I’m sitting on the cold bleachers as the pelting rain makes me thankful for my extra layers. Concession stand hot chocolate clutched between my gloves, I cheer for the home team. Looking down the sidelines and seeing number 22 is bittersweet. He stands, shifts, stretches – ready to go in to the game at any time. But that time never comes.
My son has been an athlete since he was old enough to clutch a ball. It is who he is. He eats, sleeps and breathes sports. He will watch a twenty-year-old superbowl or a volleyball match with equal enthusiasm – he simply loves the game. He was also blessed with a high level of athleticism that ensured lots of attention, starting spots, and points on the board nearly his entire life. But for whatever reason this year, this season, this game, this coach didn’t see what was so clear to everyone else – this kid was meant to play.
I dreaded the end of the game, bracing myself for the disappointment that I was sure he was feeling. After all, this is a kid who had never sat the bench in his life. As I tentatively approached the field, I saw my boy grinning, punching his friends, tossing the ball around – and lit up in the way only sports can for him. I was humbled.
Seeing your child face disappointment can be overwhelming as a parent, especially when they don’t achieve something that you know they have worked for. I have absolutely been there. I knew the hours of work my son had put in, every practice he’d shown up for, the hours conditioning, the time studying the plays – I knew he had earned it. But that didn’t mean that it was my job to try to change the outcome.
As parents, we may find ourselves on autopilot in our job as protector and champion of our child. There’s no guidebook on how to shift to a new role, so here’s my best attempt at one. Your child will be disappointed. They will be overlooked for something. They will not receive something that they worked for. Someone else will be better than them at something they love. That is the cold hard truth. So, as a parent – how to do we react?
1. Fake it ‘til you make it. You may feel angry that your child was cast as a rock instead of a princess, but they are looking to you to gage their response. Paste on a smile and tell them how they are going to be the most amazing rock you’ve ever seen in your life and you can’t wait to paint them gray! 9 times out of 10, your child will adjust their feelings to your response. Make whatever role they were chosen for the most important role you’ve ever heard of.
2. Take a breath. Whatever your immediate reaction may be – breathe on it. Will this truly matter a year from now? Five years from now? The opportunity they missed out on is not as important as modeling good behavior for your child. Show them how to handle adversity with humility and respect.
3. Do not talk to their coach. As tempting as it may be, there is no good outcome here. If someone else was chosen over your child, it was for a reason. By confronting the adult who made that decision, you are in essence asking them to tell you why another child was better than yours. No one wants to be put in that position. Whether they are right or wrong, the decision is theirs.
4. Remember what it’s about. Your child loves what they do. Whether they are center stage or sitting the sidelines, they are following their passion. Remind them that their love for the game, or the dance, was never tied to where they stand on the field. Don’t let that change now.
5. Life lessons are being learned here. As an adult, your child will not always get the scholarship, or the promotion, or the new car. What are they learning now that prepares them for that moment? We all hope our child gets what they want, but they need to experience disappointment now to help shape their future. You may think they missed out on an experience, but the experience of taking a back seat may be exactly what they needed.
I’ll admit, I was not always as wise and gracious as I appear now, and I may have muttered a few “that coach is crazy to not play you” comments to my son that year. However, I never once called the coach (my son would have killed me), my son did not love the game any less from the sidelines, and my respect for my son grew tenfold. He handled his position with grace, dignity, and a humble heart that forced me to grow as a parent. How could I have asked for anything more?