What to do when your child gets benched

26 May, 1999 – The iconic Camp Nou in Barcelona is heaving. Manchester United’s David Beckham is standing over the ball about to take a corner. The 90 minutes are already up and Bayern Munich are 1-0 up and are mere minutes away from a historic treble of league, domestic cup and continental triumphs. Match commentator Clive Tyldesley, in a desperate shaking voice, said, “Can Manchester United score? They always score.” Moments later Teddy Sheringham had the ball in the net in what was already one of the most dramatic moments in Champions League history. United weren’t done though as two minutes later the Norwegian Ole Gunnar Solskjaer secured the match, the trophy and the treble with an astonishing winner that will forever go down in football folklore. Both Sheringham and Solskjaer were substitutes. The greatest achievement of one of the world’s most successful and popular sports organisations was secured by two people who were not included in the starting XI.
By Keri Gallan

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Things to do when your child is benched

By Keri Gallan

 

26 May, 1999 – The iconic Camp Nou in Barcelona is heaving. Manchester United’s David Beckham is standing over the ball about to take a corner. The 90 minutes are already up and Bayern Munich are 1-0 up and are mere minutes away from a historic treble of league, domestic cup and continental triumphs.

 

Match commentator Clive Tyldesley, in a desperate shaking voice, said, “Can Manchester United score? They always score.”

 

Moments later Teddy Sheringham had the ball in the net in what was already one of the most dramatic moments in Champions League history. United weren’t done though as two minutes later the Norwegian Ole Gunnar Solskjaer secured the match, the trophy and the treble with an astonishing winner that will forever go down in football folklore.

 

Both Sheringham and Solskjaer were substitutes. The greatest achievement of one of the world’s most successful and popular sports organisations was secured by two people who were not included in the starting XI.

 

No one likes to sit on the bench and watch their teammates play and unless your child looks set to join an elite European football club with the possibility of entering a crucial title deciding game, the exploits of Sheringham and Solskjaer will provide scant consolation for your disappointed young athlete.

 

What can you do when your child is benched? The one thing you must not do is throw a tantrum. You must not get angry and you must not storm in to the coach’s office and demand that your child be given an automatic place in the starting team.

 

If you throw your toys out the cot you will show your child that getting angry is an appropriate response to disappointment. Of course, one should never be a doormat in life but if you lay a foundation that is built on anger and rage, your child will respond in kind whenever he or she is confronted with challenge.

 

You must not dismiss your child’s disappointment either. A shrug of the shoulders and a “oh well, these things happen” will demonstrate a lack of empathy and care. If your child is disappointed, then you should be too. There is no need to wail against the world, clutch your child in your arms and weep until you have no more tears left, but he or she should know that you acknowledge the disappointment and that you care.

 

Right, now that you know what not to do, you need to find a solid middle ground between these two extreme reactions.

 

As said, the first step is to show you care but you must allow for room to discuss why this happened. Did your child miss practice? Have your child’s grades deteriorated?  Was your child involved in a disciplinary issue such as missing class or involved in an altercation with a student or teacher? Is your child carrying an injury? Is your child new to the team? Is there a clear rotation policy implemented by the coach that states that every child will spend some time on the bench to allow others an opportunity to play?

If the answer is ‘yes’ to any of the above questions, then you have something to work with. You can explain that there is a reason for the disappointment. Your child might not like the reason. You yourself may not like the reason but with a clear understanding as to why your child was benched you can sit down and unpack what can be done in the future.

 

Things can become tricky if there is no obvious reason for your child sitting on the bench during game time. In situations like these the coach must be consulted.

 

I always encourage a child to have the courage and conviction to speak on their own behalf. It is a rare sight to see a child walk up to an adult in a position of authority like a coach or teacher and confidently state his or her case. Of course, such instances are few and far between and when presented with the disappointment of sitting on the bench a child may feel intimidated to do so. This is where you come in.

 

When speaking with a coach or a teacher it is important to note that you will always come across as biased. How could you not in the eyes of the coach or teacher? After all, this is your child we’re talking about. A teacher deals with hundreds of children every day and we do our best to be attentive to each of their needs.

 

If you are conscious of this prematurely assumed bias it will help in the delivery of your message. We get it, you’re representing your child’s interest, but no one likes to be told how to do their job. If you come with a kind smile, an empathetic ear and an open mind we are more likely to want to work towards an outcome that is favourable for your child. Remember, we’re in this business because we care about the well-being of your child. Like you, we want the best for them.

 

If your child is inexplicably spending most of his or her time on the bench, please let us know. We are human and make mistakes and perhaps your child has been erroneously overlooked. I assure you, no teacher or coach who cares for children will allow such an error to persist.

 

As coaches we also have a mandate to win sports events. Granted, the primary goal is creating holistic children and give them an opportunity to experience the joys of sport, but please do bear in mind that if we string together a run of poor results, our position will come under scrutiny (not least of all from upset parents).

 

This may not be nice to hear but if your child is on the bench it may be because he or she is not as competent as his or her teammates. Enthusiasm, dedication and hard work are sometimes not enough to produce quality performances.

 

While we acknowledge that every child is encouraged to pursue all sports, it is important that you as parents are honest with your child if he or she is simply not very good at that particular sport. It may be a tough conversation to have, but a false sense of abilities can be debilitating and hold your child back from exploring other avenues.

 

Having said all that, sitting on the bench is not the end of the world. If your child loves being part of the team, hanging with friends, getting exercise during practice and learning about his or her strengths and weaknesses out on the field, then all the benefits of playing sport are still possible. Support your child athlete but be mindful to emphasise the ‘child’ ahead of the ‘athlete’.

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