Everyone has a place on a team. Some are the unspoken leaders, some are the stars, there is always a jokester and, especially in the case of girls softball, one drama queen. Typically there is a brat and a quiet one, too. If you are lucky all the pieces, no matter how different, blend together and make a team. When the mix is right it works. The leaders curtail the drama queens-or they just ignore them. The leaders rally the others and lead by quiet example. The stars do their jobs and get it done. The jokesters keep the girls laughing and cohesive and makes light of the brat when the brattiness threatens to get out of hand. And when the mix is perfect and balanced just right it works. Somehow it just works.
Then there is the girl on the bench. She plays a role too. She might not take the field every inning. She won’t ever make the game winning play and she’ll never be the superstar that everyone remembers but…if the right girl is on the bench…she keeps the team in balance and her role matters.
My girl is the girl in the bench. As sports moms we want our daughters to be the stars or the leaders. But the truth is that, for a team to work, they can’t all be stars or leaders. Last night I realized something…when the right girl is on the bench she keeps the team nimble. She fills the gaps. Her role matters.
Our day started at the fields at 7:45a. It ended at 1:20a. In the championship game we were matched against a team that earlier in the day had beat us so badly that the mercy rule had been invoked to put us out of our misery. I didn’t have high hopes.
We scored first. I heard our girls cheering and chanting and for the first time all day they exuded spirit and spunk. They believed they could do it! And so they did—-At the end if the 3rd or 4th inning (at 12am you lose the ability to keep details straight) we rallied and were ahead 7-4. It was already after midnight. It should have ended there which would have meant another game, immediately, for the championship spot but 9 minutes remained in the official game. That meant another inning had to start. We had lost the toss so they had last at bat. Out girls were singing and chanting and laughing. You know whose voice I heard the loudest? My daughters. In 17 hours of softball she had hit twice. A walk and a strikeout. She had gotten a few balls in from the outfield but she’d also stepped back from a pop-fly that she should have caught. She had been walked at the last inning of the tie game. She was the 3rd base runner for the sudden death overtime. She didn’t make any stellar plays, she didn’t hit a triple and she didn’t slide into home this tournament. But she contributed. And her biggest contribution was being made right there from her spot on the bench.
At 1:09, after winning one game in double OT and another with a spectacular out at home, our team was awarded runner-up trophies at the 2014 Backyard Bash. As one-by-one the girls ran up to get their trophies I could rattle off their roles, “leader, star, jokesters, quiet one, drama queen”. My daughter was toward the end. As she ran up to get her trophy with her big grin shining bright I realized something-her role was the girl on the bench. But she was good at it! From her spot she could easily have taken on the role of team brat-but she didn’t. Instead, she owned her role as the girl on the bench. To be a successful teammate she had to do her job and that meant she had to be a little of everything. She had to be ready to play. She had to be positive about being in the dugout. It was her unassigned job to lead the cheers when her players were in the field. She was the rally-’em-up-girl. I saw her joke around with another girl who wasn’t so happy about being benched. I saw her laugh and sing and pop her gum like a boss. I watched her perch herself against the fence on the bucket of balls and call in, “you can do it!” Or “watch the ball all the way to the bat,” and even, “3-2-you got this!” I saw her grip the chain link fence during a tense moment and saw her jaw with her coaches when things were going well.
I also saw her frustration when she struck out. I saw her embarrassment when she missed the ball. I saw her eyes well with tears when the game ended and she hadn’t batted. Being the girl in the bench isn’t easy but it’s necessary. She had some disappointments last night but she didn’t let it get the best of her and that makes me proud.
The coaches have the right girl on the bench. My girl. She didn’t make a single play that anyone will remember but that’s okay-that’s not her job. She did her job and did it well. From the bench she took on whatever role the team needed. She cheered them up, she made them laugh, she took to the field with enthusiasm when it was her turn and she did it all with the right “heart”.
As she ran up to get her trophy I realized that every single girl on that team had done her part. They had truly won, and lost, as a team. The girl on the bench is just as much a part of the team as the girl that drove home the winning run or that caught the last out. There won’t ever be a t-shirt that reads,”proud mom of a bench warmer” but maybe there should be. If the right girl isn’t on the bench it ruins the whole team dynamic. My girl is the girl in the bench and she is the right girl for the job.