I spent just enough time sitting on the bench during my high school basketball and college football careers to know I hated it, and I hurt for those who sat on the bench all the time. Even as a headstrong, self-centered adolescent, it occurred to me that not being able to play as much as one might want, or not at all, had to be a terrible feeling.
This greatly affected my approach to coaching football. As defensive coordinator, I would see who was not engaged on the first two offensive units and begin to teach these “extras” defensive skills and strategies. Several players found their niche and contributed either as starters or key reserves on defense.
I made it a point at the subvarsity level to give playing time every week to every player who was on time to and active at every practice that week; and I tried to give a start to every player who met all our team rules and responsibilities for the season.
I know from the reactions of these players and their parents that their attitude about our program improved as they became increasingly engaged with our football team. I saw also that they seemed to support their classroom teachers more, as well as other aspects of our school.
I’ve lost track of them, but I suspect these players and parents continued to be positive voices for the school for many more years – among the loud voices who would not support the transfer of sports from schools to community groups and private clubs. They would advocate more opportunities to be a part of school teams, starting in earlier grades.