skip navigation

When Your Child Plays Backup

By NEYT, 10/23/21, 3:45AM EDT


Playing backup as an athlete in youth sports is a job that is often under-valued. But, it is the hardest, mentally and emotionally for any athlete.

If your child is playing on the reserves, substituting, scrubbing, or whatever you want to call it, they are the true warrior on the team. Not being in the starting lineup takes a lot more character, persistence, and hard work than if your child was starting and in the limelight every game.

How your child manages the good times when they start doesn’t really determine what they are made of deep down as much as a youth athlete who doesn’t get the starting assignment and may even feel like coach forgot about them on the bench.

What Can the Backup Role Do for Your Child?

It can make them into a true champion. How well your child plays their back-up role will be the real test of their strength. How do they deal with the lack of glory? How do they handle feeling like they are not needed when they are actually eager to play?

It tests their commitment to the team. Playing time is actually a very self-centered issue; it’s all about ME. But being a true team player is actually all about WE. Team players know that they must give up your ME for the team’s WE. 

This is so hard for youth athletes and parents to accept with dignity and integrity. But being on a team means that your child must learn to accept the role that was assigned to them. 

If your child is not willing to play their best in the role they’ve been given, it will affect the morale of the entire team. It may feel unfair, but your role as a parent and your child’s role as a team player is not to second-guess the coaching choices. 

It pushes them to keep working harder. Hopefully, your child is not critically evaluating their teammates’ performances in an effort to figure out if they deserve playing time over your child. 

It’s also easy for backup athletes to get lazy. But their positions are actually much more important than most athletes think. How often have we seen second and third-string players put in the game in key situations and end up taking their team to victory?

My son played backup QB his junior year on varsity and it was a tough year for him. He saw very little playing time, but when he did, it was important that he be ready. When the 1st QB suffered a tweaked ankle, a cramp, a hard hit, he was called in to lead the team for a few plays. And because he was prepared, he always did a good job, helping the offense not skip a beat.

If your child is accepting their role with a winning attitude, they will instead focus on their own play—whether it’s in practice or in the game—and push themselves to keep improving. 

Good teams do not become great without the efforts of their role players. In my book, it’s not the stars that really make the team, it’s the supporting cast. (Alan Goldberg, Competitive Edge)

How Mom and Dad Handle Backup is Key

I understand that your view is that your child is getting a raw deal. You may be convinced that your child should be starting instead of someone else and that the coach is either blind or biased. As a sports parent for 22 years, I understand the internal agony that you feel when your child sits on the bench.

As parents, it’s highly unlikely that you can be objective when it comes to your kids. When coaches don’t agree with your rosy view of your kids, you think there must be something wrong with them.

If you can at least acknowledge that you are biased and that what you assume to be true may, in fact, not be 100% fact, then you have taken the first step to handle the backup situation.

Your job, after that, is to always be positive, supporting your child, the team, and the coach, even if you don’t agree. Your frustration with the situation will not help your child’s morale.

Janis Meredith is a family life coach who wants to help parents raise champions. You can find out more at