Friday, September 17, 2010

The Wisdom of Wooden

July/August 2010

On June 4, 2010, the world’s greatest coach died at the age of 99. “Quietly, with dignity, as if the Lord had personally and gently embraced and carried his spirit away”, said close personal friend and co-author of several of John Wooden’s 10 books, Steve Jamison. “Coach,” as he was referred to by most, was not a figure skating teacher but the legendary basketball coach of the UCLA Bruins. Among his achievements included 10 NCAA Championships, a winning streak of 88 games that spanned three seasons and the President’s Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor America can bestow.
I knew of John Wooden, just as most sports fans would; a reference quoted by a TV or radio commentator to one of his many “Woodenisms” like, “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” It wasn’t until just before his death however, when Tom Zakrajsek presented his keynote address at the annual PSA Conference in Colorado Springs, that I was really enlightened. Tom talked a lot about reading and self improvement. He quoted John Wooden often and at one point, showed John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success. The Coaches Pyramid is reprinted in the center of this magazine, and a more detailed version can be found at
Curiosity over John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success and Tom’s words drove me to Wooden’s official website. The Pyramid of Success is made up of 15 blocks; from Enthusiasm to Competitive Greatness. On the website you can “open” each block and get a detailed explanation and commentary. Ironically, the first block I opened up was “Self Control,” something that I struggled with as a competitor, performer, coach, and even as Executive Director. Wooden describes the difficulty of getting to the “top” and staying there and in his own experiences, “…both getting there and staying there present unique and formable challenges.” Both necessitate self control. For someone to achieve greatness, a mastery of your emotions and discipline is vital. Coach Wooden was careful not to engage in pregame pep talks that would spike his players’ emotions. Those peaks make it difficult for players to control their actions leading to lackadaisical play and mistakes. Coach goes on to say that for “every contrived peak you create, there is a subsequent valley...Self-control provides emotional stability and fewer valleys.” An easy comparison is this year’s Coach of the Year, Frank Carroll. Mr. Carroll has said that it is important not to overwhelm a skater at the gate prior to their program. Generally, he portrays a calming demeanor, with positive phrases and almost no technical advice. Like John Wooden, Frank prefers “controlled focus and directed energy.”
Surfing through Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, it’s easy to see his influence on Tom Zakrajsek, Frank Carroll, and most probably, all teachers and coaches. I have picked my ten favorite “Woodenisms,” many of which you may have heard before…all are inspirational. When you get a chance, check out his website or the next time you’re in a book store, check out one of his books.

1. “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”
2. “You can’t let praise or criticisms get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.”
3. “Winning takes talent; to repeat takes character.”
4. “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”
5. “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”
6. “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”
7. “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”
8. “Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”
9. “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”
10. “Success is never final; failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.” v


1 comment:

Ice Mom said...

Really great post - very inspiring. In fact, I plan to take some of Wooden's quotes and write blog posts about them myself. Thank you very much for the resource.