A View from the Bench

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by Christopher Liew (15S06E)


Benchwarming, to those unfamiliar to sports, is the act of sitting out on the sidelines and waiting for your turn to get called up onto the ‘battlefield’. Just as you might think, the phrase ‘benchwarming’ comes with its fair share of negative connotations, as it is a euphemistic term to describe someone who just isn’t good enough to make it onto the starting lineup. Sports CCAs in our schools are popular and successful; some are even good enough to have the title ‘National Champions’ emblazoned onto their long lists of achievements on an annual basis. However, this conscious coupling of success and popularity has created the problem of saturation in some sports CCAs.

Admittedly, the benchwarming present at our level of competitive sports is merely a shadow of what it’s like in countries such as the US, where a thick competitive climate is present. Even then, we cannot deny that it exists here as well. One thing is clear though: the more passionate an individual is about the sport, the harder it is for them to accede to benchwarming in the long term. This should not be happening, especially when they invest so much into their craft.

Passion establishes a dichotomy for those sitting on the bench: between those who are passionate but lack the skills to play, and those who are warming up their seats due to the dearth of passion in their play. I believe that the nature of sports is one that exemplifies meritocracy; we therefore cannot eradicate benchwarming from sports culture because it is an effect of the system. But as much as benchwarming will continue to occur, we as a school and a culture can and should help the former group of benchwarmers make the most of their time doing what they like. After all, passion should be a mandate on any sportsman’s curriculum vitae; without it, why even play the sport?

At this crucial stage in our scholastic journey, passion for anything aside from more paperwork may seem unwise, and the courage to pursue that passion, especially in sports, can border on foolishness. However, it is because of this passionate hunger that sportsmen have for their sports that we should be reciprocating by giving these sportsmen a simple chance. Yes, they may not be stellar in practice; yes, there may be more talent and potential in others; and yes, they may not have the experience of others, but why should we marginalise them for that? I am sure we are all au courant with the tales of underdogs in the sporting industry, such as Jeremy Lin, and the reason why so many underdogs emerge from playing sports. Therefore, instead of being worried about losing a game, or narrowing the team’s chances of winning a national title, saturated sports CCAs should give these passionate individuals who have become shadows a chance. From this, these individuals will have the opportunity to experience not only the sport but also the club itself, giving them an experience which will resonate with them for a lifetime.

The effects of benchwarming transcend that of players not getting an opportunity to prove themselves — they are also a deterrent to those who want to try out sports. Many who come into Junior College make major CCA transitions, with numerous students making the change from uniformed-groups to sports or even to the arts and aesthetics. However, in a school with an illustrious array of sportsmen joining these clubs through direct school admissions, the average ‘transitioner’ would find themselves disinclined to even try applying for a sports CCA. CCAs which are generous enough to give others a chance to try their hand at a sport they are interested in, such as floorball, are far too few. Most sports CCAs are still far too invested in the fallacy that winning is the most important goal.

Instead of lambasting the lack of opportunities for both the benchwarming camp and these ‘transitioners’, I feel that a new category of sports CCAs can be created. That does not mean increasing the variety of sports available — it means that we should expand our recreational sporting activities. The current recreational sports available are limited to only badminton and trampoline gym, but there is definitely room for expansion, especially for more popular sports such as soccer, basketball and frisbee. This would allow for a compromise between our fixation on winning and giving everyone a chance to play a sport that they really enjoy. Furthermore, those who ultimately get cut from the team can opt to join the recreational CCA temporarily. That way, they get to enjoy playing the sport by taking it at a slower pace, rather than engaging in intensive drills and scrimmages. I believe that this would improve the quality of everyone’s time spent at CCAs whilst also helping to mould a more active and inclusive sports culture at RI.  The question therefore lies in whether the school can and will allocate resources towards the cultivation of recreational sports, especially when there is more to gain from competitive sports. This constraint on resources may be a stumbling block in the path of developing recreational sports, but I believe that the fewer sessions and shorter hours of recreational sports could allow for a sharing of pre-existing equipment, allowing for a compromise on resources.

Benchwarming matters, not because someone is being a crybaby about not making the team or not getting as many minutes as he would like. It’s because it is about creating an inclusive culture for our sports CCAs, instead of the exclusive shroud that surrounds sports CCAs, where winning has become the sport.

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