None of us say, “Little Johnny, I can’t wait to pay $400-500 and spend every evening taking you to practice, so I can cheer someone else’s kid on to victory this Saturday!” Do we?
I am a mom of three strong, athletic boys full of dreams of playing in the NFL and NBA someday. But the reality is that’s probably not going to happen, and many seasons, we’ve spent much of our time riding the bench. As painful as that is, I’m hoping to convince someone that riding the bench actually can be more beneficial than being the star.
As parents we sign them up early–our oldest was only four when he began soccer. Full of spirit and quick, little feet, he spent most of his time kicking others, playing with his socks, and tackling his teammates. We quickly decided this must not be his sport. So as soon as he asked, we signed him up for tackle football. Eventually, all three boys would play tackle football in the same league. Some were pretty good at it and others looked great in the uniform but were never chosen to start or actually even play most Saturdays.
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In our first experience with competitive sports, this mom was furious to the point of tears that we devoted every weeknight to this game and more extra income than we had only to watch him stand on the sidelines. My husband, in his wisdom, tried to calm me down and remind me this is the real world. Sometimes kids get chosen, sometimes they don’t. Not the answer I wanted, but I now realize he was right.
We live in a world where everyone gets trophies (I have no problem with that), but not everyone is the best. It’s a fact that’s hard to grasp but can prove to teach our kids more lessons for life than playing every down ever could.
Here are some other lessons I’ve learned as a sports mom:
Most of the time it bothers us more than it does them.
Proverbs 11:2 says, “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” I hate to admit it, but maybe it’s my pride that wants my kid to shine? Or is it the lack of something to brag on? Either way, it’s not pretty. Most kids actually get it that they can’t always be the star. And you know what? It doesn’t kill them!
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Riding the bench creates a burning desire to persevere and work hard.
I’ve seen this nowhere better than with our middle son, who spent several seasons watching from the sidelines, took a season off, worked out a lot, got stronger and faster, and is now getting lots of playing time on his school team. James 1:4 says, “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be full and complete, not lacking anything.”
Cheering others on teaches godly character and helps us focus on someone other than ourselves.
Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” It’s really not all about me. There I said it. Do our kids know that? Do they think the world revolves around them? If they do, we are doing a horrible job of preparing them to be good employees, moms, dads, and spouses.
Sometimes just being part of the team gives our kids something to believe in and belong to and builds their confidence.
Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” One of my sons just wants to wear the jersey and be able to tell people he’s on the team. Another son, tried out for his basketball team three years in a row and was just so happy to make it the fourth year, he was OK sitting on the bench cheering on his older, more experienced teammates. And another lost every single wrestling match his first season, but still felt like he was improving and helping his team each match.
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If my boys had been the best immediately, they wouldn’t have had anything to strive or work toward, and they would have missed the blessing of being happy for and supporting someone else. Is there any better lesson?
I pray all of these years of running is making and will continue to make our boys into strong, caring, understanding, encouraging and confident men. And I wouldn’t trade a gallon of gas, cold hot dog, disgusting bathroom experience, or sore backside from sitting all day in a gymnasium for any of it.
So the next time your son or daughter wants to try a new sport or activity, and you’re pretty sure she won’t be the next Mozart or Serena Williams, don’t be afraid of the rejection they might feel. Instead, look forward to the life lessons and character-building that playing on a team–any team–might produce, and get ready for some pruning on your own character as well.