The Yellow Jersey Guy

The first time I saw him hand out yellow scrimmage jerseys I thought, “Is this guy serious? This is a friendly game of pickup basketball where players call their own fouls, not some adult league with referees”.

But it’s now been a couple of weeks since I first dragged my body out of bed at 5:30, laced up my Nikes and stumbled out the door for a good hour of basketball at the local gym. Most mornings we’ll have ten to fifteen guys show up hoping to knock down a few threes or, at a minimum, get in some exercise before putting in a day’s work.

And each morning the guy with the armful of yellow jerseys is there greeting everyone who steps foot on the gym floor. But his dedication doesn’t end with the jerseys. He’s constantly barking out plays and calling screens through a mouth guard that looks like it was made for football in the 1960s. He makes sure the teams are divided up evenly and keeps the games moving along briskly. He’s not shy about stopping play if there’s any question about the score. Games are to 15 and teams must win by 2.

Yet he’s not the most gifted athlete. In fact, he won’t shoot the ball unless he finds himself near the basket at point blank range. Instead, he sets screens and keeps the ball moving. He’s the gym rat. He’s the last guy picked to a team but nobody can imagine playing without him. He’s valuable to his team, but in ways that won’t show up in a stat line.

Watching this guy has made me think about how important role players are to any team, be it basketball or a group of employees assigned to a project. Every team needs a guy who hands out the yellow jerseys. He’s not the most talented. But he’s the glue that keeps the team together. He doesn’t care who gets the credit because he’s not looking to pad his own stats or resume. His primary concern is for the team.

I can look back to those teams I was a part of that were the most enjoyable and productive, and I can name the yellow jersey guy. I’m convinced nearly all successful teams have one. 

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