"The bench": An investigation of sport team sub-culture in women's collegiate volleyball

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Robert C. Bogdan


Women's athletics, Benchwarmers, Subculture, Collegiate, Sport, Team, Volleyball

Subject Categories



The fanfare of traditional rivalries in college athletics and society's fascination with win-loss records has obscured the sociological and psychological impact and implications of team sport participation. Group formation, peer acceptance and participation motivation as perceived by the athlete remain inconspicuous topics of inquiry in the competitive sports realm. Previous sport research concentrated on the team as a unit (Loy, et al., 1972; Peterson & Martens, 1972; and Vos & Brinkman, 1970). Orlick (1978) suggested this unit may be divided into sub-units with individual goals and separate characteristics.

Preliminary findings from a pilot study by the researcher (De Furia, 1991) identified three distinct sub-units: definite, occasional and non-starting players on the team, observations from which formed the basis for further examination of volleyball team culture. This expanded study of National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I, II and III women's volleyball programs focused on membership parameters and players' perceptions of team sport participation with regard to one particular group, "the bench." "Benchwarmers" have long remained unheralded and understudied in sport team research.

Detailed, descriptive accounts of players' sport experience were collected through surveys (n = 186), participant observation and individual interviews. Research findings were compared and contrasted with those elicited from participants in the pilot study.

The composite results indicate that even though selected for membership on intercollegiate women's volleyball teams, some players are likely to receive limited playing time. Benchwarmers were not as physically or mentally prepared at this level of competition as those who regularly started each match. Several criteria including final roster size, position specialization and opponent's strength were found to influence coaching decisions in restricting participation levels of "the bench." In addition, though admirable attributes, having determination, putting forth effort, being team oriented and expressing desire were not shown to substantially enhance an athlete's chance of becoming a member of the starting line-up.

Although it is unrealistic to generalize from such a small, homogenous sample, making sense of one's involvement was particularly important for the benchwarmers in understanding their integration into college athletic programs while enhancing what is known about sport team sub-cultures.


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