One of the greatest basketball coaches that ever lived was John Wooden. Numerous national championships were won under his coaching and direction. He could just sit back and pick from the top players in high school and know that an offer to come to his university and play under his vast experience would not be turned down.
The best of every year would fill his roster and come fully prepared to go to the upper levels and eventually be some of the first- round picks for the NBA. They all had a superior attitude of themselves and their gifted abilities.
When Coach Wooden met with the new recruits, their enthusiasm to get on the court and show their potential was just short of bubbling over. The unexpected big things began to happen.
The aged coach told them to put the basketballs up and bring their new shoes in their hands and meet with him over in one corner of the gym. The first question the commentator asked was, “Coach, what was the first thing you taught your players?” After a long pause he would say to them, “Boys, I want to teach you how to put on your shoes right.” No one laughed or snickered as he continued in a serious mode. “You see, if you don’t put your new shoes on right, you will soon rub blisters on your heels or toes and you would be off the court for a week or so. During that time you will be unable to play basketball and be of no use to me or the mates”.
This fundamental lesson was vital and important. He began at the beginning and looked at all his new players as starting over. What a marvelous lesson to learn. It’s wisdom is only seen in it’s eloquence.
Most of his players have been playing since primary school. They continued maxing their skill on elementary teams, junior high and high school squads. Now they are back to the beginning again.
Listen to these ‘fundamentals’ that Jesus gave in his first recorded ‘Sermon On The Mount.” “Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . and they that mourn . . . Blessed are the meek and those who hunger after righteousness . . . The merciful and the pure in heart have a special blessing as do those who are peacemakers”. These beginning blessings are called “character for the basketball team”. “You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world . . . love your neighbor and even your enemies . . . Give generously and pray daily . . . And when you pray . . . say, Our Father, which art in heaven . . . Forgive us of our sins and we forgive those who sin against us . . . Ask and it shall be given you, seek and you shall find and knock and it shall be opened to you . . . (Matthew 5-6-7).
As a young minister, I taught the midgets and juniors in football, basketball, and baseball. We had winning teams. In Alexandria, Virginia, our basketball team set a record of 76 wins against just two loses over a three year period. A full page was given in a Washington Post, with pictures of the team in action and of the record they left. The character of the team is the most vital part of the game, for all of the sports are just temporary, for the moment. Life is long and learning to win is as important as learning how to lose.
I remember a midget on the football team that wasn’t a first stringer. In fact he seldom saw action. When we were ahead by a good score, I sent him in to play the last few minutes. I saw him ‘get set’ on the line and reach down and he took a handful of dirt and smooth it on each shoulder pad. When he came off the field he rushed up to me and with a smile that nearly erased his face, and said, “I didn’t make any tackles. Coach, but I jumped on the pile twice.”
There are far too many fundamental in life to mention in this treatise – let me name just one, ENCOURAGEMENT. “And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted , The son of encouragement (consolation), a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:36-37). When Paul (who was first called Saul) first went to Jerusalem, it was Barnabas that stood with him and introduced him to the brethren (Galatians 2:9). What would have happened if Barnabas had not been there? Paul was somewhat of an outcast due to his background and needed an encourager. It was Barnabas that the church sent forth with Paul on their first missionary journey (Acts 11:22). He was not an apostle – he was an encourager.
So begin at the beginning. Learn how to put your shoes on right. Use every opportunity to encourage all those you meet along the way and brighten the path of those who follow.
Many thanks to a great coach, John Wooden!