In the first moments of that first day of 6th grade, my son reminded me that I promised him he could start playing football in the city league when he reached that grade. Secretly,  I’d hoped he had forgotten about that promise since he was still so small. Nonetheless, I kept my word. Since football is my favorite spectator sport, I suppose I looked forward to that day myself where I got to see him play–just didn’t expect it to happen so soon.

Over the years, his dedication to football grew impressively stronger. He never missed a summer football camp until his summer spent in Italy just prior to his senior year. He never missed practice and certainly never missed a game. Family reunions and other major functions even took place without him if they occurred during this practice or game time.

In 2009, his junior year of high school, my son made Varsity. His school had a horrible season that year, which led them to finally fire the coach once the season ended. That was also the rainiest and coldest fall I ever remembered in my 16 years in Chicago. I doubt we even enjoyed two Friday night games without being bundled up with winter coats, hats, gloves and umbrellas! To be rainy is one thing. To be cold is one thing. To be rainy AND cold made for some brutal game watching—especially when losing every game! It was grueling enough for the players, but for us committed parents on those cold metal bleachers…

From the stands that season, I watched my son revved up, charged up, bouncing up and down, clapping his $45 wide receiver-gloved hands throughout the night in encouragement to his teammates. I watched him Varsity game after Varsity game doing all that on the sideline only.

That coach’s rule was that those Varsity players who did not get to play on Friday nights got to strut their stuff Saturday mornings at the Junior Varsity games. So, my son got playing time on Saturday, but to him I’m sure it wasn’t the same. He had to feel discouraged every Friday watching the clock run down without contributing a minute of playing time. Yet, he got out there Saturday morning without a bad attitude and racked up great playing time. It angered me that the Saturday game talent never got scouted for Friday nights’ games; yet, there I sat every cold Saturday morning as well; a repeat weather pattern.

During the last Friday night game of that dismal season, the mother of one of our star players was succumbing to the unbearably cold, wet chill by retreating to the Wal-Mart across the street from that home team’s stadium to get warm. While stepping down the bleachers, she turned to me and said, “You’re a good one, to sit out here game after game in this weather and the coach won’t even put your son in.” All I could do was smile at her, as my heart went out to my son for his unceasing dedication. He never gave up hope that he may be put in any minute.

That next morning, our Saturday Junior Varsity team was down by two touchdowns in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. The coach put my son in. Our team had the ball on their own 40-yard line. The ball is hiked. The pass spirals from the quarterback’s hand. It soars high and long. There’s my son, darting down the field outrunning the corner. He turns to eye the ball on the opponent’s 30-yard line. Seconds later, he catches the ball; tucks it in; and sprints straight into the end zone, untouched, having outrun several opponents along the way! Yea, Son! Yea, Junior Varsity Coach for trusting him with that play! Boo, Varsity Head coach for never utilizing that talent on Friday nights.

Why did I take such great EFFORT to attend ALL of my son’s games? (I only missed 2 games in 6 years.) Because every single game mattered to him; therefore, they mattered to me.  He suited up every game with the same excitement, vigor and expectation. During pre-game warm-ups he hustled through every rep, preparing to play hard. While on the sideline, he didn’t goof off. In fact, he made it a habit to stay near the coach the entire game. As the coach paced the sidelines, there my son was pacing behind him, as though any minute the coach would motion for him to go in.

In all his years of football—seasons where he started, or like 2009 where the coach terribly overlooked him every single game—he never once SAT on the bench while left on the sidelines. Whether he did it intentionally, or unconsciously, he stood during every single game for six years (I’m not exaggerating). My son‘s approach to football inspired me in a way that he’ll never know (unless he reads this).

In 2010, his senior year, a brand new coach with the right skills and spirit gave my son’s team new hope and took them all the way from a 1-8 season to the second or third game of the championship level! That coach gave them a motto to live by: G.U.T.S. It means: Great Urge To Succeed. And succeed they did.

My takeaway: You may never ever get called in to make the big plays in life, but your spectators should never know it by your attitude on the sideline. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught, even if a person is a street cleaner, they should strive to be the best street cleaner on this earth.

Today, if you feel like you’re hopelessly stuck on the “sidelines of life,” simply set out to be the most excited, focused, revved up side-liner in the history of the game of life. Then, in no time at all, you may find yourself catapulted off that sideline and into a higher, favorable place. After all, your attitude does determine your altitude!

Go get some G.U.T.S. today! “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” Galatians 6:9

Writefully yours,

Terri (T’Eileen)