To the Parent Whose Kid is Sitting on the Bench
Yesterday marked the end of the 2017-2018 basketball season. I used to dread this day but this year I am beyond relieved that it is over. I’ve laid awake many nights, thinking of whether or not I would share about my journey at the end of the season. In the end I realized that my story may help someone else. And so, here goes.
Our middle son, Cameron, has always loved sports and basketball has by far been his favorite. He came into the world weighing over 10 pounds and he just kept growing. By the time he was in the seventh grade he was 6’2” and we were told he could end up being taller than his Dad who is 6’6”. In a turn of events, a trip to his orthopedic doctor in the 10th grade showed that he was finished growing and the kid who had always played the post position quickly realized that he would have to learn a new one if he wanted to continue playing.
His height didn’t stop him from working hard and playing well and in the summer between his sophomore and junior year he had the best summer travel ball season yet. Cam attended an exposure camp where 182 high school players from several states played and were evaluated. He made it into the 3rd camp team and was ranked 26th out of the 182 players. We had high hopes for his junior year. His school’s varsity team had been stacked for several years with great talent but they had all graduated and it was finally Cam’s turn to play for Varsity. We felt that our expectations for the season were realistic. We knew that there would be taller kids playing his position and, for the first time, we didn’t expect Cam to start. However, we did think that he would be one of the first players to come off of the bench during the game and that his aggressiveness and rebounding would be of benefit to this young team. He played well in the pre-season and we were thrilled to be watching him do what he loved.
I’ll never forget the first game. It was at the high school that my husband graduated from and his entire family was there. We sat through the first, second, and third quarter and watched the team lose while Cam sat on the bench. He finally got in the last 2 minutes of the game. We were shocked.
I wish I could say that the season changed. It didn’t. Cam played a total of 17 minutes in 25 games.
Game after game we sat in gyms and watched our kid who we were used to seeing on the court, sit the bench.
My husband, David, started keeping stats when Cam was in the seventh grade. It kept him calm and quiet during the games. He’s a black and white thinker and at the end of the games the stats would often show him that Cam had played better than he thought. The stats also showed Cam what he needed to work on. It was a coping skill that worked for years and benefited both David and Cam. That is, until this year. Night after night the stats just caused more confusion. How could a coach whose team was getting outrebounded game after game sit the player who had always led in rebounds? It didn’t make sense. And it didn’t help that other parents were asking, “What in the world? Why is Cam not playing?”
I wish I could tell you that we rose above the disappointment and handled the situation perfectly. We didn’t. It may sound silly, but it was painful. The Grandparents eventually had to stop going to games. It was too much for them to watch. All of us went through what felt like the death of a dream. We always thought we had at least two more years to watch him do what he loved. We were wrong. My husband and I didn’t always agree on how to handle the situation and the tension in our home peaked over Christmas Break. I’ve never wanted something to be over so badly.
But I learned a lot through it all. I think that’s why I feel led to share. What I’ve realized during this season is that we weren’t the first parents to go through this and that we won’t be the last. So if you’re the parent of a kid who is sitting the bench, keep reading. I hope you can learn from my experience.
Of course you’re upset. I guess I just want to validate your feelings. There are a lot of articles on how a parent should respond when their kid is not playing. Every one that I’ve read jumps straight to, “Trust and respect the coach”, or “You don’t see the entire picture”, and “It’s not about your kid.” I just needed someone to tell me that it was okay for me to be upset. Who wouldn’t be? We were shocked. We fought for hope, then lost hope, and watched our kid struggle as his dream of playing basketball in high school was crushed. So please hear me – I get it. You’re upset and it’s okay.
But to stay upset is unhealthy.
Hatred is a real thing. Until this year I’m not sure I’ve ever really hated anyone. If I’m being honest, the feelings I had toward Cam’s coaches were off the charts. I was judgmental and angry and at one point in the season I had to release all of that. I had to ask God to forgive me and help me to see them through His eyes. My hatred was hurting me, not them. I think it’s the belief or feeling that someone else has control over your kid’s life that keeps us stuck in that cycle of hatred. I had to realize that Cam wasn’t going through anything that God wasn’t allowing.
Life is not fair. Jesus made that very clear when He said,
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart!
