When Your Kid’s the Last One Picked

Nobody likes a poor sport. Unless, of course, she’s your daughter.

For the second year in a row, Rainey is playing in a competitive soccer league, and that means, for the second year in a row, she sits on the bench. A lot. But she doesn’t seem to mind. 

“I like that my friends get to play instead,” she told me after one of her games recently.  Apparently she’s just happy to be a part of the team. 

It doesn’t help, though, that her tendency to be anxious and easily distracted is often magnified on the wide-open field.  When she should be paying attention, Rainey’s eyes are usually skyward, watching an airplane whiz by or guessing cloud formations.  Or sometimes she worries about Lilla, unable to hustle until she’s got a visual on her younger sister’s whereabouts on the sidelines. This lack of focus often translates into even more time riding the pine.

To complicate matters, I’m the assistant coach. And the hardest part of the job is keeping my mouth shut, especially when Rainey’s feet are on the field but her head is in the clouds. Every game I pledge to be positive, to cheer for Rainey and to keep from criticizing, but I fail. Often. Like the time I very publicly pointed out a mistake during one of her tournaments. I’ll never forget how she glared at me from her position and shouted, “Mom, why can’t you just encourage me instead?”

Or last Sunday, when she was warming up on the sidelines and accidentally kicked a ball onto the field during a play that was going in our favor, costing us an indirect kick. She instantly flushed red, and instead of recognzing her humiliation, I added to it by sternly instructing her to sit down on the bench.

Unfortunately, that’s where she stayed. For the rest of the game.

Because of her embarassment, she stubbornly refused to rotate into the game and relieve her tired teammates. So we rode home in silence that day, both of us too upset to speak. By evening I completely gave up on her young soccer career.

Before finally falling asleep that night, I decided I’d come down hard on Rainey in the morning. I’d force her to apologize to her teammates for her bad sportsmanship, and then I’d expect her to pay me back – in time and money – for every game she didn’t play her best. If she refused, I’d make her quit the sport she says she loves. I was adamanent, and she could tell I wasn’t kidding when I bull-headedly verbalized my demands to her the next day.

“No way!” she balked while making her bed, and within minutes, I knew I was getting nowhere. So I decided to take a walk with Wesley instead. While I pushed his stroller and huffed around the neighborhood, I prayed.

I prayed for this girl who drives me nuts sometimes. This girl whose favorite subject is daydreaming (she has the T-shirt). This girl who’s so sensitive I swear I can hear her spirit breaking. This girl who obviously cares more about her siblings than scoring goals.

And then I remembered this girl is not even a dozen years old, and this game is just a game. And the qualities that make her a bench warmer on the soccer team are the exact same qualities that make her a creative, caring, incredible human being.

I quickly turned the stroller around, and when I dashed through the front door, I found Rainey on the living room floor, reading, and I took her face in my cold hands, looked in her eyes and said, “Forget everything I just said to you about soccer. I was wrong. I love you for who you are, not for what you can do or what you’ll become, and that’s all that matters.”

“Does that mean I can go to my indoor game tonight?” she asked hopefully.

“Yes,” I replied, “and I promise to keep from interfering.”

“Thanks, Mommy,” she smiled, and later that night, she apologized to her teammates on her own and went on to play the best game I’ve ever seen her play.

Riding home, I was so proud and pleased with my daughter, I couldn’t help but pray out loud,

Lord, I’m so glad you’re not impressed with our abilities and status and human qualifications. I’m so happy you don’t expect perfect performance from us either. You know our limitations. You understand our weaknesses. Thank you for taking them all and making them into a beautiful design so that every accomplishment and victory – like the small one we witnessed tonight on the soccer field – clearly comes from You and Your power working in us. In Your name I pray, Amen.


  1. Erin Richer says:

    Megan, this was beautiful. I’m so touched that in you “backing down” as some would call it, Rainey was able to rise up on her own and decide to be the young lady she wanted to be. She is blessed to have you as a mother willing to be molded and thus help mold her.

  2. ant rosie says:

    Ah, Meg, you have again moved me to tears. This was just beautiful.

  3. Awesome. Pretty cool that she apologized on her own…wish I could do that…

  4. Colleen Martin says:

    crying, again. 🙂

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