By Jeffrey Swindoll
There are a shocking number of stories and sagas behind the scenes of college sports that rarely ever get talked about, much less even known to others outside the lines. The focus hardly ever goes to players waiting their turn in college, struggling to feel affirmation for their hard work.
If asked honestly, how many players would truly describe how they felt seeing their teammate above them in the depth chart, continuing to succeed on the field? Success for the starter diminishes the chances for the reserve player who is restlessly anticipating his opportunity to shine, let alone play.
Dr. Tamara Rowatt, senior lecturer at Baylor in the psychology department identified causes, consequences and methods for eradicating envy, even if it is in such a specific form as success envy. Overcoming success envy is difficult, but a doable task for student athletes, Rowatt said.
“Theory would predict that if two people are competing for the same resource — in this case, playing time — they’re especially likely to be jealous or envious if they’re close,” senior psychology Dr. Tamara Rowatt said. “On the other side, you can be happy for that person in their success, but you’re more likely to be jealous or envious of that person than happy for them because playing time or success in your sports career is what you want.”
For the second and third string players, those emotions can lead to one of two states — happiness for their teammate prospering, or envy in their rival’s success. They are on the same team, but that does not mean they automatically want each other to succeed in all circumstances.
“There’s ample literature that suggest that jealousy is a sign of insecurity,” Rowatt said. “Jealousy or envy can have very detrimental effects on relationships depending on how far people take their emotions.”
Insecurity is a frequent root source for success envy. The obvious counter to insecurity is striving to improve one’s own self-worth. Working on yourself and the elements in your own power, as a way of building up self-esteem is generally the right direction for dealing with envy, Rowatt said.
The application of self-bolstering for student athletes would be reminding themselves of their positive qualities, and accurately assessing themselves for effective self-improvement.
“[The unsuccessful players] have to find something of value that they’re doing so that you can maintain a positive self-concept in that you’re coming in second,” Rowatt said. “That takes real strength of character to root for that guy or girl who’s playing in front you because you definitely want to be there. To have their success not affect you in some way would be hard.”
Some strengths or roles that the backup players can accept if they see they will not be playing much in their career could be improving themselves as supporters for their teammates. That could mean being a better brother in Christ to teammates, continually working towards a good sense of comradery with the other players. Accepting and taking that initiative is certainly not an easy task though, Rowatt said.
“If a player does not believe they deserve a starting job, then they probably shouldn’t be playing college sports. Of course they should feel something when they don’t get to play game-after-game,” said a former player who asked to be left anonymous.
Lisa Sliwinski, former player for Baylor women’s soccer, experienced both ends of the spectrum. Sliwinski played in many big games in her Baylor career, but she also had to watch her colleagues from the sideline during some big games. It can be frustrating, Sliwinski said, but regardless of those emotions, players have to come to work hard every practice and game.
“The most helpful thing that I learned to do in a situation where I wasn’t playing as much as I would have liked was to not allow my feelings about the situation to pollute my opinion of the game,” Sliwinski said. “You have to actively refocus your mind to the fact that you are blessed to have the health and resources to be playing the game you love with your teammates so that any bad feelings about disagreements over personnel decisions won’t bleed across the whole experience.”
Someone is going to play and someone is going to be sidelined, and that is just part of sports, Sliwinski said. The competition is often what can and does make a team better in the long run.
“There ought to be no difference between the way that a starter and a sub approach training,” Sliwinski said. “If you’re a sub, you have to perform because you’re trying to fight your way into the lineup. If you’re a starter, there are always several people nipping at your heels, happy to take your minutes if you’re not performing.”
Sliwinski also emphasized how fortunate athletes are to be able to both play at such a high level as well as be healthy enough to do these things, whether they ride the bench or not. That kind of humble attitude can sometimes help a player get the starting job, but either way, the player’s satisfaction cannot lie in starting, there are more things to be happy about, Sliwinski said.
“I found some peace in focusing on maximizing the things I could control, like my performance,” Sliwinski said. “Pouting won’t get you anywhere in that situation. The only way to change a coach’s mind is to improve yourself to the point that they can’t afford to take you off the field. And if that doesn’t work, you still woke up today and got to play soccer. So it was a pretty good day.”