Kudou: Being on reserve doesn't mean you're on break.
In team sports or other team games, if there is a given limit on how many players are allowed to participate (either on the field or in the game itself), it is not unusual to have reserve players in your team. Actually, it is often necessary to have those. If one of your players is unable to participate because e.g. of an injury or from being absent, the reserve player comes into play to take their place. But why aren't they the main players?
The most common reason for being a benchwarmer is simply that the player is lousy at the sport, or at least worse than other players on the team. The rest of the team considers this character The Load. Other times, the player may suffer from Crippling Overspecialization, or have a rare skill that is only occasionally useful in the game. Conversely, they may actually be decent at multiple game skills but is outclassed in all of them by someone in the starting lineup, thus suffering from being a Master of None. More rarely, the player may be skilled, perhaps the best on the team, but is being benched to tactically conceal this fact, or to invoke Put Me In, Coach! to pull off a surprise, last-minute victory.
There could also be other reasons why someone sits on the bench. Maybe it's their personality or the way how they play, maybe it's their relationship with other players, maybe they have a deeper purpose for sitting on the bench, etc.
Sometimes, a character might be Demoted to Extra because a superior character has taken his place and the former main player is now degraded to a benchwarmer. However, in other cases, a character might become an Ascended Extra, ranking up from a benchwarmer to a main player.
Importantly, the benchwarmer has to be a member of his/her team. An outsider who happens to replace someone in the nick of time is not a benchwarmer.
Compare and contrast Benched Hero, when a main player sits on the bench because he is injured, exhausted, or ill, not because there are too many main players. When the benchwarmer is allowed to play and wins the game, see Put Me In, Coach! and Miracle Rally. Closely related to Picked Last. In role-playing video games with a Player Party, this trope often overlaps with Lazy Backup and Can't Catch Up if there is no Leaked Experience.
- Aoki Densetsu Shoot: The second Goal Keeper of Kakegawa High's soccer team is quite inexperienced and thus Team Kakegawa is in trouble when their number 1 Keeper Kenji was mistakenly arrested right before the match in the semi-finals. When Kenji arrives on the field at the nick of time, he blocks a penalty shoot-out that the benchwarmer wouldn't be able to get, especially when the benchwarmer himself is injured.
- In the first season, only three players can participate in a match, but all of the important teams have four members. They usually tend to be All-Star reserve players and they are pretty much interchangeable. However, in White Tigers' case, they have the overshadowed one.
- In G Revolution, only two players are allowed to attend in World Championship matches, which is the reason why Kai, Rei, and Max leave the Bladebreakers, so none of them would end up as benchwarmers or as a sidekick while Takao would get all the glory the third time again. With only three members left, BBA Revolution has Manabu/Kenny as their benchwarmer, and thanks to Drama-Preserving Handicap, he gets a chance to shine once, despite being a bad Beyblader. White Tiger X, the PPB All Starz, and the Blitzkrieg Boys range between four to five members, and all of their benchwarmers are simply overshadowed by their respective main duos. The PPB All Starz benchwarmers are especially unhappy about the degradation they earned since their main duo weren't even members of the original All Starz team. And then we have Barthez Battalion, a (weak) team where all members are interchangeable except their main player Mihaeru/Miguel.
- Captain Tsubasa:
- Manabu Okawa was a reserve player in Nankatsu's elementary school and middle school teams, due to being their worst player, and it is implied that he has eventually given up on playing soccer.
- Nankatsu SC's reserve Goal Keeper Morisaki was originally overshadowed by Wakabayashi, but due to the latter's injury, Morisaki had to take over until the beginning of the National's Finale, giving Nankatsu SC a Drama-Preserving Handicap. But once Wakabayashi left Japan, Morisaki served as the number 1 Goal Keeper for Nankatsu Middle School's team, and now he is the third Goal Keeper in Japan's National Team, behind Wakabayashi and Wakashimazu.
- Despite Wakabayashi being a better goalkeeper than Wakashimazu, he didn't play for Japan's National Team's main Goal Keeper during the U16 World Cup until the finale against Germany, after Wakashimazu was injured during the semi-finals against France. The reason why Wakabayashi didn't attend the previous matches was to give Japan a Drama-Preserving Handicap and to help his teammates grow over themselves.
- Many players of Japan's National Team are either overshadowed by the main star players, are all-star players themselves or few of them function as jokers. Some players such as Wakashimazu aren't happy about that.
