Put me in coach!
The memory of hearing those words echoed in my head as I watched the Super Bowl on Sunday. A memory prompted by the television camera scanning the sidelines of the Denver Broncos; so many football players standing there on the team but not playing the game.
As a past volleyball coach I remembered that there were always those players who went out for the sport, who loved the sport, but spend most of their time on the bench. Either from injury or inexperience, it was not their time to play the game. I could see the longing in their eyes as they watched others on the court making the big plays, getting the applause.
The bench was not the place of recognition; not the place where games were won or lost.
One of the most difficult parts of coaching, especially high school sports, was deciding who plays and when. The school I was involved with was small and there was no such thing as tryouts.
Everyone that went out was on the team and every parent expected their child to play.
As a coach, I would try to make a point of finding the strengths of each of the girls so I could use them to the team’s greatest advantage. Different opponents need different players with different skill levels; however, no matter who we played only 6 girls were on the court at a time. That would leave quite a few who had to remain on the bench for most or in some cases all of the game.
Each player had to remember that they were part of a team; they did not sign up for an individual sport.
I remember giving the speeches about the importance of being a teammate including the role of support the bench players had. I would drive home the point that the attitude from the bench would reveal to me how well they would handle being in the game. Each one had to understand that often the bench players are the specialists that could be brought in just when the team needed them; their keen eyes studying the opposing team could help us all achieve a better game plan.
The bench players needed to be so attentive to the game that they were always ready when their name was called.
Most of the time the biggest challenge was dealing with a starting player who had to be pulled from the game because of an injury; no longer in the spotlight they could slump into a mood like only a girl can. During those times I especially tried to remind them of the impact that their words of encouragement and advice from the bench would have on the player who had replaced them.
A player who is benched needs to understand that the view from the sideline will give them a better perception.
They are able to get the big picture of the game that their limited position on the court did not allow. How I, as the coach, could use them to be additional eyes and ears for the remainder of the time their injury kept them next to me instead of on the court.
The view from the bench can be the best place to learn how to play a better game.
As my coaching memories blurred my view of the Super Bowl on TV something else was becoming clear. That very morning, I had been sitting in the back row of our church service watching as the lovely young woman who had replaced me as Children’s Ministry Director was doing her job and observing the rest of the staff I had been a part of still engaged in their ministries.
It occurred to me that I had become a benched player.
I had been tackled hard by chronic illness and pain which sent me to the sideline almost a year ago and now I was acting like a moody girl. Though I knew I was still apart of the team, I was no longer an active, recognizable member of the starting lineup. I felt a burst of anger at my body for keeping me so easily overwhelmed, unable to even stand during worship. I felt discouraged that, after a fairly good week building up hope of being well enough to play again, I had been tackled again by a Michael Oher sized hit of fatigue.
All I could do was sit and silently complain to my coach, God the Father, that I didn’t like it on the bench.
I had become that pouting player who needed a good talking to; not a pretty sight at all. Thankfully, God is a gentle coach and could use my own past words of advice to those girls back on the volleyball court. Brought to a place of repentance for my attitude, I must practice what I preached so long ago.
The view from the bench I am on is a great place to see and learn how to be a better member of God’s team.
As I watch those around me I gain insight into how the ministry of love and grace happens. I observe how others on the team use their specific gifting and strength to help those who have needs; learning from them how to better use mine now and in the future.
Sitting on this bench gives me the opportunity to study the opposing team.
From the benched position I have a new perspective of the enemy’s offensive and defensive ways and how to counter them. As I huddle with my teammates I can give the encouragement and advice they need to defeat our foe.
From a benched position I gain so much from my nearness to God, the coach.
I am able to be His eyes and ears and get His perception of a bigger picture of this game of life and that makes me a better teammate.
Most importantly, as I change my attitude and become more attentive I will be ready when my name is called.
All those less recognized players on the sidelines of the Denver Broncos were still part of the team; they all had a role to play whether on game day or during practices. Each one was a Bronco; a talented lover of the game of football.
At times they each want to go to coach Gary Kubiak and ask him to “put me in” but are learning to trust that he, as coach, knows what is best for the team. On Sunday, because they were faithful members of that team, both on and off the field, they all went home with Super Bowl rings.
Recognized or not, I am a talented, loving member of God’s team.
I will continue to ask for God to “put me in” but am learning to trust that He knows what is best for the whole team and will use my gifting and strength to play the best position for everyone, even if that is on the bench.
Whether primarily on the bench or on the field, as a faithful member of the God’s team, when we go home we all will get the prize.
With a loud cheer “well done, good and faithful servant” God’s team will be crowned champions!