First of all, you have to read the following comment from Coach Al Summers. Al was gracious enough to stop by the Baseball Pastor site and interact with me a few weeks ago. His words are incredibly insightful and could stand alone in this post. (Note: Al’s comment was a response to this post of mine).

I had the opposite experience. I was the player at the end of the bench. I got in only when we were blowing out the other team or they were blowing us out. For me, just being part of a team was the big thing.

I taught and coached for 31 years. I was a coach on three state championships and one state runner up in basketball. More importantly, I had very good relationships with the players at the end of the bench.

Too many times I have seen people (who) were stars and then coached and got frustrated. Success as a player does not always mean success as a coach. Star players do not really understand the players at the end of the bench. Those who work hard and love being part of the team. Great teams cannot exist without the players at the end of the bench.

Outstanding. Thanks, Al!

So, what about the guy at the end of the bench? Here’s this week’s lesson: we play to learn to be a teammate to the guy at the end of the bench.

It’s easy to simply make fun of kids like that and write them off as less-than-human since they can’t play a game. But, what I’ve found is that one of the reasons we play is to learn to be a teammate to guys who can’t play the game.

Looking back, I’m not really sure how good I was at this. I certainly remember the guys who struggled to do any of the basics of the game. On the field, we didn’t have much in common, and it’s to my shame if I treated them differently because of that.

Now, as a coach of young players, this is always on my mind. It’s my goal to be sure every kid, regardless of talent level, is loved and encouraged. It’s my goal as a coach to help the more proficient players see the role and responsibility they have to value and appreciate every teammate as a person, regardless of ability on the field.

Why is this so important? What can less talented teammates teach us? Here are four things (there are many more).

1. The true worth of a person. Hint: it’s not found in his or her performance on the field. It’s found in the fact that a loving God created him or her. Anything else is an insult to that loving God.

2. Compassion. For the guy at the end of the bench. Because he needs it. Because he knows he’s not as good. Because he wants to quit sometimes, or all the time. Don’t count on anyone else to give that guy what he needs.

3. Patience. Players need to see a guy struggle to get a concept or master a skill, because one day, they will too. And, they’ll understand what it’s like to have impatient and demanding people around them.

4. Being part of a team is fun. Or at least it should be, like Al said. Regardless, baseball can’t be played without a team. Everyone matters. Everyone gets a turn at bat. The ball just might find everyone on the team during the game. As kids grow, they will learn that life is lonely, frustrating, and discouraging without good teammates. They’ll also learn that being a good teammate is one of the greatest gifts they will ever give.

Coaches and parents, let’s help our young people understand this.

Players, take the lead, even if your coach or parent doesn’t.