The Science of Bench Warming

Growing up a competitive, hard-working, and talented athlete I spent little time on the bench… (there is more to that story so just keep reading)

Maybe your story is different. Maybe you are reading this because you are looking for drills or secrets that will get you off the bench.

But I am not here to help you be a better physical player. And I am definitely not here to tell you to be satisfied with being on the bench.

I am here to help you become the best second-string (or third, or fourth…) teammate there is!

So here is my story…

No, I did not spend a lot of time on the bench as a young player or high school-er. In fact, there was not one team that I did not start for in the first almost 10 years of my career.

I am only telling you this to prove the point that I was not accustomed to the bench, how to act on the bench, how to be part of the second-string, or how to be a truly good teammate.

A truly good teammate works hard, competes, and makes their team better every single day, no matter what the starting line-up says.

It’s easy to be a good teammate when everything is going your way.

I got my first wake-up call when I stepped foot on the campus of University of Florida to start my freshman year of division 1 volleyball. Obviously I realized and was told I had a lot to learn and the chances of me playing were pretty low that first year. After all, a majority of everyone playing division 1 volleyball was the best player in their area, on their team, and so on. When you put 15-20 people together who were all the best, and only 6 people can play at a time, you end up with a lot of heartbreak, disappointment, and selfishness.

Here’s what NOT to do when you find yourself not playing:

Talk badly about coaches or teammates – especially to other teammates! – because you think you deserve to be on the court

Have a bad attitude and effort in practice because you’re not starting

Cry or pout in front of teammates/coaches because of your situation

Get distracted while on the bench, not cheer for teammates, cross your arms, etc

Now back to my story,

As the time came for season to start, I was not in the starting line-up, and little did I know this would not be the last time. This was the beginning of a long line of seasons where I would be starting off in second-string.

But from that freshman season on, I decided I would be the most supportive teammate I could possibly be. I would take any opportunity I had to make my team better.

I would be the best scout team setter. I would do whatever my team needed me to do. I would get extra reps. I would study film twice as hard as everyone so that I would know exactly how to imitate the other team; the plays they ran and when, the speed of the offense, the defensive positioning, who they set in what circumstances…all of it.

I would cheer loudly and genuinely for my teammates. I would pay attention during games and not drift off and get distracted.

I would do everything I would be doing if I was on the court, and then some!

**This also goes for those of you who were starting and got hurt or demoted. I’ve been there too, and that gets into an even harder situation because you are also mad that you aren’t able to play… But keep reading!

The hardest season was the Fall of 2014, my first season with Oregon State University and my redshirt sophomore year. I had finally recovered from knee surgery and was playing well and confident. But I was still not starting. There was a 5th year senior setter, a great leader, and a hard worker who had earned the starting job.

I made it my goal to make my team better in whatever way I could. And by the end of the 2014 season we were heading to the Sweet 16. Instead of pouting and feeling sorry for myself that I had nothing to do with it, I confidently told myself daily that I had every bit as much to do with our success as the starting outside hitter. I knew I had left it all on the floor. I knew I had made my teammates better by challenging them every single day with the second-string team. I knew I cheered them on and supported them throughout the entire season.

I am not telling you it is not hard!

Yes, there are bad days. A lot of them. There was a lot of crying behind closed doors and on the back of bus seats.

There are times that you think it is not fair, that you should be the one out there.

There are times you want to just quit everything you’ve worked for and give up.

For me, there was a lot frustration, negative self-talk, and a lot of confidence lost.

However, I never lost confidence that I made my team better and that I helped them to the Sweet 16 that year.

You don’t have to be on the court to make an impact. You don’t have to be the starting player for teammates to like you. You don’t have to be the all-american outside hitter to be a good teammate and treat them well.

But you DO need to:

Selflessly give up your wants and needs for the good of the TEAM.

Focus on your TEAM’S success, not your personal “failure” to fulfill your dream.

Commit every practice to making the TEAM better.

Genuinely be happy for, encourage, and support your TEAMMATES.

Persevere to work even harder to chase your dreams of being that STARTER.

I have complete faith that I learned so much more about life, people, and sports while sitting/standing on the bench than I ever would have learned if I didn’t have to deal with those hard situations. Whether your career is filled with bench-warming or your only destined for a season or two, it will always be difficult for competitive athletes to find it in themselves to work hard and not reap the rewards of play time. But, by being a good teammate you show your team that they are worth more, and that the team’s success is worth more, than your dreams and desires.

And after all, that is what being on a team is all about.

Gators vs. Jacksonville 09-17