Bench Blues

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By Taeeba Sadaar

Every varsity team has one, or more. But although players who spend most of their time on the bench — sometimes known as “benchwarmers” — are an integral part of any team, they often don’t feel that way.

Rebecca Sinnesael, 19, likes being on the Ryerson women’s basketball team.

As a designated rebounder she’s meant to play hard on both the defensive and offensive ends of the court, but she admits that she doesn’t get to participate in games very often ; Sinnesael spends most of her time sitting on the bench but don’t call her a benchwarmer — she rejects the term entirely.

“Subs support players on the court,” said Sinnesael. “It’s effective because it livens up the intensity of the team.”

Often overlooked by audiences and athletes alike, subs act as the support system of most teams, and endure grueling hours of practice with the starters while rarely sharing the spotlight.

But is it possible for athletes to remain positive even as they are constantly overlooked?

Not according to Judy Goss, a sports psychologist with the Sports Centre of Ontario, who says bench players tend to feel disconnected from their terms and eagerly wait for the chance to demonstrate their abilities.

“They have a function,” said Goss. “They are striving for the same goal — to play well and win — but they do this a different way.”

In particular, Goss says alienation among bench players is common with teams where coaches don’t communicate objectives and goals.

Consequently, she believes that coaches should strive to foment cohesion among teammates and prevent internal rifts.

But Jon Sanderson, head coach of the women’s soccer team, adopts a more pragmatic view, arguing that most decisions are made out of necessity.

“You have to start with your strongest athletes in order to field the best team possible,” said Sanderson.

“At this level winning is a big factor that determines who plays, and when,” she said. “We are trying to produce a results-oriented approach to sports at the varsity level. For this reason, someone has to sit on the bench.”

It is one of the hardest things to do as an athlete but sometimes being a bench player is a fact of life, even though they are not always the worst athletes on a team — often times they are injured; being disciplined for a bad attitude; or need more time to hone their athletic craft.

Kate Hays, who has a PhD in sports and clinical psychology and owns her own sports consulting firm — Performing Edge — said, “everybody would rather be playing in the game than sitting on the bench. A person who isn’t first string really needs to be positive and recognize his or her skills. They key is not to let it affect you personally. They need to learn how to stay focused so when they’re called onto the field, they are ready to play.”

Alan Goldberg, a basketball consultant with the University of Connecticut, adds that too much time spent on the bench can have significant drawbacks.

“Far too many basketball players sit on the bench and stew about not getting enough playtime,” said Goldberg. “When the coach finally puts them in, they’re not mentally prepared and can’t get in the flow so they play poorly and are quickly benched again.”

Moving onto the court, ice-rink or field after inactivity isn’t easy, but Sanderson said that subs shouldn’t take a resigned attitude during their tenure on the bench.

“Bench players are always in a tough position to advance themselves,” said Sanderson. “The two main ways of gaining a starting spot is outworking or outperforming a starter in training or to play in games and show the coaching staff that they deserve to be out there.”

Until such a moment arrives Sinnesael plans to make the most of her time spent on the sidelines.

“It’s a learning year,” said Sinnaesael. “Rebounding is my goal and this is a good team.”


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