Regardless of the sport, playing on the varsity team is something many kids look forward to, but quickly learn it'll be a true test of their persistence and skill. Sometimes the spotlight misses them. Sometimes they don’t even get on the field. Suddenly playing varsity is not all it’s cracked up to be.
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As your young athlete looks toward high school football and eventually reaching the varsity roster, here are some realities they must face:
1. Sometimes the star is no longer the star: They might be first-string in middle school and on the freshman and JV squad, but on varsity there are athletes from two or three classes, and many of them are stars, too.
2. If you and a senior are competing and are equal, the senior may win: This is usually the case unless other factors enter in, like favoritism or politics.
3. If you play backup, always be ready: I told my second-string quarterback son this when he was a junior behind the section’s leading QB. Sure enough, there were key moments when he had to come off the bench because the No. 1 was hurt. It’s tempting for an athlete to slack off and not pay attention to the game if they don’t play much, but if a player is injured, your child must be ready to do their job.
4. Work hard- your time will come next year: My husband, who’s coached for three decades, calls it the “junior syndrome.” Junior players on varsity can get discouraged if they don’t get much playing time. We saw it happen to all three of our kids and to hundreds of others over the years. The good news is that a lot of those very kids who were standing dejected on the sidelines last year are now playing because they worked hard and it paid off.
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5. Be teachable: Why should I? Your athlete may think. I’m not going to play. If your athlete keeps that attitude, they won’t play. They need to know that.
6. The coaches ARE watching: Your child may think they're hiding at the end of the bench or in a group on the sidelines, but a good coach is fully aware of what they are or aren't doing in practice and during a game. They know how hard your child is trying, and next year, the coach will remember.
7. You must always fight for your spot: Just because you start at the beginning of the season doesn’t mean you’ll keep that starting spot. Not even seniors have their spot locked in. If someone else steps up to do the job better than you, you'll most likely be replaced.
8. Team players earn the respect of teammates; selfish players don’t: The honest truth is that if your child’s teammates don’t respect them, they won't help them on the field. They may not block for them or pass them the ball. If your child is showing off or blaming others, their teammates won't have their back.
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9. All varsity players aren't created equal: There may be juniors who start when your child doesn’t, and there will be sophomores who start over juniors or seniors. Sometimes it feels very unfair, but that’s the way of varsity-level sports.
Some of my kids’ best memories of high school revolve around their experiences on varsity sports teams. They recognize the challenges, frustrations and victories helped them grow stronger and prepared them for life beyond high school.
Janis B. Meredith is a life coach for sports parents. She provides resources to help parents give their children a positive and growing youth sports experience. Learn more about how she can help parents have Less Stress and More Fun in Youth Sports.
This is an updated version of a blog that originally published March 13, 2017.