freshman season when I got yelled at by my coach for catching a foul ball in the dugout when we were hitting and the other team claimed interference despite being in foul territory. My teammate was called out at the plate due to my “interference.” He came in the dugout and got in my face about it. I didn’t interfere nor did I extend my arm over the dugout gate. I just simply didn’t move while everyone else did and caught the ball because it literally fell into my lap.

My freshman year was filled with laps after practice for forgetting parts of my uniform and being told I wasn’t good enough.

Sophomore year wasn’t much better. I was kicked out of workouts for ripping a sign down on the visiting side at a football game in which we on.

I skipped a pre-season tournament and the head coach’s son called my house (he used to be a family friend) and told my parents. Naturally, they weren’t too happy. Nor should they have been.

When I had to face my coaches, I was told I would have played. I didn’t believe them, but shit happens.

I quit shortly before the beginning of sophomore season where I would inevitably ride the bench for JV.

Needless to say, outside of recreational sports, my baseball career was forgettable at best. There were some politics involved. There was unfair decision making in some ways. There was a reality that I was likely never going to get a chance.

However, I came to terms with something much later in life that would have helped me back then. I wasn’t good enough to be lazy and forgetful. But, I damn sure thought I was. A combination of being behind the 8-ball as is plus that mindset made for a destructive career that never took off outside of recreational ball.

I hope all of my children have more self-awareness than I did when I was younger. I hope they have the same self-awareness this dad described about his son in the post I read.

This dad talked about coming to grips with his son being on the bench. He couldn’t handle it until he realized not everything he wasn’t, but everything he was.

Unfortunately for him, his son’s collegiate career came and went. He too was a collegiate athlete who could not resonate with his son being on the bench. The dad never was on the bench.

That is a sentiment many sports parents have. I have seen it. I have heard it. I don’t fault a dad for wanting his son to have the best opportunity to succeed. However, this dad’s eyes didn’t open until the end. He talked about focusing on the wrong things for much of his son’s career. That sucks.

He shared how his son may have rode the bench, but he was still looked at as a leader. He only wished he saw that sooner. I think that statement is powerful beyond belief in the sports world and in life. He reflected on how teammates responded to his son when he would speak. He talked about his son being the first one to congratulate someone for a big play or take time to talk up someone who just made a mistake.

That speaks volumes to the character of that young man, character I wish I had when I was younger. I hope my children have that kind of character.

It’s easier to be a confident leader when you are at the top, when you are the alpha. Can you hold that same confidence when you’re not?

One of my favorite quotes from D3: The Mighty Ducks said by Coach Orion sums it up perfectly…

Listen, if you learn nothing else when you’re here, you learn this. All right? ‘Cause it’s not just about hockey. It’s easy to be confident when you have control of the puck. It’s very, very difficult to keep that confidence when you gotta take whatever strange bounces life throws your way. Don’t be careless, but don’t be too careful either. You cannot be afraid to lose. That’s how you gain the confidence to attack the game when the puck isn’t yours. That’s how you attack life even when you think you don’t have any control. And that’s how you play real defense.

Of course I want my children to be stars in whichever sport or extracurricular they may compete in. More importantly, I want them to have the wherewithal to be a great teammate and have fun. I want them to be coach-able. I want them to outwork everyone else, even if it keeps leading to shortcomings. I want them to put the name on the front of the jersey before the name on the back.

When you do that, you can become an invaluable piece that can never be replaced. So in turn, people will remember the name on the back because of what you were for the name on the front.

I have seen several friends play at the next level because they understood that concept. They were great teammates and worked their asses off.

If there are aspects of politics at play, continue to do your best no matter what. I will always do my best to guide my children through that because of the mistakes I made.

As a parent, I will never hold it against my children for riding the bench…because I did.

I just hope they never lose the joy of the game because of it…because I did.

 

 

 

 

 

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