- Crush Gear Turbo: A Crush Gear team needs at least three members to enter tournaments, but most teams are shown to have at least four members. The Tobita Team in particular starts out with four members, and since tournament battles are mostly done in a 3-on-3 format, one of them has to sit on the bench. After the Asian Cup, two new members join the team, but they aren't particularly good and don't get the chance to fight in a match.
- In the Karasuno team:
- Sugawara is the Overshadowed type. He's the vice-captain, but he rarely plays as he acknowledges he's not as good as a setter as the talented freshman Kageyama. However, he still possesses some qualities that Kageyama doesn't have, namely experience with the team and a calm demeanor, so he can be switched with Kageyama whenever the situation demands.
- Yamaguchi started out as the Not Good Enough type, but then he trained to be a pinch server, which by the nature of the position, is the Specialist type.
- Meanwhile, the second years Ennoshita, Narita, and Kinoshita are between Overshadowed and Not Good Enough. Ennoshita did receive A Day in the Limelight match that shows him as an adequate replacement for Daichi, but the other two rarely receive any focus at all and are basically team fillers.
- In the first match against Nekoma, Inukai is introduced as the one character who can keep up with Hinata's fast movements, which is a problem for Karasuno as their strategy revolved around it. Yet, when Lev is introduced, Inukai gets demoted to benchwarmer and rarely plays in the matches anymore.
- In the Karasuno team:
- Inazuma Eleven:
- Due to being the worst player in the Raimon soccer team, Megane spends most of the matches on the bench, with his main contribution being giving names to his teammates' hissatsu techniques. In the second season, he is used a bit more often, since a lot of the original members were Put on a Bus and replaced for different reasons and the team often barely has the minimum of 11 players.
- Throughout the first season, several of the members that started off as main players get demoted to benchwarmers when a new member of the same position as them joins the team.
- After Domon joins the team early in the season, Kageno still plays one or two matches as a main player before being fully demoted to benchwarmer by the former. His status as a reserve player becomes a plot point when Ukishima Kazuto, one of the Inazuma Eleven veterans, helps him realize that reserves are just as important as the other players and he can still help his teammates with their hissatsu techniques, which he starts doing.
- Shishido and Handa also get replaced by Kidou and Ichinose respectively after the latter two join the team. They are downplayed examples in the original series since they only get replaced near the end of the season and we don't see enough of them after that to know if they're still reserve players, but the alternate timeline of Ares and Orion shows that they still are.
- While Inazuma Japan is more lax when it comes to benchwarmers, the reserve goalkeeper Tachimukai is still a straight example. While not a bad player, he happens to have the same position as the captain and main character, which is most likely why he's the member who played the least matches in the Football Frontier International.
- Kuroko's Basketball:
- Seirin High's Basketball Club has six benchwarmers, but they fall into two categories. The three second year benchwarmers, Mitobe, Koganei and Tsuchida are the overshadowed players, who aren't bad as players, but they are not central to Seirin's strategy. However, due to Kuroko's nature as a Benched Hero and Kiyoshi's being a Dented Iron, those two have to leave the field very often (especially Kuroko), thus these three benchwarmers are often given the chance to play on the field until the next change. The first year benchwarmers (Furihata, Kawahara and Fukuda) however are simply not good enough and are inexperienced and they are given little to no opportunity to play on the field and they are usually delegated as cheerleaders.
- Due to Teiko Middle School's Basketball Club having six star players, they often switched one of those with the sixth player. Kuroko himself fell into the Specialist category, being an overall bad player, but an excellent pass player.
- During the match between Seirin High and Kirisaki Daichi High, Kentaro Seto serves as the Joker for the latter in the second half, helping Hanamiya to get steals.
- Pokémon: Satoshi/Ash has a lot of Pokémon, but since he can only carry six at the same time, most of them have to stay at Professor Ookido/Oak's laboratory. They belong to the All-Star category since Satoshi tends to carry only those Pokémon he caught in the current region he's in, and they do come back at some given points. Some of them also serve as Jokers.
