John Wooden knew the meaning of life and winning
I don't know if you've read John Wooden's book, Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court. Probably depends if you're into sports or teaching.
If you're under 30, you never saw him play or coach. If you're in your 30's, your father saw him coach UCLA's basketball team. If you're my age you feel the ache in your knees and hear the crowd screaming. Like you were playing on the basketball court or yelling instructions on the sideline to your players.
In his haydays, he coached players like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton.
Bill Walton said, "When I left UCLA in 1974 and became the highest-paid player in the history of team sports at that time, the quality of my life went down. That's how special it was to have played for John Wooden and UCLA."
Abdul-Jabbar says, "He wanted to win, but not more than anything ... My relationship with him has been one of the most significant of my life... The consummate teacher, he taught us that the best you are capable of is victory enough, and that you can't walk until you crawl, that gentle but profound truth about growing up."
When I coached basketball, I was young and focused on player development and skill learning. I was innocent back then, suffering from lack of life experience. Now I'm Walton's age, old and experienced enough to know that "quality of life" is more important than anything else.
Your definition and mine are probably different.
But John Wooden knew his definition of success in life, and his and mine are the same.
I hadn't thought about Wooden in years, except when I studied his coaching strategies in a sport psychology class I taught at my alumni, the University of Ottawa. I was a huge fan of John Wooden and his life philosophy. Even though I was more into the Montreal Canadiens and the Green Bay Packers, I thought of his teaching philosophy and will admit to being a winning coach the Wooden way.
Before you give me any bull about basketbal giants or how "fake," John Wooden was, or how he was a “lucky” man, consider this...
- He won ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period — seven in a row — as head coach at UCLA
- His teams won a record 88 consecutive games.
- He was named national coach of the year six times.
- He was the first to be named basketball All-American three times and he won a national championship at Purdue.
- He was named a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player (inducted in 1961) and as a coach (in 1973), the first person ever enshrined in both categories.
Coach Wooden's philosophy was to be a teacher but not any kind of teacher. For him (and me) it's this...
A role model of success in life.
When you live your life as an example, you are true to your values and beliefs.
Wooden didn't have to flaunt his success. He was content to lead by example, perfectly happy in his role as a teacher and a basketball coach on the sideline. Unlike many of his peers, he never scolded his players or their play, never demanded them to win but to be the best they could be as human beings.
It didn’t bother him there were technically better players in the world. He knew what his purpose in life was, and did his best to lead by example.
John Wooden was married 59 years to his wife, Nellie, and had two kids. Nellie died on March 21, 1985 from cancer. (I know how he felt, my wife had breast cancer.)
He remained faithful to her until his death. The 21st of every month, he would visit her grave. Then he would write a love letter to her, place it in an envelope with the others on top of the pillow she slept on during their life together.
Now that's faith and love.
He said, "I have always tried to make it clear that basketball is not the ultimate. It is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. There is only one kind of life that truly wins, and that is the one that places faith in the hands of the Savior. If I were ever prosecuted for my religion, I truly hope there would be enough evidence to convict me."
When Alan Castel, UCLA assistant professor of psychology interviewed Wooden about aging and memory, he said, "Wooden was a role model, not just as a coach and a wise man, but also for his modesty and character, and on how to age successfully.
He was a legend in ways that go far beyond basketball. His personality, positivity, wisdom and attitude toward aging played important roles in his cognitive vitality.
He also had a great sense of humor about life, and even death ... One of Coach's famous quotes was, 'When I am through learning, then I am through.'"
He just wanted to teach, wanted to make you a better person.
John Wooden says it by the book. Today I get that.