Basketball is my favorite sport. I play pick-up ball often and I try to keep up with my favorite college and NBA teams. My entire room is decked out in Celtics gear. "NBA 2K16" is the only video game I play. Unfortunately, I am not that good at actually playing basketball. Luckily for me, I was able to play two years of high school varsity. I grew up in a town of less than 500 people and went to a school with a little more than 100 students, so anyone could be on the basketball team.
I was a consistent benchwarmer during these two years of varsity basketball, which absolutely sucked at the time. I got to see my best friend start every game while I sat way down on the other end of the long row of seats. Granted, he is much more talented at the game, but I wished I was out there starting with him. Deep down I knew I was not fast or talented enough to be a starter. Still, it was not a pleasant feeling to watch others playing a game that I loved to play.
Looking back on it now, I am still kind of angry with my coach for not putting me in more. Like I said, I wasn’t that good, but our record halfway through the season was 1-7, and we were losing some of our key players to injury or due to disciplinary problems. I truly didn’t see us winning another game (we happened to win one more and ended with a 2-16 record), so I didn’t see the harm in putting me in a couple more minutes a game. Even after pulling the coach aside and sincerely asking him if I could play a tiny bit more (not a starter’s amount of minutes, just a couple more), I didn’t get to play much at all.
Not getting to play is an obvious struggle of being a benchwarmer, but as I reflect on my high school years, I realize there are many more that every benchwarmer should be able to relate to. This one is for you my friends!
1. Learning game-plans and plays that you will most likely never be involved in.
In practice, we would always learn new plays and practice our go-to offense on a regular basis. For benchwarmers, trying to understand game-plans is a waste of time if they are never going to be able to apply them on the court themselves. When benchwarmers do go in, they are not focused on the play or game-plan that the coach has issued. At this point, the outcome of the game is usually already decided (either a 20-point lead or a 20-point deficit). Benchwarmers have only one thing on their mind when they get in the game: score. And who could blame them? You only have so many chances to score when you are on the bench all the time.
2. Your water tends to magically disappear, even though you’re not drinking any.
If you bring a personal water bottle with you to the bench, then the water tends to disappear on you even though you haven’t touched it. This happens when a starter forgets their water and needs a quick drink after some intense minutes on the court. As a benchwarmer, this really stinks when you do go in and afterwards your looking forward to that huge gulp of well-deserved water, only to find it gone. Basically, every person on the bench turned into the water boy.
3. You get really familiar with the stat sheet.
Our games always had someone running statistics, but our coach wanted our own set of records to look at in practice. There were usually a couple high schoolers keeping track of the shot chart and stat sheet, but if there was a game they didn’t show up, then guess who’s job it became to do stats? The benchwarmers! This wasn’t the most glamorous thing to be doing while awaiting our turn to maybe go in the game. However, it was nice if one of the starters were being cocky towards the rest of the team. Whoever was running stats could put an extra two or three turnovers under their name.
4. The anxiety when there is a 20-point difference and only five minutes left in the game.
This means that the benchwarmers might go in soon! Oh the anxiety. I would always sit there the entire game and just wish I was out on the court, but when this time approached, my mind would race with questions. Will I actually get to play? Who would I be guarding? What if I’m terrible? What if I take a bunch of shots and miss? What if I don’t get the ball? What if I don’t get in at all? The amount of anxiety I experienced in a matter of seconds was almost nauseating.
5. Your support system in the crowd goes a little too crazy when you do go in.
When I finally did go in, a couple people in the stands, mostly made up of friends who didn’t play ball, went absolutely nuts. People would chant “AarBear” as I walked onto the court. How I hated that nickname. One of my friends also called me “the Dirty 30” as my jersey number was 30 (you know who you are). The cheering was nice, but it was absolutely embarrassing when I went in and missed every shot left and right. People were cheering for me as if I was Allen Iverson, but I played more like Brian Scalabrine. Despite the embarrassment, I appreciate everyone who would cheer for me when I finally got some minutes, especially my girlfriend who made me multiple posters.
6. You get in the game and absolutely suck.
This happened to me every time. I would get in the game and miss every open shot I had, even though during shoot-around I would make almost everything. I would have wide open shots and just botch them for no reason whatsoever. I only scored three points throughout those two years. I was able to get fouled on a layup and I converted an "and-one." Lucky me.
7. The sheer disappointment when you didn’t go in.
I remember walking up to my coach privately and asking if I could get a couple more minutes a game. He told me that I would get more minutes, and the next game I would play at least half the game and possibly even start. I was ecstatic when he told me this. That next day, I was put in with 1:30 left in the game. Not going in the game when you are promised time is the most disappointing thing ever when you are a benchwarmer. I came dangerously close to quitting that night, but one thing kept me from leaving the team.
The friends you make on the bench are a definite positive aspect of being a benchwarmer. We would sometimes watch the game closely, but when we were losing by a lot, we had a ton of great conversations and jokes together. I grew closer to my bench friends and I even valued the time I would spend with them.
This goes for being on a team in general. Even if the minutes are crap and you get disappointed left and right, being on a team is a fulfilling experience. I regret not putting in more work into the game so I could get more minutes, but I do not regret being on the team. It was still a fun basketball experience for me. I advise all high school students to play on their basketball team, or any team at all, if they have the chance. The minutes may not be the best, but the opportunity may be the only chance you ever have to play on an organized team.