Big Fish in a JV Pond or Small Fish in a Varsity Pond?

All self-respecting athletes loathe bench warming. Playing a sport is inherently active, so being in close proximity to the action without the opportunity to participate is an understandably frustrating experience.

All self-respecting athletes loathe bench warming. Playing a sport is inherently active, so being in close proximity to the action without the opportunity to participate is an understandably frustrating experience. Having to sit back and watch a contest in which one knows he or she cannot affect the outcome evokes a range of emotions, none of which are typically positive, from athletes. So when one encounters a choice between playing a little on a varsity team or playing more at a sub-varsity level, which is the better choice? There is no correct answer, and based on one’s aspirations, both options can be equally as rewarding.

Playing time aside, most dedicated athletes desire the varsity designation and spend their athletic careers working towards earning it. Being a member of a varsity team provides an undoubted boost in self-confidence. After all, it is a confirmation of hard work and one’s evident ability and skill. Even if it leads to little playing time, being selected for a varsity team ultimately means that an athlete is respectable and qualified for a high level of competition. Varsity status provides bragging rights of sorts and is sought after by all competitive athletes. Simultaneously, playing a varsity sport requires an athlete to maintain or improve their level of performance as a means of keeping up with teammates and the competition.

On the other hand, the benchwarmer designation is one who spends more time on the bench than on the field playing. Benchwarming often provokes frustration with oneself, one’s teammates, or a coach. In some situations, that frustration turns inward on oneself for an apparent lack of ability which prevents him or her from being given the opportunity to affect the game. It is natural for many athletes who expect to play but end up on the bench, to possibly get frustrated over his or her teammates’ mistakes, thinking one could do better in the same situations. Other sources of frustration include a coach’s perceived inability to recognize the athlete’s skill, physical capabilities, or mental fortitude in the team’s time of need.

Ultimately, the more productive choice depends on what the athlete’s goal is. Obviously, if playing time is the primary goal, an athlete should desire to play at a level where their presence on the field is merited. At a sub-varsity level, perhaps an athlete has the opportunity to take the risks necessary and experiment in order to improve and is free of the pressures that come with the fear of making a mistake at a higher level. However, at a sub-varsity level, an athlete runs the risk of outgrowing the competition and stalling his or her own development as a result. In other words, some athletes benefit from being around a high level of competition while some can take advantage of weaker competition to improve confidence and ability. Neither is better; they simply serve athletes differently. If the goal is to play at the highest level possible, then a varsity team provides that function and forces the athlete to perform to their highest capacity on a day-to-day basis in order to prove themselves.

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