Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Coach Wooden's Practice Plan Was a Recipe

Coach Wooden’s Practice Plan Was Like a Recipe

Swen Nater


At some point after his retirement from UCLA as head basketball coach, John Wooden graciously allowed someone to borrow all of his 1948-1975 practice plan three-ring binders. Coach kept one three-ring notebook for each year and they contained all the practice plans for that basketball season, complete with all the notes he had carefully taken during the practices. These remarks were thoughts and ideas about improving things that were generated while he observed practices. Yes, Coach Wooden had paper and pencil in hand while teaching. There were comments about players, drills, the offense, the defense, the full-court press, out of bounds plays and what have you. Whatever came to mind that Coach believed would improve things that season and in the future, he wrote down on his 3X5 practice plan card.


After practice he and his assistants sat down briefly in their locker room to go over the notes and to discuss how each felt practice went that day, including suggestions for improvement. The next morning, Coach transferred the notes to the practice plan which was types on an 8 X 10 paper with three holes. Then he filed it in the three-ring notebook to be used for planning that day’s practice, and equally as a reference for the following seasons.  


When he told me about his detailed and scientific method, which impressed me greatly and shed even more light on the reason for his coaching success, I asked if he would kindly show me one of those notebooks. “Unfortunately,” he said, “the person who borrowed them didn’t return them and I have no idea who it was.”


What exactly was written on those practice plans? If we could only see some of those notes, it would give us great insight as to how all coaches can help their teams to be the best they could be. But we don’t have them and all we can do is guess. But guess we will, and I think we can pretty-accurately speculate what was in those treasure binders. Those notes were there to improve practice. The better the practice, the more success in games.  


I do a lot of cooking from Mexican to Chinese and I have a three-ring recipe book that has probably two hundred recipes. All of those recipes are ones I have cooked many times and they are covered with notes that I enterd that evening or the next morning. For example, I have made fried chicken forty-seven times in the last three years, each time doing something to improve it and then adding notes on the recipe regarding what worked and what didn’t as well as ideas for improvement.


My original goal was to clone KFC and my Version #47 is very close. After cooking Version #46, which was excellent fried chicken by the way, I wrote down,


“I still can’t taste the seasoning that well. I think it gets diluted in the oil when frying. What would happen if I season the chicken after I turned it? I should taste full seasoning.”


That’s what I did for Version #47 and it worked. KFC has nothing on my fried chicken. The seasoning is so close, I thought I heard the Colonel say, “Nicely done son. Somebody finally got it.”


All of my recipes have notes and each time I cook one, it’s improved over the last time. My enchiladas have seasoned, tender pulled chicken with a sauce that no Gringo has a right to make; my corn tortilla steak tacos has flank steak that is more tender than a rib eye and when you taste the seasoning, you are transported south of the border. But that flank steak was tough the first time I made it and the taste was Gringo-bland.


This is exactly what Coach Wooden did for his practice sessions. The recipe for his practice was the “practice plan” and that plan was not made from scratch that day, like many coaches do. The first thing he did was pull out the same practice number from last year and the year before to check the recipe and the notes he had taken for improvements. Then he pulled out the practice plan from the day before to see what notes he had on how they were doing with implementing things for that season. From all of that, he created the practice plan and it looked very much like the one from a year ago, but with improvements, much like putting seasoning on the chicken after frying.


Who does that these days? Who has ever done that? Not too many if any. But this type of work is a reason why John Wooden was able to win and win for many years. He just kept getting better. While the USC coach was scratching his head in the morning, wondering what his team should work on that day, Coach already had the practice plan template. All he needed to do was improve it, using his notes.  


Bon Appetite.