Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Watching your child play football in the rain is an experience. The mud, the slipping and sliding, whistles blowing, people screaming... you can completely forget the weather in situations like that.

Watching your child stand on the sidelines, in the rain, while "the best" players are playing is something else altogether. It's frustrating, heartbreaking, and you feel every cold little drop pelting your head.

Son's middle school policy for sports is "no-cut". This means that if you show up for tryouts you make the team. This means that the not-so goods practice right alongside the goods and the very goods. It does not mean, however, that everyone will play in the games.

Unfortunately, when it comes to game time, it's all about winning. The best players, the rising stars are, naturally, played. I do understand this to a certain point. If they stand out as exceptional players, you want them to go out there and make as many exceptional plays as they can. However, when the best players play constantly, when they are "iron-manned" (switched from offense to defense) and are hardly ever taken out, when they are played until the bitter end when your team is getting spanked by your opponents (we're talking a complete shut-out, here), then it begs the question: What's going on here ??

What is going on, coach, and why? Why have a "no cut" policy if you aren't playing half your team? Do you really think it's kinder to have them stand on the sidelines, game after game, never being called to the field, hoping this time you'll notice them, give them a chance to prove themselves and walking away from each game disappointed and discouraged and wondering why they even bother to come at all?

Why not live up to the glory promised by the term "TEAM" and give everyone a chance out there? At this age and level, isn't gaining experience what it's all about? Seriously, there's no national titles involved here, no sneaker deals or McDonalds commercials. So why not play them all? Why not play the team?

I know, I know. We all like to win. Winning is way more fun than losing. But it's even more fun when you're actively taking part in it. Victory without participation is hollow. Cheering on your team from the sidelines in a clean, dry uniform just doesn't cut it. Victory needs to be ground in like the mud and grass on the jersey and cleats. It smells sweetest that way. And every kid on the team deserves to have it ground in at least once or twice.

If you haven't figured it out, I rode my share of benches through school. I know what it's like to sit out game after game, feeling like a loser even when we won because I didn't play. Feeling like double the loser when we lost because maybe I could have made the difference but I wasn't given the chance. I wasn't allowed to try. Riding the bench seriously undermines the spirit of "team" in those with close acquaintance to it. In hindsight, being cut would have been kinder. Then perhaps I wouldn't be tasting that bitterness again in motherhood, watching my son on the sidelines and feeling the ghost of that hard, lousy bench under my ass.