I remember the conversation like it was yesterday.
I was a sophomore in high school, and I was mad. I was offended. I was aggrieved… I had been benched.
When I got home from school, I wanted someone to tell me how I was right, and the coach was wrong. I wanted someone to tell me that I was great, and my teammates who had replaced me were not. I wanted someone to validate my feelings..
Luckily for me, I had chosen to have my “woe is me” talk with my dad. He was an old school guy, born and raised in the Bronx. He had been forced to retire from his dream job — the NY City Fire Department — after destroying his back during a fire. Life had been good to him, and tough to him, and he certainly wasn’t intending to make it easy on me.
His goal wasn’t to make me feel better that day. His goal was to make me BE better.
“John,” he said, “regardless of whether you think your coach is right or wrong, regardless of whether you think you are better or worse than your teammates, that is really all beside the point.”
I sat quietly. You do not interrupt my dad.
“The question you have to ask yourself is ‘have I done everything in my control to earn a starting spot?’”
I thought about it. “Yes, I’m better than those guys,” I protested.
“That is not what I am talking about,” he said. “That’s one man’s opinion. Here are some things that are not. Do you show up early and do extra work? Do you stay after and work on your game, or even run laps and improve your fitness? Do you pick up the cones when training is done? Have you gotten up before school yet this season to do extra work on the track, or against the kick back wall?”
“No,” I answered, not liking where this was heading.
“Well, until you have done anything and everything you can do to show your coach and teammates beyond any doubt who deserves to be out there, you have nothing to complain about. I suggest you get back to work and leave your coach no choice but to put you in, because right now he clearly has a choice.”
I get a lot of emails and inquiries about kids ‘playing out of position,’ about being ‘forced’ to play for a tough coach and struggling for playing time. Since the recent changes in US Soccer birth years, I have heard a ton about kids having difficulties adapting to new teammates and age groups. And I get it.
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