That’s my kid. The one on the bench. None of the parents say anything. There are other girls who mostly just sit on the bench – not as much as my kid though. It’s Varsity Volleyball. It’s high school – not college – not professional –just high school varsity volleyball. This year, we got a crop of girls in who are all over six feet tall. My kid is a mere 5’10”.
She is a beautiful, majestic athlete, with a great big attitude and a great big smile.
When school started three weeks ago, her coach took her into his office. She had played all through their summer season. She never missed a practice. She worked with a private coach. She trained on her own in the gym. She was fantastic. She’s got heart – my kid. And she absolutely hates to lose. She isn’t the best on the team, but she is probably the best athlete.
And she never gets off the bench.
But this time, it’s not about playtime. Not this time. This time, it’s about what the coach said to her – his “words of wisdom”. After this amazing summer, he took her into his office. And he said to my beautiful girl, “I see you as a sub. You don’t have the height to play front row. You can’t be a hitter. I really think we can WIN this year, and I don’t see you as part of that combination. But I encourage you to work on your game and cheer for your team from the bench.”
What happened to, “You’ve got a lot of heart”? Or “If everyone played with your intensity, we could be unstoppable”? What happened to “You can do anything you put your mind to”?
Other parents had approached me during the summer and said, “Wow! She has really come a long way! She is amazing! Who knew?” Who knew?? I knew!! She was amazing last year when she sat on the bench too. I watched her try to keep cheering. Sometimes she put on a really great face and acted like it didn’t bother her, but I heard her crying softly at night after the games. And not knowing what else to say, I would tell her how great she is and she just has to work harder. But this isn’t about that. No. Even though the team won everything during the summer, and even though she played almost every game.
WHAT HAPPENED TO COACHES KNOWING THEY HAVE THE ABILITY TO LIFT A KID UP THROUGH SPORTS? WHAT HAPPENED TO COACHES (DARE I SAY IT) COACHING?
Tonight, I see a new coach sit beside her. After sitting through the frosh/soph game, and then the JV game, she finally got to warm up. She was UH-MAZING!!! Her hits were gorgeous. They stood out. She knocked a kid over on the other side of the net. She is SO strong! Then she sat on the bench. All through the first game, then the second game – then this other coach took a seat beside her half way through the third game. He leaned in. “You’re good! You’re a good player – but it’s just when you are on a team full of Kobe Bryants, you can’t break into the starting line-up. We’ve got all-stars here. You’re good, but not like that. Try to look happier. You should just concentrate on cheering more for the team.”
WHAT?? What should she concentrate on?
Then she gets put in. All she hears is “when you are on a team of Kobe Bryants . . . “
She hits the ball out of bounds. She bows her head. She misses a pass. She looks over at her Dad. I can feel her eyes filling with tears. She is trying to get the voice out of her head.
We win the game anyway. I find her. She is outside. Sobbing. I go to tell her how beautiful she was in the warm up. She says, “Mom. Not here. Not now.”
My kid is the kid on the bench. This is high school. It is supposed to be the best years of her life. It’s supposed to be a time of friendship and inspiration. It is supposed to be a time when a teacher says something to you that you carry with you for the rest of your life – something that makes you feel like you are great – even in the toughest times. I had that. My husband had that. There was always that one teacher . . .
. . . not for the kids on the bench.
So what happened? I took her home. She cried . She said, “Mom, don’t be disappointed in me. But I just can’t do this anymore. The kids sing a song on the bus and the words are that I will never break into the front row, and that I may have sass, but I can’t pass – or hit. And Mom. The coach is sitting there on the bus. He smirks. He indulges the girls singing their rap”.
“No one would blame you if you quit,” I tell her.
“I have to quit, Mom. It’s too much. Okay? I loved volleyball once – but this is too much.”
My kid is the kid on the bench. She is beautiful and talented – and it’s not just me who thinks so. She really, really is. No, she’s not Kobe Bryant. But what if . . .
What if she could be?
What if she were, and the narrow-minded coach who wanted to win his high school division destroyed her?
What if she rose above it?
What if she had a coach who wanted to make every single player know what it is to be a great human being instead of ONLY trying to WIN?
She plugs in her phone. She heads for bed. Through the door, I hear the soft sound of her tears. Powerless, I stand at the door. Finally I walk in. “I love you. That’s all I’ve got for you tonight – but I do love you.”
My kid is the kid on the bench. Parents don’t talk to me. They watch in silence, their integrity squashed in the name of high school sports. Or perhaps just in the name of preserving their daughter’s position on the “team”.
No one speaks up for her. No parent. No player. No coach. No one.
So to the kid on the bench:
You are amazing. You have a resolve and strength of character that other athletes will never even know. What is unbearable today will make you stronger tomorrow. Don’t bow. Don’t break. Practice quietly. Study the game. Know that you are the secret weapon of the team. Know that the team needs you, because in the future, you may coach a kid like you – the kid on the bench. And you will make that kid amazing too. You will inspire that kid. You will make a huge difference, one day, to someone else, and that kid will carry you with him or her for the rest of his or her life – because you were once the secret weapon of your team.