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How to Help Your Child Deal with the Disappointment of Getting Benched

How to Help Your Child Deal with the Disappointment of Getting Benched

A couple of years ago, I watched a game between the Washington Redskins and the Detroit Lions. The Skins were down and entered the last two minutes of the game, hoping to pull out a win. At that point, Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan pulled starting quarterback Donovan McNabb from the game and went with his back-up. Sports commentators chewed over it all day Monday; some critical, many questioning Shanahan’s move. I’m not sure anybody, except for Coach, really understood why he did it. Least of all, Donavan McNabb.

He definitely did not look happy as he watched his team fight for victory without him. No athlete enjoys getting benched. My son was benched in basketball. My daughter was benched in volleyball. My other daughter was benched in softball. It happens to every athlete sooner or later. No matter what reason the coach gives–if he even gives one–getting benched is hugely disappointing to most athletes and spirit-crushing to others. As a parent, how can you best help your child deal with this let-down?

Acknowledge Their Disappointment
It’s a big deal to them–don’t diminish that. They are embarrassed, maybe even humiliated. Their competitive spirit has been injured. Every athlete is different, but we found with our three kids that it was best to not say anything until the sting had worn off. And then, we expressed sorrow for their disappointment, love for them, and pride in their efforts.

Pinpoint the Problem 
Once they are ready to talk, help them troubleshoot the situation. Do they know why they were pulled? Many times they do, but just don’t want to admit it. If they honestly don’t understand, it’s okay for them to calmly ask the coach.

What Can Your Child Do to Change the Situation?
Once they figure out why they were pulled, the next question to ask your athlete is, what can do you do to keep it from happening again? If it’s a quirky coach, there may not be a whole lot you can do. My son had a basketball coach that pulled kids off with no rhyme or reason, which totally frustrated everyone, parents and players. But hopefully, your child has a coach that gives a helpful answer. Armed with that info, your athlete can do the extra work that may be required for improvement.

Be Willing to Do the Drills
If your child knows how he need to improve and is willing to put in extra work, then do all you can to help him. Run with him, shoot baskets with him, throw the football with him. Help him find drills to improve his skills and then go outside and practice with him. When my high school volleyball player wanted to improve her foot speed for volleyball, I went outside with her several times a week to blow the whistle and count as she ran through her drills.

Sometimes I wonder if watching our athletes get benched is harder on them or us. It’s painful seeing our kids suffer the frustration. We want to make everything better. But we can’t. However, we can help them learn to cope with the disappointment – yet another life lesson that sports teaches. 


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