Perhaps, you remember the January 28, 2018 NCAA Football National Championship Game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Georgia Bulldogs. Depending on which team you cheered for, you remember different aspects of the game. One of the most talked about moments of the game was when Alabama, who was trailing in the game, made the decision to bench the starting quarterback, Jalen Hurts, in favor of the true freshman, Tua Tagovailoa.  Alabama was, uncharacteristically, losing at the time of the switch and many saw that as a gutsy decision by head coach Nick Saban. Many believe that one decision led to Alabama winning the National Championship once again.

Some would also say that Tagovailoa was the winner in the quarterback battle of the night.  Hurts was benched and Tagovailoa was the hero. On the surface, that is exactly what happened. But there were many winners that night. In fact, the entire Alabama football team won, including Jalen Hurts. The choice between quarterbacks was not that one was a winner and one was a loser. Both are surely winners based on their track records alone. But one of them was a better choice for that particular situation on that particular night. One of those leaders had to lead the team to victory on the field and one of them had to cheer the team to victory from the bench.

Have you ever found yourself on the bench? Having three sons who played numerous sports, I spent many moments watching them be the hero on the field at times and, at other times, the dejected player on the sidelines. Something about being on the bench makes us automatically feel like a loser, but that is not at all true. Sometimes, it is a matter of which leader is better for the moment. If we find ourselves on the bench, either because we have been beat out by someone better or because we have beat ourselves by not living up to expectations, there is a lot to be learned.

  1. From the bench, you have a better view. Sometimes, when we are actually in the game, it is harder to see how we can improve the play for the team. From the sidelines, we can see it all unfold and learn how to make adjustments.
  2. From the bench, you can learn to be a better follower. Being a great follower is the first step to being a great leader. Those that know how to follow and serve others regularly earn the followership of others.
  3. From the bench, it is easier to hear the instructions of the coaches. If you are taken out of the game, keep your ears open. Listen to the coaches and what they say (or yell) to one another. It gives you clues to what is expected when you are on the field.
  4. From the bench, you can learn humility. Humble leaders attract followers. Sometimes, coaches bench players so they can become better leaders. When egos get out of hand and leaders feel invincible, it’s a good moment for a dose of humility before the leader damages the whole team or loses personal credibility.
  5. From the bench, you can prepare. This play, this game, this season might not be your time to shine, but you always need to be preparing to be ready when your number is called. Learn your role, the game, the team and to build relationships with those who will eventually take the field with you. On the bench is not the time to slack off, but a time to work harder, get stronger and learn more. When Tagvailoa was put in the game for Alabama, he was ready. He had prepared for a moment and stage that he certainly did not expect, but nevertheless was ready when his time came.

By the way, Jalen Hurts was a star on the bench that night. While his role was different than he expected for the National Championship, he still had a job to do. His team still needed him to help them win. He did not go to the bench and pout. He stayed in the game. First and foremost, he encouraged the true freshman quarterback. He convinced him that he could win the game.  He remained in the sideline huddle for support to the team. He was the first person to congratulate Tagovailoa on his first touchdown pass. The media called Hurts, 26-2 as a starter, gracious and a champion. I call him a winner and a leader.

If you find yourself for a quarter, a game or a season on the bench, use that time to hone your leadership skills and build relationships. True leaders will find a way back on to the field and when you do, you want to be ready to win.

If you find yourself for a quarter, a game or a season on the bench, use that time to hone your leadership skills and build relationships. Click To Tweet