Tuesday, April 11, 2017

John Wooden, the Great Leader, Was a Nerd

John Wooden, the Great Leader, Was a Nerd


Ever wonder how John Wooden became a great leader and championship coach, with 10 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships in his last 12 seasons, not to mention never having a losing season and winning 38 consecutive playoff games? The answer is simple.


Those who have spent time with Coach Wooden, perhaps in his Encino condo, will have heard the following quotes.


You can learn something from everyone although most of the time, it’s what not to do.  But that’s learning just the same.


When you’re through learning, you’re through.


Never try to be better than someone else but never cease trying to become the best you can be.


Those who have spent time with him outside of his condo know, John Wooden was absolutely addicted to learning. On the practice court, he was always taking notes and all of those notes were related to improving something.  In the off-season, he studied one piece of the game of basketball, reading everything written on the subject, sending out questionnaires to those who knew more than he about it, and interviewing experts. When doing anything else, including driving, typing, cleaning, or golfing for example, John Wooden was incessantly thinking about how to do it better in less time. I don’t know, but I imagine he found a faster and better way to brush his teeth.


You think I’m kidding? When driving him from his condo to Froman’s Delicatessen, instead of going south on White Oak and then east on Encino Blvd, and then left into the parkinglot, he had me take a short cut through an alley. It was a little risky because of blind corners which he warned me about, but that route shaved one minute off the trip. He said he discovered the shortcut through trial, error, and thinking.


But everybody does that, right? Yes, pretty much. But he did that kind of thing 24/7. It must have driven Nelly nuts. Can you imagine Nelly making a roast chicken with Coach looking over her shoulder, telling her, “If you turn that oven on 10 minutes earlier, you’ll save time.” I can. And he probably found a way to walk the dog in half the time, put rollers on his trashcan to get that thing out to the curb and back in 5 fewer seconds, and found some newfangled way to cut the grass in a fraction of the time. I don’t know.


John Wooden just couldn’t help himself, shaving seconds off of everything. Maybe he drove himself crazy doing that. Perhaps he knew that everyone around him considered him an improvement nerd and he thought, ‘Maybe I should lighten up a bit.” But he never did. Why? Because he couldn’t.  At some point in his life, he morphed into this thirsty learning machine with a bottomless insatiable appetite for making things just a little bit better, and with a contempt for the status quo.  


He must have been hard to live with; that’s for sure. But then again, that nerd became one of the greatest leaders and coaches of all time. I think I’ll forgive him.


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Why Did Coach Wooden's Practices Always End on Time?

Why Did Coach Wooden's Practices Always End on Time?

In my three years there, practice always started on time (to the minute) and ended on time, not one second later. Why? So may coaches start about 3:00 and end somewhere around 5:30, usually later. Why was Coach Wooden that exact? Why did he never go overtime?

1. Integrity and Respect: When practice is from three to five, for example, the coach is giving the players his word, practice will be over at five. Then, at five o'clock, he decides, for some reason, to scrimmage just ten minutes longer, usually because the players didn't get it or things are going so well, let's keep this thing going. After all, the players are doing so great, they will want to keep playing. Not so. When you give your word, you need to keep it, every time, no matter how tempting.
If you don't you will never get full respect.  

2. Conditioning to Play Hard at the End of a Game: When the players are not sure if practice will end at five, and they are scrimmaging during the last thirty minutes of practice, they will not play their hardest because they are reserving energy that they need after five. But when the players know practice will end at five, they will give it their all. This will condition them for the game where, at the end, they need to be at their best and give their all.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

John Wooden Leadership Quotes

John Wooden Leadership Quotes

Treat all people with dignity and respect.

Consider the rights of others before your own feelings and the feelings of others before your own rights.

Fairness is giving each person the treatment he or she earns and deserves.

Be interested in finding the best way, not your own way.

It's amazing what a team can accomplish when no one cares who deserves the credit.

Make sure the team members know they're working with you, not for you.

A leader's most powerful ally is his or her own example.

Ability may take you to the top but it takes character to keep you there.

John Wooden's Continuous Improvement

John Wooden’s Continuous Improvement
Swen Nater


When a child, John Wooden’s father told him, “Never try to be better than someone else, but never cease trying to become the best you can be.” After graduating from college, he read George Moriarty’s poem, “The Road Ahead or the Road Behind.” The last verse reads,


For who can ask more of a man

Than giving all within his span.

Giving all, it seems to me,

Is not so far from victory.


He them coined the definition for his Pyramid of Success,


Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of the self-satisfaction in knowing, you made the effort to become the best you can be.


From that time until the day he died, Coach Wooden made the effort, every day, to improve himself.


In the area of coaching basketball, his improvement plan was two-fold:

  1. Off-season research and development
  2. In-season notes to improve things


Off-Season Research and Development

Each off-season, Coach Wooden embarked on a comprehensive and exhaustive study on one topic, ranging from Xs and Os such as Out of Bounds Plays, Half-Court Offense, Full-Court Press, or Rebounding, to Non-Xs and Os such as Teaching, The Human Nature of the Athlete, Practice Planning, or Sports Psychology.


His method was:

Read everything written on the subject.

Send questionnaires to coaches who excelled in the area.

Interview experts

Collect data

Draw conclusions

Implement those conclusions into the practice sessions and games.


In-Season Notes to Improve Things

During practice, Coach Wooden took copious notes on the back of the 3X5 card that contained the practice plan. He made notes about improving drills, helping certain individuals, better teaching methods and much more. Those notes were transferred to the next practice plans and tested. If they worked, they were set in stone.


