Breaking Free From The Safe Zone

Breaking Free From The Safe Zone by Jill Printzenhoff

It was the last day of high school tryouts when the head volleyball coach called myself and another girl into the athletic office.

“You’re not good enough for the team, so you have two choices. Go to 6th period PE class, or become the volleyball manager.”

Blinking as hard as I could, I stared at the floor while forcing the tears to remain in place and not spill over. Her words were humiliating enough without reducing myself to further shame by having a meltdown in front of the coaching staff and the girl standing next to me.

“Well, I’m goin’ to PE,” the other girl curtly responded before bolting out the door.

“Guess I’ll help manage the team,” I heard myself speak.

My shoulders sagged as I trudged from the office, made my way through the gym doors and stepped into the Texas heat. While I inched towards the parking lot, the coach’s words bounced around in my brain.

I had longed to join forces with my friends and work together in pursuit of victory. Actually, I hadn’t thought about winning games. I just wanted a spot on the court. Instead, I spent my final three years of high school as the volleyball and basketball manager.

From the bench, I watched my classmates and friends serve, set, spike, pass, dribble, shoot, rebound, and score points for the Lady Pirates. They played some serious ball while I sat on the sidelines and kept stats.

During those three years of side court viewing I realized a few things:

  • On the sidelines no one would scrutinize my playing ability.
  • On the sidelines I couldn’t be accused of slacking off, or missing the winning shot, or shanking the game point serve.
  • On the sidelines I would never face the pressure of knowing that my next move would determine who won the game or who lost.

Throughout those three years, as I embraced the coach’s definition of my talent, I determined that the sidelines were safer.

And I never tried out for another sport.

Even years after high school, I allowed the coach’s words to dominate my life and become the reason for why I couldn’t or wouldn’t venture off the bench.

The bench had become my safe zone.

Honestly though, as a child of God, I don’t believe God wanted me to be crippled by that line.

If anything, I believe God wanted me to understand that life sometimes brings disappointment, and hopes and dreams may shatter. However, confining myself to the bench isn’t necessarily the best resolution. Because something doesn’t turn out as planned, doesn’t mean I should give up completely. It just means I need to evaluate the turn of events and make some alterations.

If I had viewed that coach’s words in a different light, I would have considered her proclamation as a challenge to prepare for the next seasons tryouts instead of hanging my head and embracing the security of the bench.

Ironically, underneath the surface, something was happening that I never expected. As the coach’s words simmered in my soul, God began using those words to shape in me a deep sense of compassion for the under dog.

To this day, I am drawn to:

  • The lesser-known player on the bench
  • The student who struggles academically
  • The person who seems lonely and sad
  • The outcast
  • The downtrodden
  • The overlooked and under appreciated

It took awhile, but over time, God soothed my wounded heart and graciously supplied me with the necessary strength to leave the bench.

As I walked away from the sidelines I realized something new:

  • Remaining on the sidelines involves little risk.
  • The comfort of the sidelines can become paralyzing.
  • From the sidelines, I cannot experience the thrill of a personal win.

The other day, while sitting in the bleachers watching my students play basketball, moments of life lived in the safe zone flooded my mind. As I left the gym and ventured towards the parking lot, I again thanked God for helping me break free from the safe zone.

Has something from your past placed you on the bench? Have you embraced the sidelines because it feels safer there? Isn’t it time to allow God to help you break free from the safe zone?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.


Photo is compliments of


2 thoughts on “Breaking Free From The Safe Zone

  1. I spent years putting off writing, as much as I loved to write and wanted to write, because the people I cared about most and wanted cheering me on when I told them I would be a published author someday had responded with “we’ll believe it when we see it”. Those words crushed something within me and it took years and the words of my own son to give me the courage I needed to get back on the path to writing. I still fear sharing some of my writing sometimes, but I force myself out of that comfort zone; off of that sideline, and I am making progress. It may be slow and steady, but I am writing.

    I know two other people with similar stories in regard to writing. I believe many people have struggled with similar issues because of stinging, cutting words from someone they looked up to. It’s so good to have a loving, heavenly Father who encourages us, nudges us and places others in our lives to encourage us to get off the bench and try again.


    • Thank you for sharing, Kelly. I’m sad to hear of the pain you’ve walked through, but thankful for the confidence and wisdom of your son, and the healing balm of our Heavenly Father.

      I totally understand what you are saying about the fear of sharing your writing. It often grips me too. Every writer I hear from pushes through that same emotion. Learning that I’m not the only one who deals with that has helped me.

      I’m glad you are making progress with your writing goals. Keep pushing ahead and relying on Him. Blessings, Jill


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