Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Learning from a Master Coach - reflections on John Wooden

John Wooden is probably one of the best known coaches of all time.  UCLA men's basketball coach for 27 years.  Coach of numerous players who went on to be NBA superstars.  Orchestrated his team to become one of the most successful teams of all time in any sport.  Polite, respectful, humble and with a clear vision of what he wanted his players and his team to be.  There is alot we can learn from a man like John Wooden. What follows is his classic ted talks 'The Difference between Winning and Success'. 

John Wooden was a master coach.  In my mind, a master because of the higher order thinking he developed in his players, because he developed a higher purpose and mission of his work.  It wasnt just about winning championships - it was about helping young people be the best they could be.  Wooden believed that success is "the peace of mind attained only through self satisfaction of knowing that you did your best of which you knew you were capable".  He believed that "if you make the effort to do the best you could, the results will generally be what they should be - not necessarily what you want them to be, but what they should be".  Being the best you can be is all that is really under control.

Wooden's early life was in southern Indiana.  He grew up on a farm without electricity.  His Dad would tell him and his siblings 'don't whine, don't make excuses, get out there and do your best, to the best of your ability and no one can do more than that.'  He embodied in his work a message to his players that they should have faith that things will turn out as they should, provided that they do the work that they needed to do to make things a reality.  Wooden points out that often people in general don't do what they need to do to turn their potential into reality.  You need to do the work to reach your potential.  The message is the same whether you are coaching a team sport or an individual sport - be the best you can be.  In the ted talks above, Wooden shares a poem that captures this idea well.  A poem by an major league baseball umpire called 'the road ahead and the road behind'.  Here it is so you don't have to google it

Sometimes I think the fates must grin as we denounce them and insist,
The only reason we can’t win is the fates themselves have missed.
Yet, there lives on the ancient claim – we win or lose within ourselves,
The shining trophies on our shelves can never win tomorrow’s game.

So you and I know deeper down there is a chance to win the crown,
But when we fail to give our best, we simply haven’t met the test
Of giving all and saving none until the game is really won.
Of showing what is meant by grit, of fighting on when others quit,

Of playing through not letting up, it’s bearing down that wins the cup.
Of taking it and taking more until we gain the winning score,
Of dreaming there’s a goal ahead, of hoping when our dreams are dead,
Of praying when our hopes have fled. Yet, losing, not afraid to fall,

If bravely we have given all, for who can ask more of a man
than giving all, it seems to me, is not so far from – Victory.
And so the fates are seldom wrong, no matter how they twist and wind,

It’s you and I who make our fates, we open up or close the gates,
On the Road Ahead or the Road Behind.

George Moriarty

What can we learn from Wooden's example? Are there things we can learn from his work?  There sure is.  I love Wooden's Pyramid of Success.

What an awesome tool to focus your interactions with athletes.  If you've been coaching for awhile, you see the positive potential, and you are doing this work with your athletes - thinking about bigger outcomes that propel athletes to high levels of performance both in sport and life. 

As a coach of adolescent cross country skiers, my mind races ahead to next season, thinking about the things I might try, I might do differently, how I might reach the kids I work with to help them embrace their ambition in a learning environment that is rich with meaning and learning.  As I look ahead to the coming year, my heart and mind trembles with excitement at the possibilities, at the coach-athlete relationships that I want to create, at the bigger goals I'll aim for.  I love the work of coaching.  I love the work of teaching.  In his ted talks linked above, John Wooden talks of a teacher he had as a youth, and some thoughts that stuck with him as she responded to a question about why she teaches.

'They ask me why I teach, and I reply, it's where I go to find splendid company'

There is nothing like working with children.

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

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