No other coach took self-improvement, based on the motivation to reach one’s own example, this seriously. No other coach improved as much as John Wooden. No other coach won as many championships. Is there a connection?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Old Man with Wooden Clubs

Swen Nater


‘Twas a Saturday sunrise and three of us friends

Were standing upon the first tee.

We were crowned in the latest of golfing attire;

Imperially well-draped were we.


Titanium drivers and irons that gleamed

And golf balls—the top of the line.

Our shoes bore the emblems of recognized brands

And they glittered like gold from the shine.


When out of the clubhouse the manager came

And said with a courteous smile,

“I’ve added a fourth who will join you today,

Though he doesn’t come close to your style.”


His clothes were in season three decades ago,

And he looked like he came from the past.

A faded old cap and his faded old shoes,

Were to ours, a striking contrast.


But his most antiquated component was this,

The wooden-shaft clubs that he bore.

They were battered and dented and seemed to belong

In the back of a second-hand store.


While the three of us stepped to the tee in our turn,

And we drove our three balls down the way,

And they sailed and they landed a fair distance out,

The man chose the club he would play.


With care and respect, he lifted the stick,

And wisely considered the breeze.

He looked down the fairway and addressed the ball,

And his swing had a grace and an ease.


His ball started low and began to ascend,

And it rose like a kite in the air.

It went straight like an arrow and landed well past,

The other three balls that were there.


Our seconds shots landed somewhere near the green,

And the old man took out an old wedge.

When he swung it the ball seemed to search for the flag,

And it landed three feet from its edge.


He birdied and I looked at him while I thought,

That his luck was absurd and bizarre.

But we bogied hole two as we watched the old man,

Sink a twenty-foot put for a par.


And so it persisted for sixteen more holes;

He continued to give us our licks.

And he did it with skill and humility’s grace,

And with antique and battered old sticks.


At the end of the round, as the handshakes commenced,

I asked him for all of us three,

“How could you, an old man with outdated clubs,

Play superior and better than we?”


The stare of his eyes penetrated my soul,

And my heart sensed the wisdom of age.

He spoke and for me what I heard has become,

My yardstick, my compass, and gage.


“Equipment has little to do with the score;

It’s the person who’s holding the wood.

If he’s doing the best with the clubs that he has,

He’ll probably be pretty good.”


Then I realized how life resembles the game,

That like top of the line clubs and ball,

Some when they’re born have a silvery-spoon,

But then others have no spoons at all.


Possessions have little to do with success;

It’s the person who’s holding his share.

If he’s doing the best with whatever he’s got,

He’ll probably be pretty fair.

Thursday, March 30, 2017


The Relationship Between John Wooden’s Loyalty and His Success

Swen Nater


When addressing his Pyramid of Success, for the block “Loyalty,” John Wooden said, “I wanted my players to be loyal to someone or something.” Why is that important for anyone with a desire to become the best he or she can be?


Addicts who are loyal to the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, purposely-driven and enthusiastically-focused on completing each step, with the goal of fulfilling them all, are more likely to be sober for life than those who: Do not take the process seriously, Begin to compromise along the way, or Become overconfident at some point.


John Wooden understood that and put himself in subjection (became loyal to) three things. For living a good life, John Wooden was loyal to a creed his father gave him; for teaching, he was loyal to the practice plan; and for personal success, he was loyal to the Pyramid of Success.


Life (Joshua Wooden’s Seven-Point Creed)

  1. Be true to yourself.
  2. Make each day your masterpiece.
  3. Help others.
  4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
  5. Make friendship a fine art.
  6. Build a shelter against a rainy day.
  7. Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.


On several occasions, I heard Coach Wooden say, “I tried to live up to it,” referring to the seven point creed his father gave him (and explained) when Coach graduated from grade school. From personal experience, I know he fulfilled all seven points. In the process, he became one of the best people I have known.


Work (The Practice Plan)

For every two-hour practice session, John Wooden spent at least two and one-half hours planning. Referring to the same practice he had the year before and the year before that, and also notes he had written to himself about the needs of the current team, Coach created the practice plan for that day on notebook-sized paper. That plan was then copied to 3X5 cards which he used during the practice session.


Once the plan was written on the cards, it was set in stone. No changes were made before practice or during. Tempting as it may have been while he was teaching (to do a drill a little longer, a little shorter, or add something he forgot to put in or thought it might be good to put in), the plan was followed to the detail and minute. Anything that he thought should have been changed, added, or deleted, was written on the back of the cards during the practice and transferred to the notebook paper the following morning, as suggested improvements.  


Success (The Pyramid of Success)

Inspired by something his father said, “Don’t try to be better than someone else but never cease trying to become the best that YOU can be,” and by a stanza in a poem written by George Moriarty, The Road Ahead or the Road Behind,


For who can ask more of a man,

Than giving all within his span.

Giving all, it seems to me,

Is not so far from victory.


John Wooden created his definition for success,


“Success is the peace of mind that is a direct result of the self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”


To provide a step-by-step method for realizing success, he built his Pyramid of Success.


Although Wooden wrote the definition for his high school students, and fashioned the structure to help them feel successful, especially those who did not have the talent to get an A in his high school class, he followed the Pyramid himself from the early 1930s to the day he went to be with the Lord. According to him, following the Pyramid was responsible for the knowledge he gained, for it demanded a conscious effort for continuous improvement.  


Would John Wooden have been as great a person without following his father’s creed?  Would he have prepared his teams if he changed the practice plan mid-stream? Would he have learned as much about basketball without the Pyramid of Success?