Benchwarmers get a tough break! The stereotype behind a benchwarmer is usually they are not as good as the starters so they’re back up; just in case.
But have you ever truly thought about a benchwarmer? Truly thought about their role? If you’ve never been one I wouldn’t expect you to know. But I know the bench all too well. My thoughts of benchwarmers have been bundled up inside ever since my days of being the big fish in the little pond was over and I became the little fish in the big pond and had to accept my role as a benchwarmer.
For all the current, past, and present athletes I hope you read this in its entirety and I hope you have a little more appreciation for the bench warmers, the second stringers.
I played two years of Division One Softball at the University at Buffalo; Go Bulls! My career ended after two injuries and a choice between being a walk on bench warmer or a four year scholarship recipient for the Army ROTC program. One of the hardest choices I have ever had to make, walking away from softball; even after only being a benchwarmer.
Let’s face it. We do not get enough credit; at all. You may be wondering- why should you? You’re not the Derek Jeter or the Jennie Finch. No we’re not. If anything if feel benchwarmers have it even harder and here’s why.
For me, all the sports, all the teams I’ve played on the benchwarmers were never priority in practice. It makes sense right? Why give your second string more cuts? Why give them more live at bats? They aren’t the ones playing 7 innings a game, 4 games a weekend. So that is the first obstacle. Benchwarmers get less opportunities in practice. That is a fact. Sure you can stay late, or go early and practice.. on your own. Maybe grab a teammate or two. But do you really think your coach wants your number one pitcher throwing extra batting practice to the second string? Not exactly. So we see less of the best as well. We see less real live scenarios. When you have a scrimmage, obviously first string gets to bat and play the field probably for the first four or five innings. They get 2-3 at bats. Then finally lets give the benchwarmers an inning or two. One at bat, maybe two.
I cannot tell you how many times I was hoping in a scrimmage for my second at bat. Being on triple deck, then double, finally on deck! Now a second at bat to prove to my coach I’m better than yesterday. Oops, the first stringer comes in from class. I get pushed to the side and don’t get my next at bat. That happened more often than not.
I was an outfielder, so once again good luck getting reps, especially in a scrimmage. How the heck am I supposed to show my coach I’m worthy of playing time if I get one inning in the outfield and no one hits it out there? Sure I can make sure I’m talking and covering the right bag. But what if I don’t get to show my arm? Or my first drop step back, or a diving catch? Three outs to hope for a ball to be hit to me. Three potential chances out of a three plus hour practice.
Benchwarmers are the back bone and I will tell you why. I just proved that we see less action in practice. So finally its game time. The benchwarmers are usually helping out in the bull pen warming up the pitchers or helping warm up the outfields in between innings. Not only do the benchwarmers need to constantly know the situation of the game (just like the starters do of course) but we have to worry about preparing and helping out starters stay warm. Lovely. I need to take my eye off the pitcher, not see how the defense is playing so I can go warm up our pitcher. Right on. But wait; the first string has struck out looking at their third at bat. Boom, coach puts you in. Wait what?
Hold the phone. You’re telling me, the benchwarmer who maybe got 5 live at bats all week long in practice, maybe took twenty cuts in pregame warm-up, is going to be put in because your first string cannot hit the pitcher? And you EXPECT the second string to OUT PERFORM the first string?!?!?! I am not wrong for saying this. Because we all know its true. It’s like you see the second string go in and its a glimpse of hope! Like yes, Kelli can do it! Haha wait a second, you know I’ve swung a bat like 50 times all week compared to your 1,000? And you know you’ve been watching this pitcher all game, timing her, reading the defense while I was out warming up the pitcher. But I am supposed to come in and save the day? Talk about pressure!!!! And sometimes I pulled through and got a hit. My teammates reactions were priceless haha. “Wow! Good job! Great hit! That was awesome!” .. Gee thanks.. I may not start but I’m not god awful. Or when I didn’t pull through, good luck getting another shot.
And that’s exactly it. Think about the odds, the statistics a benchwarmer gets. And are EXPECTED to OUT PERFORM the FIRST STRINGERS that get way more attention, way more practice than any benchwarmer.
So give us benchwarmers some credit. We try our very best. Our nerves never get to settle when your first at bat is in the sixth inning when you’re down by one run with two outs and a runner on third. The pressure, the expectations of a benchwarmer are on par or if not greater than a starter.
So for all you starters out there, in any sport- first off be humble. Appreciate the attention and time you are given by your coaches. Do not waste a single rep, play, or cut. Use every chance you get to continue showing your coach why you aren’t a benchwarmer. Next, don’t get down on your benchwarmers when they don’t produce. It’s one thing when they are not mentally prepared, but physically they are trying with the best they have. So take the time to help them. Because you are only as good as your weakest link.
And for my fellow benchwarmers- keep kicking ass! Keep proving to your teammates, to your coaches, to yourself that you deserve to be there. Push the starters because you want their spot. Every chance you get put everything into it. There is no excuse for not being mentally prepared. And ask for help. If you have a good coach and good teammates they will never turn you down. They will never tell you cannot have more practice. And if they do, is that a program you really want to represent?
I hope you all enjoyed this. I hope it hit home for you. Softball was my life. And just because I did not start or play four years did not mean I did not love the game or respect it.