How do you respond when your son is bench-warming for his basketball team? Here’s pastor and professor David Prince from his new book, In the Arena: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship:
My son was excited when team tryouts were announced! He made the team, practices began, and the team moved toward the start of the season. We decided he would get up before school in the morning and run two miles on the treadmill to increase his stamina. Yet, when the team began playing games, he rarely got off the bench, and I noticed his demeanor changed. He seemed disinterested and chatty. He was only engaged and focused when he was in the game. On the floor, he was loud and fiery. When he sat on the bench, which was most of the time, he rarely left his seat, and his posture became relaxed and slouching.
I heard one parent say with a son in a similar bench-warming situation, “Well, what do you expect when he is sitting on the bench? You have to feel sorry for him working so hard and not getting to play.”
I do not understand that mentality. I was pleased that my son sat on the bench. It provided an opportunity for us as his parents to teach him what God expects from him when he finds himself on the bench. It is actually the same thing required of him when he starts: that he is a leader who uses every ounce of his ability and effort to glorify Jesus. I did not feel one bit sorry for him working so hard and not getting to play. The truth is, my son needed to be a role player on that team; and the truth is, most of us end up being role players in life, not stars or starters. (75-76)
Bringing Glory to Christ Through Bench-Warming
In the same chapter, Prince outlines a plan that he and his son came up with for riding the bench to the glory of Christ:
- Make sure your posture communicates your engagement. Sit on the edge of your seat.
- Be the loudest player on the bench cheering for your team.
- Leap from your seat every time your team scores or gets a turnover.
- Get out of your seat during time-outs; go out on the court and greet the players who are in the game.
- Talk only about the game to your teammates on the bench.
- Listen to everything your coach says when he speaks, looking him in the eye.
- Be the first one to volunteer if your coach needs something done.
- When you do get into the game, remember that you may not be the most talented player out there, but you can be the toughest player; dive for every loose ball, play tough, and never find yourself out-hustled.
- Make the more talented players better by being tough on them in practice; challenging them, and making them fight for everything they get. (77-78)
Prince’s counsel on bench-warming is just one of the ways his book challenges us to approach sports in relation to the gospel and Christian discipleship. While there is always a danger of sports becoming an idol—like any other good gift from God—it’s also true that our participation in sports can be a way to grow in our sanctification.