The mark of a competitive athlete is the desire to compete. Sound logic—and common sense—tell us that no competitive athlete enjoys sitting on the sidelines.
Yet the reality of sports sometimes forces us into situations where we have to sit and wait. And watch.
Sometimes a losing season or poor playoff effort prevents future competition, forcing the unfortunate majority to watch the fortunate few march towards a championship.
Other times an injury forces us to see the game we love as spectators.
At some point, our body’s betrayal will lead us to retirement.
Perhaps the worst way to be sidelined, however, is to hear the words “you’re just not good enough.” Ouch. More painful than the act of watching itself is the knowledge that your coach doesn’t think you have what it takes to contribute to the team.
What does it look like for a Christian athlete to stay faithful to God while riding the pine? Here are seven habits to keep in mind.
Godly benchwarmers give themselves permission to be frustrated
We need to start with this. It’s ok to experience frustration that you are not getting the playing time you want. Disappointment is always birthed from unmet expectations.
You expected to play.
Now you’re not.
Hence, the disappointment.
Don’t feel guilty for having an emotional response to an unmet expectation. It’s how God wired us. Moses felt insecure. Jeremiah felt betrayed. David cried. Jesus wept. Having emotions is part of the process of being human. Welcome to the family.
But what you do with your negative emotions will help you honor God in the midst of your circumstance. And the first thing you can do with those emotions is to…
Godly benchwarmers are honest with God
You need to be honest before God with what is going on inside of you. Dr. Henry Cloud points out in his book Changes That Heal, that “Real intimacy always comes in the company of truth.” Any parent or spouse can affirm the health and growth of relationships are directly tied to the amount of honesty present.
Have you ever played hide and seek with a little kid? If you have, you know they are awful at the game. They usually hide in the same place you did when it was your turn and when they try someplace new, they usually end up curled in a ball in the middle of the room with their eyes closed and a blanket over the top of them.
Trying to hide our real emotions from God is like playing hide and seek with Him. We are the unimaginative kids who hide in plain sight. It is a futile game to play with an all-knowing God. Be honest with where you are at and what you are feeling in the moments after your injury. He already knows. And He can handle it.
Godly benchwarmers ask their coach why they are not playing
Now, this does not mean you storm into the office and demand answers. But it does mean taking the initiative and getting something on the schedule where you can humbly ask “what can I do to get better?”
Proverbs 10:17 says “Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.” Athlete, ask questions. Learn how you can get better at what you are already good at. Identify the weak areas that need improvement and prevent you from getting on the field. One of the markers of humility is taking on the posture of a learner. When you show the desire to be a continual learner you honor your coach as the teacher—and glorify God.
Godly benchwarmers don’t gossip behind their coach’s back
You are frustrated. Again, that’s ok. The Bible gives you permission to be upset. But it is also clear that your frustration should not cause you to sin (Ephesians 4:26). Oftentimes when we are frustrated that we are not playing, our response is to vocalize it to a parent, friend, or teammate. Be careful when you do so not to gossip.
In his book Resisting Gossip, Matthew Mitchell offers us a helpful definition surrounding the word gossip: “Sinful gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.”
Listen, I know the temptation to unload on a coach behind their back. I was often guilty of this. It is the easy way out. It is the natural conversation to create and feed.
Christian athletes are called to stand out from the crowd, to look different. When the opportunity arises to speak negatively behind your coach’s back, heed the words found in Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
Godly benchwarmers confess entitlement
Take a deep breath if you need to before you read the next sentence.
You are not entitled to any playing time.
That’s sounds harsh, but it’s the reality. Your coach’s job is dependent on whether your team wins. Period. If he or she does not think your talent level is at a place where you can help the team get a W, then he or she is under no obligation to put you on the field.
You may have been the best athlete on your team before you got here. You may have been a star. But your current coach is not obligated to play you because of your amazing highlight tape.
What needs to be pressed against here is the “I deserve” mentality that can so easily spread like a virus. Yes, this is blunt. But so is God’s response to pride throughout the Bible (Proverbs 16:5, 8:13). And an “I deserve” heart posture equals pride. Godly benchwarmers who sense this reality confess it quickly to God and ask Him to help change their heart.
Godly benchwarmers give great effort and attitude
Colossians 3:23-24 gives us a great trajectory: “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” You glorify God when you work hard and when your motivation for doing so is because you are seeking to please the Lord. Athlete, if your coach decided not to play you, let it be about your level of skill, not your work ethic or attitude.
Speaking of attitude…
You can still be frustrated internally and have a great attitude externally. How do you do this? By looking for ways to be thankful in the midst of your frustration. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Be a thankful athlete. Be known as hope-filled, humble, and thankful. Don’t allow yourself to become lumped among the complainers. Vocally express thanks to your coach for a great workout, even if he spent the whole time yelling at you.
Godly benchwarmers don’t transfer the second they aren’t playing
God may have something for you in this season of waiting that involves something better than splinters in your rear end. Don’t hit the eject button just yet. The reason you are not playing is probably related to your level of talent, but I want to implore you to look for purpose in this difficult season that transcends the playing field. God has you in this spot—don’t waste it.
Look for ways to affirm your teammates who are in front of you in the pecking order for playing time—and directly behind you. Be the loudest and most encouraging voice they hear every single day. The growth you will experience from becoming a varsity level advocate for your teammates will far surpass the benefits from transferring.
And who knows, your coach may even notice and reward you for it.