Monday, March 29, 2010

With a Name Like Wooden, It Has To Be Good

If you watch the TODAY show, you may be familiar with a segment that honors special Americans on their birthday. They aren’t politicians, athletes or celebrities, but they have achieved something significant: 100 years of life. The host, Willard Scott, speaks of the centenarian’s “interests, hobbies, secrets of longevity, vocation, or anything the audience might like to know about this amazing person” as their photo is featured full screen inside a Smucker’s jam label. I am always amazed at these folks, where they come from and what advice they impart. On October 14, I hope I will see the photo of John Wooden, born in Hall, Indiana. Perhaps this is what they will share...

Wooden’s interests could be captured in one word: success. At large, it seems that people know one of three things about Coach Wooden:
1) the 88 game winning streak of his UCLA teams (broken by none other than the Fightin’ Irish in South Bend)
2) his maxim: Failing to prepare is preparing to fail
3) his Pyramid of Success.
The pyramid identifies the skills that Wooden believes leads to and serves as the foundation of success. He chose a pyramid because it is a timeless example of stability. He gave his players a copy of this pyramid, explained it, and most importantly, he constantly affirmed each ideal. Although I often hear people scoffing at the Midwest, in the four plus years I lived in one of the “fly-over states” I was often impressed and humbled by the work ethic of many. Perhaps it is the influence and close ties to those agrarian roots, but it came as no surprise to me that “industriousness” is a cornerstone of his pyramid. I recommend looking at and noting which virtues resonate with you. Do any surprise you? Personally, I love that he placed “friendship” at its base. I know I will go the extra mile for a colleague or administrator that is also a friend.


When I read the Stanford men’s basketball report in the January/February 2010 Alumni Magazine, I was amused by its report from the Cardinal’s media guide. The personal section on team captain Landry Fields points out that his hobbies include, yes, "playing basketball." My guess is that Wooden would list a similar hobby.

Although the “Wizard of Westwood” is best known for the 10 National Championships he led the UCLA Bruins basketball teams to, it should be duly noted he is the first person enshrined in the basketball hall of fame as both a player and a coach.

Secrets of Longevity:
I recently told my students that I want to live to be 100. They looked at me with varied responses—why? Some had never thought about living to 100 before, some were mildly entertained by the idea, some understood and held an appreciation for the wisdom that comes with age, whereas others thought only of the complications. I asked them: Why not?

The more pressing question about Wooden’s longevity however is: could his incredible record winning of 10 NCAA titles in his last 12 seasons happen today? Men’s college basketball is dramatically different. It is increasingly rare that a team will play together for more than one year. The preseason report out of Westwood said, "Coach Ben Howland, in his seventh year at the helm, has essentially been conducting Basketball 101 at Pauley Pavilion." Last year, UCLA made an appearance in the Big Dance's second round. This year, they returned one starter and did not even qualify for the NIT. "Jrue Holiday jumped to the NBA after his freshman year and is now a Philadelphia 76er." Early departures have clearly hurt UCLA in recent times, a fact that is not unique to them. It is only fair to raise the question WWJD? What would John do? When I read in the New York Times “Across 36 sports monitored by the N.C.A.A., men’s basketball has the lowest graduation rates, with fewer than two-thirds of players earning degrees,” I wondered how Coach Wooden, a man of discipline and total integrity would navigate these waters. His secret to longevity might look different, but so too might his pyramid.

I was thrilled to read that even Willard Scott embraces the idea of vocation over career. Mick McCarthy, SJ writes in his article Education for The Discovery of Vocation "Let me be clear that “career” and “vocation” are not mutually exclusive terms. “Vocation,” though, suggests a quality of discernment and reflection on the mystery of our lives before God that “career” fails to capture." You could argue, no, Wooden is known exactly for his career. In fact, he was recently voted The Sporting News' greatest sports coach of all time. But the lessons he has distilled from the game, his players, and his success transcend the basketball court. Wooden is more than “The Wizard,” a coach, and a leader. Or is that what vocation points to—your life’s work is totally consistent with who and what you are. You cannot separate one from the other.

Anything the audience might like to know about this amazing person:
I think it’s important to note that John Wooden is a man of faith. In The Essential Wooden: A Lifetime of Lessons on Leaders and Leadership he writes:
I never prayed for victory, never asked God to let our team win the national championship, never offered up a prayer that UCLA would set some record or win a particular game. To my way of thinking, God has more important things on his mind. My own Christian faith however has given me great strength. I believe those of faith—and not just my faith—have something powerful and true they can draw on.

That’s why I encouraged those under my supervision to believe in something—a faith that gave them inner strength: I don’t care what religion you choose, but I think it makes you a better person to believe in something.

When Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabaar) became a Muslim, he did so after careful consideration and study. It didn’t bother me. He is still a Muslim and his faith has given him strength over the years just as my Christian faith does for me. Occasionally I wonder how those who don’t believe in something get by.
I love the simplicity of Wooden’s words. And there are so many others worth mentioning (from The Essential Wooden).

Go Get The Ball! I want it this way: “Go get the ball!” That’s the attitude I want to see. “Go get the ball!” That’s’ the positive approach. That’s what gets something done on and off the court. Don’t wait for things to happen. While you’re sitting around waiting, somebody else will “go get the ball!” And then what? Suddenly, you’re playing catch-up.

Sound of enthusiasm Don’t judge enthusiasm by how loudly somebody talks. Noise is not necessarily enthusiasm. Sometimes it is; sometimes it isn’t. An effective leader knows the difference.

Play Tall I had a very clear request of those I taught: Give me complete commitment and total effort. An individual who is willing to deliver those two powerful assets to your team is a prized player whether he’s seven foot two or two feet seven. Many times I reminded those I coached, “I don’t care how tall you are. I can how tall you play.”

There is nothing fancy about many of his ideals. They are tried, timeless and true. They only point back to this leader, coach, and Christian that with a name like Wooden, it has to be good.

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