From Benchwarmer To Champion – What I Learned From My Championship Coaching Journey

The pressure’s been lifted. A crushing weight on my system that I didn’t know was there. My whole existence, I lived and loved basketball; I used the sport to overcompensate for other areas of my life. But I never got to play. I was a high school benchwarmer. For 14 years, this tormented me. Basketball was all I had. And without it, I lost my identity. After the heartbreak of heating the seats, I stayed away from the game for ten years before the universe brought me back. I started as an assistant coach with a 5th-grade girls’ team, before eventually working my way up to a head coaching position at the 7th-grade boys’ level. In my first year with the guys, we won the championship. Here are three things I’ve learned on my journey.

1. You Won’t Like Everyone The Same

One principle I try to honor is a classic quote, “I won’t like you all the same, but I’ll do my best to love you all the same.”

This felt trying this year. 

During our championship game, our star player Vince raised his arm,  pointed directly at me, and screamed, “You’re messing this up.”

Our lead had dropped from 19 to 13 after I made a barrage of questionable substitutions. 

Vince is a player who ignored me all year, disrespected his own teammates, and even showed up ten minutes late to practice because his McDonald’s DoorDash order was late. 

He bought four McDoubles on the Wednesday before the final. 

He wasn’t my favorite. 

But he was our everything.

And he probably felt similar toward me. 

From his perspective, he’s probably wondering what an ex-benchwarming skinny white guy with glasses knows about basketball. He’s the type of player who’s been around elite hoopers ever since he was a little kid. 

So why should he trust a first-year coach?

I don’t know if he ever did, but we proved better together.

It also helped that he dropped 30 in the ship. Every team needs a player with some edge. 

2. Team

Nothing gets done alone; winning a championship helped me understand this deeper. 

From my assistant coach to our non-existent FOLA reps, everyone played their role.

For example, in the semifinal game, one of our better players decided to quit. Arthur got fouled around the neck, threw the ball at the opponent, got teched, and then proceeded to take off his jersey while simultaneously telling me, “He’s done playing for the day.”

Keep in mind this is amid a close semis matchup.

I had to keep coaching, but luckily I had an assistant. 

Coach Kevin followed Arthur into the corridor outside the gym while the game continued. 

I don’t know exactly what was said during their conversation, but Arthur returned to the bench and asked to be put back in the matchup in the eleventh hour. 

We won by four. 

Alongside Coach K, there was other help involved as well. 

We had a trio of scorers in Vince, Arthur, and yet-to-be-named Monty. The three gave us a balanced offensive attack keeping the opposition rattled. 

Combine this with nine players who play defense like savage dogs, and we snuffed out a ring. 

3. Defining Success

Many people have a similar definition of success in today’s world. Make money, get yourself an attractive partner, buy a house, and start a family. 

And while all of these things do appeal to me, in time. 

I would’ve never felt whole without the title.

Subconsciously I don’t know if I would’ve allowed myself to move forward in life until I accomplished my childhood dreams. 

All I ever wanted to be was a champion. I never thought of money as a kid

As it currently stands, I’m 32, work with at-risk youth at my old high school, and do this writing thang. 

I ain’t a millionaire yet, but I’m a champ. 

And that’s alright with me. 

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About Nick Bartlett 212 Articles
My name is Nick Bartlett, and I am a Senior Writer at as well as a Senior Writer here at OregonSportsNews. My work has been featured in the Seattle PI, OregonLive, and various other publications. I've also served as a guest on Sirius XM radio as a "Pac-12 Football Insider" For business inquiries, you can reach me at - Email: Phone Number: 425-366-9711