Benchwarmers: Invisible but valuable

St. Thomas University Tommies volleyball player Brendan Murphy is a benchwarmer who said the first few years can be hard. (Aaron Sousa/AQ)

Brendan Murphy, a third-year St. Thomas University student and member of the Tommies’ men’s volleyball team, said the first couple of years playing can be hard. For someone who doesn’t get as much playtime as most, the term “benchwarmer” may apply. But to Murphy, it’s something he can adapt to.

“You just have to get used to everything,” he said. “It’s a lot different than playing high school volleyball, it’s much more intense.”

But being a benchwarmer doesn’t mean Murphy isn’t an important asset to the team. Murphy believes everyone has a role to play in practice.

“Everybody pushes one another no matter what their role is to the team,” said Murphy. “We’re all really competitive … and everybody’s a good leader in some form.”

Henri Mallet, Murphy’s head coach, said each player’s role is important, no matter how much time they may spend off the court during games.

He said a successful practice isn’t possible with only six or seven players. Every team has players who don’t get much playing time but every successful team has a role for each of them, said Mallet.

“Being able to come in at a key moment, when the score is a tie and we ask you to come in and serve … That’s a pretty stressful situation, that guy doesn’t play a lot but he’s an important role on our team,” he said.

Players may stay on the bench for many reasons and these reasons may vary depending on the sport. 

John-Ryan Morrison, Tommies’ men’s soccer coach, said there are many reasons why not every player is out on the pitch. In soccer, only five substitutes are allowed during the game.

“One of those [substitutes] has to be saved until the very last minute just in case there’s an injury,” he said.

Nathan Bustard, head coach of the women’s rugby team, said the term is disrespectful to players.

‘Benchwarmer’ carries a very negative connotation that I don’t feel respects the usefulness of players that don’t have a starting role,” said Bustard. “Bench players always have their place on the team.” 

Murphy had some words of reassurance for younger players who may feel discouraged. Staying mentally tough and continuing to improve skills is key, according to Murphy.

“I would say not give up, you’re in your first year,” he said. “Keep your head on your shoulders and push yourself to be better. Push yourself to take it to the next level.”