When children are very young, they may enjoy a Shangri-La sports experience – no one is cut from the team, equal playing time is enforced, and everyone receives a participation medal. Are those idyllic days now behind you? It’s OK that they are. Sometimes riding the bench can be a good thing. Here’s how to parent your child through it.
What baggage do you bring to the sidelines?
If you answered “a folding chair and freshly-roasted coffee,” think a different type of baggage. There are two areas to get self-reflective about here, your athletic background and how your parents supported you. Time to take a deep breath, right? Whether you were the star quarterback or the last one chosen, you bring expectations to every competition. Then add to that your parents’ involvement – as momagers / dadagers, disinterested outliers, or something in-between – and you have plenty to work through on a therapist’s couch. Resolve that your athletic experience is just that, your experience.
Next, listen to your child.
Did your child just have a game where he spent more time on the bench than on the field? Afterward, ask a question that doesn’t reveal your bias. Don’t lead with, “Why did Andrew play your position?” Instead, try this: “What did you think about the game?” Your child may have insights about his teammates, the opponent, and his coach’s strategy that you never considered. He may also voice his disappointment about not playing, or he may express his relief. Whatever his thoughts, let him share them. Your job is to listen.
And now, let’s talk about the coach…
If your child has been relegated to benchwarmer, you’re probably not too fond of her coach. But remember, the coach isn’t looking to win a parent popularity contest. The coach wants to win the game. To do so, the coach has to put the best combination of players on the field. He determines his dream team by observing your child’s attitude, commitment, and skills. What type of effort does she put forth in practice? How does she treat her teammates? Does she respect the coach? If your child is really stumped about why she’s getting passed over, encourage her to meet with him to ask what she can do better. Her willingness to act upon constructive criticism will not be lost on the coach. In fact, it may result in her getting a larger role on the team.
Finally, help your child to appreciate the sport – off the field.
What happens between the opening and final whistles is only a part of a sports experience. Why not get to know the game in different ways with your child? Explore the sport’s current conditioning methods, the equipment innovations, the most popular formations, the offensive and defensive plays, and the rules. Your tutorials and field trips should be age-appropriate and fun. View online videos. Develop different workouts. Visit sporting goods stores. Attend professional events. The time spent together will be a cherished memory for both you and your child.
Riding the bench doesn’t have to be an unending source of frustration for you, or a confidence-killer for your child. Be sure to keep your baggage out of it, listen to your child, encourage your child to act upon the coach’s constructive criticism, and explore the sport off the field. By taking these steps, your child will learn important life lessons that will serve him well on many teams to come.