My First Lesson in Coaching:
I was one of the “guns” on our pint-size team, and as the top scorer—five or six points a game—I was getting a big head about it, probably cocky. One of our grade school rivals, Hazelwood, was schedules for a game at Centerton at 2 p.m. That morning, however, their principle called and cancelled because Hazelwood’s truck had broken down.
As usual, I walked back to our farm at noon for lunch and then returned to school without my basketball jersey—a little homemade bib we wore over our shirts. But things had changed. Mr. Warriner announced the Hazelwood truck was fixed and the game was on. I didn’t feel like running right back home, so I informed him I couldn’t play because my jersey was at the farm. I assumed—hoped—Mr. Warriner would let me play without it for send one of the other kids back to get it.
As Centerton’s top scorer, I was looking for a little special treatment that I felt I deserved. Mr. Warriner studied me for a moment and then turned to my friend, Freddie Gooch: “Gooch, got your jersey?”
Wearing Freddie’s jersey was an option I hadn’t considered, but one that would save me some effort. Freddie replied, “Yes, Mr. Warriner, my jersey’s out inn the coat room.”
“Good, you play for Wooden today. He didn’t bring his jersey,” Mr. Warriner instructed as he looked me in the eye.
Of course, he knew exactly what I was trying to pull. Freddie Gooch jumped out of his chair, while I turned and ran out of the classroom and up the road as hard as I could, grabbed my jersey, and ran back even harder. Hazelwood arrived, I took a few shots, put on my “uniform,” and was ready to play. When Mr. Warriner announced Centerton’s starting lineup, however, my name was missing—I’d been benched. Freddie Gooch was taking my place.
No Player is Bigger or Better Than the Team:
Coach Warriner let me sit on the bench during the first quarter and second quarter. Freddie didn’t score a point. The short halftime came and went. I sat on the bench through the third quarter. Finally, in the fourth quarter with time running out and Centerton behind by two points, I swallowed my pride.
Running up to Mr. Warriner, I pleaded, “if you put me in there, we can still win this game.”
He didn’t look at me as he calmly replied, “Oh yes, Johnny, I know we can, but there are some things more important than winning a game. Besides, you’re probably tired from running home for your jersey. Now go sit down and rest.”
A few minutes later the game was over—Centerton lost. I didn’t realize it, but the lessons of that day stuck with me: no player is bigger or better than the team. And just as important, I came to understand that the bench is a coach’s best friend. If there are two more important coaching concepts in the game, I don’t know what they are.
From "My Personal Best" by John Wooden and Steve Jamison