John Wooden: LIFE coach, basketball coach

I’ve written before and shared with the parents in my school that one of my personal heroes is the Hall of Fame NCAA Basketball Coach (AND Hall of Fame NCAA PLAYER), John Wooden.

Here on video is his talk at TED in 2001:

The words flow from him – without notes – because it is obvious that he lived his life from a set of deep beliefs, embedded from childhood (he mentions his Dad several times). He is at his heart a teacher. He ended up finding NCAA basketball as his vehicle for teaching, after some time as a junior high school English teacher (mentioned in the talk). He was discouraged by so many of the parents of his young English students focusing on the grades, wanting their child to have an A, when in fact not everyone is capable of earning an A. Talk about “old school” ideals! When do we hear anyone publicly discuss the reality that not everyone has the same ability in terms of getting a certain grade in school? Wooden says, “No one wanted their own child to get a C. The C grades were for the neighbors’ children.”

So he found basketball coaching as a way to promote his beliefs and nurture young people in their paths toward adulthood. A way to directly influence their thinking, and to make an impression on them at a pivotal time in their lives.

I watched the entire video with rapt attention, and a grin pasted on my face. I felt I was in the company of someone whose beliefs felt real to me. Whose intentions were steadfast. Whose entire life’s work was consistent with those intentions. And who was lucky enough to eventually see those intentions manifest “results” that were recognized to the point where he got to talk about them at TED, the conference about “innovation”. Wooden is about as “old school” as they get, but his principles are timeless and universal. Below are some notes I took from the video, which I am tempted to post on the walls of my studio.

His three rules:

1. Never be late. Start on time, AND end on time.

2. Be neat and clean. Not one word of profanity. Dress respectfully.

3. Never criticize a teammate. Coaches are paid to do it – its their job, not a teammate’s job.

His steadfast belief: We must BELIEVE, not just give lip-service to, the fact that things will work out as they should, IF we do what we should. Too often we focus on things turning out the way we want them to, without being willing to do what is necessary to make those things happen.

Three more rules (also from Wooden’s father):

1. Don’t whine.

2. Don’t complain.

3. Don’t make excuses.

And from this 10-time National Champion coach of the UCLA men’s basketball team?

“Never mention winning.”

People shouldn’t be able to tell from your actions whether or not you were outscored by your opponent. You should always do your best, and in this way you can win even if you have been outscored in a game. You can also lose, even if you outscore your opponent, if you haven’t given your best. Only YOU know whether you have been successful, because only YOU know if you have given your best.

Wooden’s definition of success:

Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.

“Never mention winning.”

And these words, coming from a true winner.

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