In high school my son was a middle linebacker. He played on the Freshman B team, then the JV B team and then the JV A team before moving up to varsity his senior year. Each season, up until his senior year, he would start off as the backup. By the second or third game he would earn the starting middle linebacker position and never come off the field for the entire season. He would prove, every season, that he was a dangerous defensive weapon.

In order to be successful my son had to rely on one rule. “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”.  My son was not the biggest nor the fastest on the team. He had to rely on other strengths to succeed and one of them was his intelligence. He had to read the play and react faster than anyone else in order to compensate for any lack of speed and it worked.  He also had to hit harder and deliver, as well as receive, more punishment than anyone else; that also worked.

Every season my son’s team would win their district and in his junior year, his team went undefeated with one of the least scored upon defenses in the history of the school. Needless to say we were proud of our team and his efforts.

It all changed his senior year.

What I failed to mention, when my son was earning his success in JV he had friends and fellow classmates earning their success in varsity, even at middle linebacker. These were larger and faster boys and the rule my son had lived by to find success did not apply here. These boys were not only talented but they worked every single day at getting better. My son’s success was based on his work ethic to beat out the talent but what do you do when that talent works harder than anyone else?

My son was placed as 2nd string Linebacker and kickoff return where he would end his football career guaranteed at least one play, each game. The boy who was an imposing force, his prior three years, and whose name would be known by everyone who watched him, was now a backup. Needless to say this new role of my son’s was a hard pill to swallow for us as parents. It was not like we did not see this coming but we had hoped for a better outcome.

I wanted someone to blame. I wanted to accuse the coaches of being short sighted by judging players based only on size and speed. Did they not see how successful he was prior? Did they not recognize his strengths like I did?

I wanted to blame him, for not working hard enough to get stronger and maybe faster. Did he really work as hard as the starters?  Was he at all the optional workouts throughout the year? Did he spend enough time in the gym?

Like all blame, this attitude was not only futile, it was selfish. There was no one to blame. The coaches were very clear that playtime was a competition and not everyone on the team will win that competition. It is impossible for everyone to be a starter. My son had not won out the starting position and it was not within his control. But like every year prior, he played in every game and earned every second of that playtime. He still proved that he was a dangerous defensive weapon and they needed him.

Everyone has a role on the team and although many roles will not decide the outcome of a specific game they do decide the outcome of the season. Our team has a saying that “Steel sharpens steel”. My son’s role was to be that steel and to make his fellow players better, as well as himself. He did just that and subsequently was awarded for it. 

I do believe every player who wants to start should never be satisfied with their role. That is different than being bitter and angry. They do not have to like being a backup but their attitude about it will dictate their success. They should strive to win that starting position and one way to do this is to put 100% effort into their current role. If they don’t win it then that is not within their control. They need to know that and embrace the success of their teammates because they were a major factor in that success.

As a parent, how you accept your child’s role will dictate how much you enjoy their season. Here are some questions you can ask yourself. Be honest because they are not easy.   

  • Does your child want to start, and put in the dedication and work to be a starter? The very first thing to do is to make sure you are aligned with what your child wants and is willing to do. Nothing will ruin your child’s season more than you wanting them to put in the work to be a starter when they are happy in their current role.  It is about their expectations of the season, not yours, so get on the same page as them.
  • Does the starter deserve to be there? This is one of the hardest questions because in most cases it is true and we don’t want to believe it. The starter is the one who lives, eats and drinks their sport and their position. They live in the gym, do all optional workouts and work every single day to get better. They devote a huge commitment to their sport and have the talent to be successful. 
  • Is your child better than the starter? This is another difficult question because we all wear our “daddy/mommy” goggles at one point. Does your child have the physical attributes to beat out the starter? Does your child have the experience? Is your child successful at the game?  Is your child coachable? Is your child a “me” player or a “team” player?

Also know that coaches are human and are not infallible. They are also not going to fix what is not broken.  If the starters are winning games, replacing them with other players simply because the other players can get the job done is not a good enough reason to disrupt what works. They also have favorites. My son’s head coach told us he has favorites and they are the kids who work the hardest and are the most coachable. I hope my son was one of his favorites. 

Our job as parents is to be our children’s biggest fans, whether it’s them starting in front of the lights or waiting on the side to showcase their talents. The season will go on regardless of how angry we are about it or how slighted we think our child has been. Whether you as a parent enjoy or hate this season is completely within your control, not the coaches’ or the kids’. Understand and embrace everyone’s role so you and your child can have fond memories of when you were all part of something great!

By the way, my son put in work both during practice and in the games. He helped his team become district champions and move on to the playoffs.

Here is #47 in his final season.


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