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.