Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Reflections on John Wooden's coaching style

By Tom Grant
PhD student, University of Idaho

Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, who died this week at age 99, was a winner. We can count that in his 10 national championships and 620 victories, including 88 straight. That’s quantifiable.

But as Jake Simpson relates in The Atlantic, what Wooden’s players remember is the unquantifiable Wooden as their teacher, mentor, and role model.

“The man they called ‘The Wizard of Westwood’ taught his players more than basketball. He imparted to each young man (in case we've forgotten, that's what college athletes are when you strip away the nationally televised games and the booster money and the arrogance that comes with being larger than life before you've accomplished anything) life lessons far more enduring than any inbounds play or hook shot,” wrote Simpson.

ESPN published a list of some of Wooden’s favorite sayings, words that reflect the coach’s dedication to developing not just good players but good people. One reads: "Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out." Have you ever seen that on a locker room wall?

Or how about these other Wooden sayings: "You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you."

"Success is never final; failure is never fatal. It's courage that counts."

"What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player."

Few coaches will win as many games as Wooden. But many, many coaches will have equal or greater opportunity to influence just as many young people.

History marks our wins and losses. But personal records are recorded in many other ways, too. The minds of young people record the unquantifiable – the life lessons of sport delivered to them by coaches.

Think of your coaches. What did they impress upon you that still matters today? One of Wooden’s sayings that has been published again and again upon his death reads, "What you are as a person is far more important that what you are as a basketball player." How will those persons you coach remember you?

Dr. Sharon Kay Stoll of the Center for ETHICS* at the University of Idaho discussed Wooden’s servant leadership style of coaching.

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