By Katherine Wright
Traditionally speaking, a middle school benchwarmer spends the majority of the game on the sidelines. While the term is frequently used as an insult to degrade the abilities of specific teammates, there is a certain elegance and shameless luxury of spending most of the game on the bench.
As a retired basketball benchwarmer myself, I can say with some certainty that the bench is not as bad as its reputation insinuates. On the contrary, it will quickly become a place of comfort and relief, a refuge from a sea of athletic and terrifying sixth grade girls.
There was no place like the bench. In the rare moments I was put in the game, I would gaze longingly at its security, its stability, it’s quiet perfection. Out on the court, longing for the safety of the sidelines, there were times I would fall on the ground and be “seriously hurt” and “need to get taken out of the game.” Anything to get back to that bench.
It’s scary out there in the game. Basketballs are flying past your head, other players are getting uncomfortably close and even amongst all this madness, you are still expected to score — or at least prevent the other team from scoring.
In fact, to the rest of your teammates, scoring is more important than everything else. They will do anything and everything to win. So, when you drop the ball, you feel disappointed stares all around you. When the player you’re supposed to be guarding scores a basket, you can literally feel their stress levels rising and their stomachs sinking.
Even when you choose to save your life by ducking instead of attempting to catch the oncoming fireball whipping 100 miles per hour towards your face, you still get in trouble. To a middle school benchwarmer, games might actually be significantly less stressful than practices, in which you are expected to participate and match the abilities of your peers.
One moment that sticks out to me is the time I took a risk and attempted to do a pivot-spin move of some sort in practice, and one of the older girls snarkily pointed out, “It’s called a spin for a reason, you know. You’re supposed to spin.”
Oh, great. Thanks.
The real problem with being a middle school benchwarmer had nothing to do with the bench, and everything to do with my insecurities of not being as talented as everyone else on the team. Every pass they threw seemed to be a little too fast, every look a little too judgemental. Not only does it feel like the mistakes you make are letting the whole team down, but they start to feel constant, inevitable.
However, I fully believe that being a benchwarmer was a positive experience. It teaches you to find confidence in the most deeply uncomfortable situations (a.k.a. middle school basketball), to persevere when things are awkward and difficult and to be okay with being embarrassed. I don’t have a benchwarmer-gone-pro inspirational story, but I am grateful for the experience and proud that I stuck with something even though it would have been way easier not to.
I can’t say I miss it, but I’m glad it happened. At the very least, now I know you’re supposed to spin during the pivot-spin maneuver. Thank goodness for that.