- Slam Dunk: Team Shohoku heavily relies on their starting lineup, composed of Sakuragi, Rukawa, Akagi, Miyagi, and Mitsui. Kogure is usually the go-to member when there's a need for a substitute, and while Yasuda gets some moments to shine in the nationals, the rest of the members barely get any chance to play at all. Interestingly, Sakuragi himself served as a joker during the practice match against Ryonan, and all of the other starters (except Akagi) were also benched during the Miuradai game as punishment for the fight at the gym.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds: Aki Izayoi from Team 5D's is even titled as the "Benchwarmer" in the fifth ending. She took over for the Second Wheeler Crow when he was injured before the first match began. Aki was injured before the second match and the injured Crow had to take over his position again. Since then, Aki has never attended an official Riding Duel for Team 5D's again, being overshadowed by Yusei, Jack, and Crow in terms of dueling skills and riding skills. Notably, Team 5D's is the only team to have a benchwarmer at all, which makes Aki unique in that regard.
- Noob has a story in which the characters need to build teams of nine people (five on the field, four backups) to play a Fictional Sport that was recently introduced in the MMORPG in which the story is set. The team made of the game's top players from both the Empire and the Coalition only adds up to eight and Saphir interviews people to fill the vacant slot. Saphir is so picky that she just plain runs out of applicants and chooses the last guy in line just so the team technically has nine people, explicitly telling him he won't be allowed to actually play. Subverted in that the guy is so happy that he blurts out that he'd be fine just being the team's mascot and a later panel shows that Saphir took him up on that offer.
- FoxTrot: Peter really, really sucks at baseball, so he is usually a reserve player when on the team. Note that he's only let on the team when the coach has no choice (like when half the players were caught cheating on tests).
- Chicken Little: When the titular character decides to sign up for baseball in hopes of redeeming himself to the public, he is treated the same way as before with the team not even giving him a chance to go up for bat and just keeping him on the bench for all the games. In the one game where he finally does get to go up for bat, he is told not to swing and go for a walk by the coach while the audience complains that he's going to lose the game. Not only does Chicken Little ignore the coach's demand, he manages to score the winning run for the team.
- In Better Luck Tomorrow, Ben makes the basketball team but never gets to play because he isn't very good. This becomes a plot point when Daric convinces the whole school that Ben's been benched due to racism. The publicity from this causes Ben to quit the basketball team but draws him closer to Daric's influences.
- Friday Night Lights: Chris Comer, who refers to himself as Boobie's backup backup third string. This is later subverted when Comer steps into Boobies position and becomes a star player in his own right. The epilogue reveals Comer led Permian to a state championship the following year.
- Attempted by Rikard's pétanque team in The Giant (2016). After he wanders in front of someone during a game and gets hit in the head with a boule, causing a head injury that lands him in the hospital, the team bans him from playing in games, although he can still participate in other club activities. Instead, he and Roland found their own two-man team, called Zughi BK.
- In Napoleon Dynamite, Uncle Rico is a washout who spends all his time pining for his Glory Days on his high school football team. But the more he talks about the good old days, the clearer it becomes that he never got to play any games. Rico's convinced that if the coach had put him in at the crucial game in 1982, their team could have gone all the way to state finals, and he could have had a career as a pro player.
- Roy Hobbs in The Natural is a talented player who spends a long time warming the bench because manager Pop Fisher resents having to field anyone as old as Roy. He proves himself as soon as a player shortage gives him a chance to.
- In The Odd Life of Timothy Green, Timothy is kept perpetually on the bench during soccer games. His parents manage to convince the coach to give him a chance to play... and that backfires miserably as Timothy ends up accidentally scoring the winning goal for the opposing team.
- The title character of Rudy busts his body, heart, and soul to get on Notre Dame's college football team. In spite of this, the coaches never put him into the actual games, preferring to keep Rudy on the practice squad in spite of his passion and talent for defense. Eventually, the entire team refuses to dress for a game unless Rudy is allowed to play in what would be his last chance. Even then, Rudy still ends up as a benchwarmer until the very last play.
- In Some Guy Who Kills People, Amy constantly talks about being on the basketball team. However, her father Ben eventually learns that she has never played in a game, and she explains that the coach needed eight players for a team, and only eight girls showed up for the tryouts.
- In Youngblood (1986), Dean spends several hockey games benched because his coach is mad at him for dating his daughter, even though they haven't actually started dating yet.
- Ender's Game: When Ender is assigned to Bonzo's army in Battle School, Bonzo mistakes the improbably young boy for an attempt at sabotage by the School administration and forbids him from taking part in the battles. By the fourth such match, he disobeys the order and singlehandedly turns a loss into a draw, making Bonzo hate him all the more.
