I heard Coach John Wooden speak only one time, in 1993, when he was 93 years young. The media called him “The Wizard of Westwood,” a moniker he disliked. You see, Coach Wooden had won 10 Men’s Basketball NCAA National Championships in 12 years—seven of them in a row! That’s a record I am certain will never be broken. When he was a player, John Wooden was called “Rubber Man” because he had a habit of diving on the floor for loose balls. He was named the 1932 Player of the Year for Purdue’s National Championship team. That day 23 year ago, I was able to ask him what he missed about coaching. He replied, “The two hours a day of planning our practices with my coaches.”
Planning two hours a day!?!
My second question was, “What book had the biggest impact on your life?” He replied, “After the Bible, I would say
by Lloyd C. Douglas.” I immediately went out and purchased a copy and devoured it. That book inspired me to write
Freedom from Fear
. I’m proud to say my little book has sold over 100,000 copies worldwide. Coach had that effect on people. In and out of basketball, he was a coach, teacher, and mentor for millions of people. He passed away in 2010 at the age of 99.
In addition to his speaking engagements and basketball camps, which he conducted every summer until age 93 after he retired in 1975, he read and wrote poetry. One of his favorite poems was one he lived every day of his extraordinary life:
No written word, nor oral plea, can teach our youth what they should be. Nor all the books on all the shelves; It’s what the teachers are themselves.
Our children (and employees) don’t listen to a word we say, rather they watch every move we make. Able example is the best teacher. Preaching moral platitudes or company vision and values is easy, but walking the line and living them every day takes great strength and commitment.
Coach would often quote his father: “Never try to be better than someone else. Learn from others and never cease trying to be the best you can possibly be…if you get yourself too engrossed in things over which you have no control, it’s going to adversely affect the things over which you have control.”
He was fond of sharing moral values that came in sets of three: “Never lie, never cheat, never steal.” Or, “Don’t whine, don’t complain, don’t alibi.” He demonstrated those ideas with his actions.
Some of my favorite Coach Wooden ideas focus on Leadership. Here are my favorite seven quotes:
A coach's primary function should be not to make better players, but to make better people.
A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.
Am I not destroying my enemies when I make them my friends?
You can do more good by being good, than any other way.
Things work out best for the people who make the best of the way things work out.
Players with fight never lose a game, they just run out of time.
Friendship is two-sided. It isn’t a friendship just because someone is doing something nice for you. That’s a nice person. There is friendship when you do FOR each other. It’s like a marriage—two-sided.
One of Coach Wooden’s favorite poems, which he could quote line for line and did so many times, is a classic. I read it at my oldest son Colin’s wedding. As a father, it is truly some of the best advice I have ever come across. Submitted for your approval.
by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Ben Franklin, one of my favorite men of past centuries, wrote, “To be immortal we must write something worth reading or live a life worth writing about.” Coach did both. There will never be another Coach John Wooden. He truly was a Wizard.