You can go to many other blogs and website to read about the late John Wooden’s amazing career as a basketball coach. To find facts like he had four undefeated seasons when no other basketball coach has had more than one. Or that he won ten National Championships and the next closest any other coach has won was four. It is amazing that he did all of that in college basketball, a sport where you can gain or lose your star player every year. In four years you will have no players the same as you do today. Yet John Wooden managed to win seven of these NCCA Championships IN A ROW. From 1967 to 1973 no other team beat a John Wooden coached team. What kind of a super human being would you have to be to be able to inspire that consistency like that from young people?
Back in 2004 I had the great privilege of spending the afternoon with the late John Wooden. He lived in a condo near LA so I called my friend Greg Louganis (who lived near by) to see if he wanted to join John (Blenkey) and I on our visit. It was an afternoon that the three of us still talk about and one I will never forget. John Wooden was 93 years old at the time but as sharp as a tack. He spend the entire afternoon graciously “visiting” with us, but that afternoon provided a lifetime of lessons for the three of us. Mr. Wooden was the most amazing human being I have ever had the privilege to meet. Having been a big fan of his when I played basketball in high school and university, I knew I would be a bit star struck when I saw him so I went prepared with a list of questions.
The questions where a good idea but John Wooden put us all at ease with his modesty and his genuine interest in sharing all that we wanted to know.
An afternoon with John Wooden, a memory to be treasured forever.
Several things stuck out for me about that visit. It was clear he was a man with love for people at his core. His wife Nell had past away almost 20 years earlier but he started every day since then by laying out her clothes on her side of their bed. He was as proud of his players that became teachers and doctors as the ones that went on to make the NBA. He allowed me to interview him and I took notes, I took pages, here is a snippet of what John shared.
Susan Garrett: In your opinion who is the greatest American of all time?
Coach Wooden: Abraham Lincoln
Susan Garrett: Why?
Coach Wooden: He was a common man with concern for all, he had malice towards no one and charity for all.
Susan Garrett: Greatest asset a coach can have?
Coach Wooden: Consideration for others.
Susan Garrett: What do you see as a key to team unity?
Coach Wooden: Love for one another; consideration for everyone.
Susan Garrett: What are you most intolerant of?
Coach Wooden: Lack of effort.
Susan Garrett: Single most important characteristic of a successful coach:
Coach Wooden: Patience.
Susan Garrett: What lesson do you wish that you had learned earlier in your coaching career?
Coach Wooden: Again, patience. I didn’t see a middle ground early on with my players, it was always black and white with no room for compromise, everything had to be my way.
Susan Garrett: As a teacher, how can you generate interest in a subject where no interest currently exists within the student?
Coach Wooden: Show an interest in the student. Inspire a flame within him rather than trying to light a flame under him.
Susan Garrett: What is the biggest regret of your life?
Coach Wooden: That I didn’t dance with my wife more. That I should have done more of the things that Nellie wanted to do. She loved dancing and I didn’t like to dance so I didn’t dance enough with her. She was always doing things for me but I didn’t do enough things for her.
Great coaches, in my opinion, are great human beings first. Sure there are the odd ego-driven-power-hungry-coaches that don’t fit this bill. They are the ones who have been fortunate enough to have won “the big one” or have had a few winning seasons in a row, but then falter and rarely achieve much afterwards. It is just like dog training, if you get a really gifted dog, even a duffer is going to run with the elite in the sport for a while. But repetitive greatness in coaching, the ability to reproduce a masterpiece time and time again with more than one or two individuals, takes someone who deep down really cares about people and about their success. To steal a line from Jimi Hendrix; those are the coaches who are driven by the power of love rather than the love of power.
There are many great coaches out there, I love to read their stories, I find them inspiring and uplifting — I guess that is why they where such successful coaches in their sports. Here are a few of my favorite coach/authors; John Wooden, Lou Holtz, Mike Krzyzewski, Pat Riely, Tony Dungy and Joe Paterno –I have a list of more that I have yet to get to, so if you have a favorite coach/author to add to list, please let me know.
Tomorrow I will share some of John Wooden’s maxims for life.
Today I am grateful for coaches who inspire.