I heard Coach John Wooden speak only one time, in 1993, he was 93 years young. The media called him “The Wizard of Westwood,” a moniker he disliked. You see, Coach Wooden had won 10 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championships in 12 years—seven in a row! A record I am certain will never be broken. As a player they called him “Rubber Man” because he had a habit of diving on the floor for loose balls. He was named the 1932 Player of Year for Purdue’s National Championship team.
I was able to ask him what he missed about coaching that day 23 years ago. He replied, “the two hours a day of planning our practices with my coaches.” Planning two hours a day! Huh!?! “What book had the biggest impact on your life?” was my second question. “After the Bible, I would say Magnificent Obsession 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 150,000 copies worldwide. Coach had that effect on people. He was a coach, teacher, mentor for millions of people, in and out of basketball. 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 every 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, commitment and constancy of purpose.
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 Leadership quotes:
1. A coach’s primary function should be not to make better players, but to make better people.
2. A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.
3. Am I not destroying my enemies when I make them my friends?
4. You can do more good by being good, than any other way.
5. Things work out best for the people who make the best of the way things work out.
6. Players with fight never lose a game, they just run out of time.
7. Friendship is two-sided. It isn’t a friend 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.
Ben Franklin, one of my favorite men of antiquity once 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.
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