Bench warmers: Weathering the uphill battle

By Nick Sobel
Published: October 2009

Exhausted. That’s how I felt as I climbed submissively onto a school bus in Bedford after another long, hard-fought game by the freshman basketball team.

Despite my exhaustion, I felt no sense of achievement, no sense of sacrifice. I felt no pride when we won the game on a late 10-0 run in overtime. In fact, I felt as though I were hardly on the team at all.

The reason for these feelings had nothing to do with a self-imposed feeling of inadequacy due to the subconscious workings of my teenage brain. The reason I felt this disconnect between my teammates and myself was because I was a bench player. I had thrown everything I had into this experience and was not being rewarded accordingly.

I had tried out for the team on a whim. I played basketball both in school and for travel teams throughout middle school, but I had come to accept that that would probably be the full extent of my career.

After playing a few pick up games with friends late in the summer, I had decided that I might as well try out. What could go wrong?

Needless to say, I ended up making the team. At first, I felt badly about taking spots from kids I thought might have wanted it more. This quickly subsided as I realized that I was out of my league and would have to focus much more playing on a team with so many great players.
As the season began, all of us on the team started to understand our roles more and more. I started to realize that on this team, my minutes of playing time would be few and far between.

I started to ask myself whether it was worthwhile to spend two and a half hours every day at practice. It was exhausting. I had practice from 5:00 to 7:30 every day and usually didn’t get to bed until midnight.

The lack of sleep combined with the lack of achievement made me irritable. I had no time to spend with friends and had nothing to show for it. By the time the season was over, I wasn’t exactly jumping at the opportunity of doing it all again the next season.

A common misconception about bench players is that they are less committed to the team. A lot of them make excuses to skip practice, complain about their playing time, or generally detract from everyone else’s experience.

One thing that is often overlooked by those who criticize these behaviors, is that the commitment required to swallow one’s pride and accept the consequences is far greater than that of the star athlete for whom everything comes easily.

Senior Greg Gruener said it best: “It just sucks when the coach brings you on, and you show up expecting to play, but you’re overlooked without being given a chance to prove yourself.

To fight an uphill battle, day in, day out, is one of the greatest commitments one can make.

Sometimes, however, players are motivated to raise their games when they are sat down on the bench. Senior Gabe Feldstein is an example of how the pressure to perform can force a player to raise his or her game.

“When I started out on the bench as a freshman, I had to put in a lot of hard work to get the opportunity to start. That hard work is something that makes everything I do now more special.

Success stories like these, unfortunately, are uncommon. With the decrease in self confidence brought on by time on the bench, it is very difficult for some kids to look at their situations positively.

Although bench players are often inexperienced and ineffective, their efforts should at least be admired and appreciated.

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