Reserve Lessons

Nothing prepared me for coaching more than the time I spent sitting on the bench. I hated it. And when I started coaching, I couldn’t forget how much I disliked sitting on the bench, and I did everything I could do to get every player in a game every week on some level – 9th grade, JV or varsity.

So I get it. Not starting hurts. Not playing stinks. And while many coaches are brilliant in their tactics to share playing time, some coaches do a miserable job of getting reserves into games.

But having said all that, I must add that too many people undervalue the importance of reserves, of the practice players who work hard to make the regulars better. Many champion wrestlers and tennis players earned their titles because of practice partners who pushed them to be better day-in and day-out. Many championship teams achieved their success through arduous daily competition in practice all season long. Many times it has been a so-called “backup” player, who worked hard in practices and who was often worked into games by caring coaches, who steps in after a starter is injured and saves the season.

There is much to be learned as a reserve, including what it means to be a loyal teammate . . . a team player . . . and what teamwork and sacrifice and loyalty and dedication really mean.

I have said often in speeches that it’s my wish that every student would have the opportunity to be a starter in one sport and a substitute in another because the lessons to be learned from each are different and so vital to developing the whole person.

It is a shame that students have somehow gotten the message that it’s a waste of their time to be a part of a team where they aren’t a starter or even the star. They get this message from adults . . . sometimes it’s coaches, but more often it’s parents who criticize coaches and/or transfer their children to schools where they have a greater chance for athletic success.

As the benches get shorter on our school sports teams, the lessons learned get fewer.


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About the Author

Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts has been at the helm of the MHSAA as its Executive Director since 1986, implementing programs and overseeing tournament administration and regulations for the Association which boasts 1,500 member schools, 10,000 registered officials and 13,000 head coaches.

During the last 45 years, Roberts has spoken to educator and athletic groups, business leaders and civic groups in almost every state and five Canadian provinces. He is one of the nation's most articulate advocates for educational athletics.

Roberts has served on the board of directors of the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), is in his second term on the board of the National Federation of State High School Associations, and is the first chairman of the NFHS Network board of directors. He has been board president for the Refugee Development Center for nine years, and is a past-chair of the board of directors of the Michigan Society of Association Executives. He is chair of the board of trustees for the Capital Region Community Foundation for 2018.

He is a 1970 graduate of Dartmouth College, where he played defensive safety for the Ivy League's winningest football team during that span, and he sang in Dartmouth's close harmony vocal group.

His wife, Peggy, has retired from a 30-year career in social services, and is serving as president of the board of the Fenner Nature Conservancy in Lansing.