- Invoked by Vivy's mom in Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen! After Vivy is hit by a ball and gets a concussion, her mom bans her from playing in anything other than practice games for over a month.
- Operation Do-Over: Mason does display some good stamina and tolerance for pain on the football field, but he's only ever the backup for another backup player. He only gets to play when the coach is desperate or wants to teach Dominic a lesson for mocking Mason's inclusion on the team. Mason does get some good accidental athlete moments, like causing another a rival team's player to accidentally trip over him, earning a pivotal moment, but he never reaches the level of the other players. Even in the altered timeline, back in 2021, Mason still gets minimal playing time after five years on the team, although he's fine with this.
- Referenced in one episode of M*A*S*H when Trapper John indicates that his "football injury" is hemorrhoids from all the time he spent on the bench.
- In Mustangs FC, Marnie and Liv need a certain number of players to be able to register the team for the competition. Out of desperation, they recruit the very un-sporty Goth girl Bella on the understanding that she will be a 'non-playing player', i.e. she just has to turn up to make up the numbers and will never have to take the field. However, when the team acquires an actual coach, he tells her that there is no such thing as a 'non-playing player' and makes her train and puts her into games where she gradually gains some skills.
- In Football Manager, and just about any other sports management game, this trope is guaranteed to occur - you will have players who aren't good enough to make the starting line-up, or don't fit the tactics you're using, or who, for whatever reason, you just don't like. Some players are content to be benchwarmers, but most will grow unhappy about it and eventually request a transfer.
- Persona 2: A random NPC in Innocent Sin played the Joker game and asked him to improve his athletic performance so he's no longer a benchwarmer. Joker grants that wish, but then his team manager grows very suspicious and thinks that he had cybernetic enhancements, which she shares with everyone. And since Persona 2 operates under Clap Your Hands If You Believe, his arm becomes mechanical, and now he's warming a hospital bed instead.
- Chowder: In "Big Ball", Mung Dahl, after taking over as coach for one of the teams, invokes this with Chowder, due to the kid's lack of athleticism, and claims that warming the bench is an important job. Chowder takes this literally, trying to warm the bench with radiators and hairdryers, then finally setting it on fire.
- The Classic Disney Shorts:
- In the Goofy short "How to Play Football", star player Swivel Head Smith is only brought into play when the team needs a winning touchdown. When Smith is incapacitated, the coach desperately tries to revive him while the other players get creamed by the opposing team. When Smith shows meager signs of life, he gets thrown back into the field and, with help from the rest of the team, staggers half-conscious to the end zone for the win.
- On another Goofy cartoon, "Double Dribble", one of the players on the visiting basketball team is ridiculously short, and is always on the bench, begging to be let in. During the second half, the players keep getting fouled out and alternates are sent in; eventually, all the alternates are out... except for the little guy. The coach reluctantly lets him play, and against all odds, he ends up sinking the winning basket.
- In Futurama, Leela's short run as a blernsball player was a cross between this and Dancing Bear. She was terrible at it, due to her cyclopean lack of depth perception, but her status as the first female blernsball player (combined with her tendency to accidentally hit opposing players with her pitches) meant she would often be brought off the bench just to entertain the crowd.
- The Replacements: In "Todd Strikes Out", it's made clear that Shelton is his team's benchwarmer. The team considered him the worst player and actively tried to argue against their coach letting him play due to him being the only player not put in the game. The first time he was put in he lost, and when Todd faked injury so Shelton could play in the championship, he only helped the team win by sheer luck.
- In The '90s, Liverpool FC (and Israeli international) Ronny Rosenthal had the misfortune to be a merely above-average player in a team squad made up of world-beating excellence. Ronnie very rarely started a game and was often found on the subs' bench, but whenever he was brought on, he changed the game, getting him the nickname of "Supersub"note .
- An infamous example of a benchwarmer was Winston Bogarde, who signed for Chelsea in 2000 and made just eleven appearances in four seasons after falling out with manager Claudio Ranieri. Bogarde was earning £40,000 a week at Chelsea (which was a huge amount back then, especially for a defender), and knew no one else could or would match it, so he stuck around partly to carry on earning that massive wage, and partly to spite Chelsea for refusing to play him in the first place.