Power Ranking the Game’s Unsung Heroes

Credit: USA Water Polo

By: Adam King

We all know them and love them. They provide the little things that make the team tick and some pivotal help along the way… I’m talking about the various (and always entertaining) positions of “bench guy”. This is not subject to men or women, age or talent level. This is merely a power ranking of the various roles on the bench that raise any run of the mill program up to the big leagues.

I’m not taking a shot at bench players in general, not in the slightest. No matter who you are, by rite of passage, everyone was a bench player at one point in their career. I was certainly one when I first started playing Water Polo in High School. Whether you’re new to the game, your coach wants you to learn first hand by watching, or some more talent is brought onto the team and you just barely missed the cut for starter, there is still opportunity to shine in your role. All the best teams have these various roles, ranging from star player to glue guy to first off the bench. All of these positions culminate in a fully cohesive team, and each member plays its part. 

  • 5 – The executive interim assistant bench coach (not to be confused with the actual assistant coach, who has a real job to do): This title is a bit more of a dig than anything, but it had to be said and still plays a useful role on the team. It’s that one teammate on the bench who, for some reason, feels the compulsive need to echo exactly what the coach is saying in a slightly different way. The one who yells “yeah guys just keep up the pressure! Press the pass and don’t let them drive-ball side”. Or the “Just don’t let them score on this next possession and we’ll be good”. Quite literally stating the most basic functions of the game and more times than not, exactly what the coach just said not 2 seconds prior. Yet, this never stops them from continuing to express their feelings on the state of the game, and what they think the team should be doing differently. They act as if their word is gospel, despite being… on the bench. Now you might be asking yourself “What purpose does this individual play that is beneficial?”. Well, every superhero movie needs a common enemy to build camaraderie among the audience. I present to you the Joker. (Sorry to break it to you, but if you’re trying to think of who this is on your team and you can’t quite think of anyone, well… )
  • 4 – The Hangover Guy: Coming in at number four is, admittedly, a bit of a personal pick. This might be exclusive to club Water Polo teams (a fair assumption this doesn’t take place in high-school or D1) but this role more or less reveals itself in time. This guy is so hungover from the night before that he’s struggling to even have a pulse on the bench, much less participate in literally any way shape or form. This has to be my favorite bench position of all time (albeit maybe not the most important), as its provided me with some hilarious stories as depicted in the following photo.
The above photo was the epitome of our “designated” severely hungover, close to death, bench guy. One day as we’re getting ready to play, we start stretching in the stands and I look over to see Tom (we’ll just call him Tom to protect his drunken identity). Tom is hunched over rag doll style, contemplating death, and I notice that his pants have a weird cuff like thing on the bottom. Upon closer inspection, and a quick rolled up pant leg, it is discovered to be to be two sets of pants. My man literally put on a second pair of pants over the first, because that’s just the kind of morning he was having. Absolute stuff of legends, and someone that is always fun to have as a bench guy, as it pairs nicely with the funny guy. 
  • 3 – Keeper of the balls: Next up we have unquestionably one of the more “subject to be yelled at” roles in our sport. We’ve all had a tournament or two where somehow, without fail, you leave with one less ball in your bag than you came with. The ball guy is not only tasked with making sure the balls all safely make it back into the bag at the end of shooting, but that they are in the water during warm up at the appropriate time. Too quick on the draw leads to a pissed off coach who believes pre-game conditioning is key to success. Too slow, and you piss off the guys who just want to rip shots at the cage and get a feel for the water. This support player is a true keeper of the keys when it comes to pregame warmups and, inadvertently, the longevity of your limited budget (due to requesting new balls after every tournament). 
  • 2 – Beverage guy: Number two is no number two. This individual is essential in assisting with the rejuvenation and ongoing excellence of performance in the water. They not only have to be sure to bring the carrier during each time out, but you also have to make sure you’re on your A game during quarter  breaks so that everyone has the hydration they need to perform at the highest level. Drop the carrier, tip over the cooler, or overthrow the bottle to your hole set on a 30 second timeout, and you relinquish your position to the line of guys hoping to take up the mantle.
    • Just make sure you trust this person. One day after a lengthy and tough second quarter, I was tossed a water bottle which I promptly took a massive swig of just to discover it was, in fact, Skul Vodka. Not the best time in the world. (Off season club Water Polo is a different animal.)
  • 1 – The funny guy: Coming in at number one is one of the more prestigious and difficult to fill positions. Let’s face it, all water polo players are hilarious and the life of the party, however the funny guy takes it one step further. They are tasked with keeping the mood light, the good times rolling, and making sure the team is tilt-proof. When spirits are low, the funny guy needs to be there for a quick and efficient one liner. Whether it be comments about people in the stands, the refs, or the opposing players, their mind is always on in search of the next joke. And for that, we thank you.  

These brazen men and women come in all shapes, sizes, forms and figures. They may be your dorm mate, your best friend, or someone you don’t quite get along with. However, no matter who they are, they play a pivotal role in our sport and on any team. Providing a much needed break from the tension of the grueling sport we all know and love. Sometimes when the lights are brightest, an unsung hero emerges.

Some may call them the lifeblood of any great team. I call them the bench guys. 

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