Sitting on the bench, observing your teammates compete in passionate battle against another university squad, isn’t the favourite activity of many Varsity Blues athletes. But for backup women’s hockey goalie Katey Teekasingh and men’s football receiver Chris McDonald, the bench is where they get inspired, a place they feel privileged to be.
Typically, when you read a sports article, listen to sports-talk radio, or watch the morning highlights, you’re battered with the accomplishments of renowned athletes and performers. As you hear about these players more often, you start to think everyone else on the team must be short on skill or drive, but the opposite is true.
Every year varsity coaches recruit new players from all across the country in the hope of eventually replacing the graduating athletes with equally competitive and skilled ones. Not every recruit is a born superstar with a sense of entitlement; they’re aware that they will have to work diligently on their craft and progress throughout their career.
Katey Teekasingh, a second-year sociology student at UTM, knows this very well. Teekasingh is backup goaltender to a starter who is an all-star in CIS woman’s hockey. Nicole Kesteris is her name; she posts statistics ranked in the top three in many goaltending categories. Teekasingh has developed, over time, a unique set of qualities that give her the motivation to practise every day and rival Kesteris.
“I’ve still been able to support my team in the dressing room and on the bench by offering insight on what we can improve on and being an active influence,” says Teekasingh, now in her second season with the Blues. “I work hard in practice to not only make myself better but to help make my team better as well. If I make it hard for them to score in practice, then they have to work harder to score on me.”
Teekasingh believes she’s set herself for a starting spot next year by the way she’s carried herself on and off the ice. “I’m very happy to have been given the opportunity to play in six games this season,” she says.
Many other U of T athletes are in the same position. Second-year political science student Chris McDonald knows these struggles well. Even though he has made his way up an extensive list of wide receivers on the men’s football team to impress coaches, when a player competes for a position held by veteran players, it’s difficult to push ahead.
At the beginning of the 2014 season, there were over 20 wide receivers on the depth chart and only a quarter of those players dress in a game. McDonald made the most of his situation last year by making great plays in an exhibition game against McGill and showing signs of brilliance during practice.
McDonald is still pushing for that level he knows he’s able to get to. “[I want to] prove to everyone on the coaching staff that I belong as a starter in this league,” he says.
To make matters complicated for McDonald and other receivers, the team doesn’t have a specific receiver coach. But despite the frustration, drive is never hard to find. “My motivation comes from the family and enjoying playing football. What brings me to practice every day is the guys and proving those who think I don’t belong wrong,” he says.
The superstars on a team aren’t the only reasons why teams have the success they do—their success depends on the competitiveness and leadership of the entire unit. Players from the bottom of the chart can have as much influence in the room as the guy at the top. And you always have to work hard to get where you want to be.