The Bench: One of Life’s Greatest Teachers
If you have ever had a child who plays sports, you know how difficult it can be to put your trust into his or her coaches. You want to know their coaching philosophy, their level of integrity, their commitment to excellence, and to what lengths they will go to develop your child.
Even more unnerving, however, is how the team will be handled in games and tournaments. It’s one thing to see your son or daughter getting reps and coaching in practice; it’s another altogether when the starting lineup is posted. I’ve experienced these challenges as both a coach and a parent multiple times. And, neither is for the feint of heart.
Let’s look at it from the parents’ perspective first with a hypothetical scenario. Your child has played a particular sport for seven or eight years, and they are now playing at a more advanced level. You decide to allow them to play for a different team – one that carries many unknowns, in terms of where your child ultimately fits in the big picture. After a few tournaments or games, your child is getting regular playing time, but doesn’t start every game, or doesn’t play the full game from time to time. You see disappointment on their face and in their body language when they begin a game on the bench. Initially, your heart hurts for them…and as the game progresses, that sadness becomes anger.
“I can’t believe this coach doesn’t see the talent my son possesses. He busts his tail at practice. He’s made only one error. His batting average is better than several others’. I knew we should have played for another team.”
Now, let’s look at the coach’s perspective. You’re coaching 13 players. In that group, you have five kids who can play the outfield. You have three who can play catcher. You have eight who can pitch, but only five of them can throw strikes regularly. You have three who play 2B, two who can play SS, two who are at 1B and three who play 3B. At the same time, you have to fill out a lineup card. You have three kids with speed, and three who are sloths. You have two kids with decent power, four who are contact hitters, and the rest are about the same – decent but inconsistent. You want to have a balanced lineup, while not compromising too much defensively. And, because you have 13 kids, it means four of them won’t be starting. Further, because you want all kids to play, it also means a few starters will be pulled halfway through the game. You can’t – and won’t – make everyone happy.
As a parent, it’s important to remember the most important things when you see your child struggling or dealing with adversity on the playing field (or sitting the pine). I can tell you that, while my kids don’t enjoy sitting on the bench, they have learned invaluable lessons about teamwork, discipline, and even becoming mentally tough through their time on the sidelines. The dad in me wants to protect them and shield them from the tough things in life; but, the leader in me values these lessons and understands that God can and will use their time waiting in the wings to do something far greater with their hearts.
The Apostle Paul knew intimately about the joy that comes through suffering, through difficulty, through unexpected circumstances, through hardship, through things not going his way.
We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. 2 Corinthians 4:8-10 (NLT)
Not crushed. Not driven to despair. Not abandoned. Not destroyed. Still alive! Those are all reasons to rejoice!
Jesus’ brother, James, also had some things to say about enduring trials.
Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. James 1:2-4 (NLT)
Joy. Endurance. Growth. Perfection. Completion.
I know, I know. When you are fighting what seems to be a losing battle, it doesn’t FEEL good. But, your faith cannot be based on feelings. Your faith is based IN the one who suffered the greatest injustice in history, so that you and I could share in His ultimate victory!
So, whether you are a parent, a player, or a coach…know that if you’re catching all the breaks now, it won’t stay that way forever. Likewise, if you are on the sidelines or struggling with your child’s playing time or lack of confidence, that won’t last either. And be sure to remember that, ultimately, the Lord is shaping you into who He wants you to become (and who He wants your son or daughter to become). And, like it or not, sometimes that means spending time on the bench.
C.A. Phillips is a lifelong sports enthusiast and youth baseball coach, and currently serves as the Communications Pastor and Director of Men’s Groups at NorthStar Church in Kennesaw, Ga. He lives in Kennesaw with his wife, Amy, and his two sons, Chaz and Chandler.
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