I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
We have to be very careful as Christians to not believe the lie that “Just because you are following Jesus, nothing bad will happen.” This won’t be the last time I watch my son go through something hard. I’ve been given an opportunity to teach him this fact of life and help him develop healthy ways to deal with the disappointment and injustice that he will inevitably experience in his life.
The deepest growth often comes through adversity.
“But we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character;
and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4
Cam grew more during this basketball season than ever before. He went to practices when he didn’t feel like it. He cheered his team on and stayed engaged during games. He showed respect for coaches that he had lost respect for. He invested in his teammates and he held his head high. He learned healthy ways to deal with his anger so that he wouldn’t lose it in front of people. Sure, he wasn’t perfect by any means. I won’t deny that he probably said things and got irritated and snapped at people. But overall he became a better person. When people asked how in the world he was keeping it together, he gave credit to God, who was becoming more real to him. As hard as it was to watch, I’m thankful that he was able to learn this lesson at age 17 and not later in life.
Sometimes you have your greatest influence when things aren’t going the way you think they should.
People are always watching to see how we will respond. If we allow Him to, God will open doors where we can point people to Him. But if we let our disappointment take over, we can be a negative influence. During most games I struggled to keep my tears from flowing. I quickly shut down and changed from the outgoing person I was created to be. In January I had to stop focusing on my loss and start engaging with people again. I ended up going to another mom and apologizing for avoiding her all season. I had allowed my hurt to change me and it wasn’t pretty.
Toward the end of the season I sat and listened as Cam shared his experience with a fourth grade boy who was sitting the bench in his sport too. I was reminded of the verse in Genesis where Joseph speaks to his brothers who had sold him into slavery.
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20
That verse was playing out right in front of my eyes. Satan’s goal was for this experience to destroy Cam, but God was using it to help someone else.
God’s plans for our children are good.
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28.
This is one of those verses that is easy to believe when things are going according to plan. It takes a different kind of faith to believe it when things aren’t. In January I talked to a mom friend whose son was experiencing a similar situation at a different school. It was so helpful to talk to someone who understood what we were going through. But what was most helpful was when she shared a prayer with me that her husband had written for their son. It listed all the things that he wanted God to develop in his son through that hard season. This list transformed my prayers from those of “Lord, just get me through this game” to “Lord, give Cam strength and develop his character.” I started to see answers to those prayers in Cam’s daily life. God was sweet to have people come to us and share stories about Cam and how he was making a difference.
In September I had started praying “favor” over Cam. In December I was frustrated because Cam definitely didn’t have favor with his coaches. In January God encouraged me while in a worship service. The leader prophesied, saying, “Someone here tonight is believing that a man can stop what God is doing in your kids’ lives, but no one can stop the Lord Almighty.” This spoke to me on so many levels and encouraged me to fight for Cam instead of drown in my disappointment. The next week I realized that God HAD answered my prayer of favor for Cam. He had brought a mentor into his life who adores him and wants to invest in him. And that relationship has opened more doors of opportunity than I could have imagined. I thought God would give Cam favor with his coaches – but His plans were so much better.
So, where are we now? There is definitely a relief that the season is over but also a sadness in realizing that Cam won’t play basketball his senior year. I hope that one day I can look back and see all the reasons why Cam went through this hard time.
A few months into the season Cam found an anonymous note on his car. The writer shared how, as an athlete, you can’t just run a race - you have to train for it. The training is often harder than the actual race, but it’s necessary. They encouraged Cam to keep his eyes on the truth that God has races for Cam to run and this basketball season was the training.
One of my prayers for Cam during this season was that he would not quit – be a good friend – and play hard if he ever got in the game. That prayer was answered.
Although many encouraged him to, Cam didn’t quit.
Last week a teammate asked Cam if he would take him to church. He’s been a good friend.
In the last game of the 2017-2018 season the team was down by 22 with 41 seconds to go. The coach finally put Cam in and he played hard. He scored the last two points of the game. Of the season. He finished strong. To say I’m proud of him is an understatement. A month ago I couldn’t say that I was thankful for the 2017-2018 basketball season. Today I can. So, to the parent whose kid is sitting the bench, I’m sorry. I hope my words have encouraged you to ask God what He wants to do in your kid’s life and in yours.