Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Coach Wooden, Drucky Drake, and Water

Coach Wooden, Ducky Drake, and Water


Elvin C. (Ducky) Drake was the first track and field coach at UCLA and the athletic trainer when I attended UCLA. Ask any athletic trainer today, and he or she has heard of him and uses some of his methods. For example, his process for rehabilitating a sprained ankle is still used today. It includes “ice cup massage” (a little painful), resistance exercises to strengthen the muscles and tendons (painful), and swelling removal via talcum powder massage (extremely painful).


Coach Wooden put Ducky in charge of our pre-game meal diet and water intake during games. The pre-game diet consisted of a 16 oz NY steak, baked potato with one TBS butter, peas, Melba toast, mixed fruit cup, water, and hot tea. That was it and that’s what we had 4 ½ hours before game time, every game.


You ask, “Weren’t you hungry at game time?” You bet ya we were hungry; we were starving. And we won 10 out of 12 championships, 38 consecutive playoff games, and 88 games in a row, famished.  


Four times a practice, we were allowed to go to the drinking fountain and take three sips of water. (I saw Walton taking four once and was tempted to tell on him so, hopefully, Coach would bench Bill and put me in the game. But I decided against that.) One sip is about one ounce of water so in a practice, we drank twelve ounces of water, or just about the equivalent of a small bottle of Kirkland Signature water.


Just through respiration, sweat, and excretion, the average human loses 2.5 liters of water per day. 12 ounces of water for a two and one-half hour practice doesn’t seem like enough to replenish what we lose. And if you think that’s strange, during basketball games, we were given one ounce of salted water during each time out. Coach never called a time out when I was there so that doesn’t add up to much water. Did we get cramps? Never. Did that hurt our performance? Apparently not. Like I said, we won the games, so who could argue against what Ducky was doing?  


Ducky Drake and Coach Wooden believed:

  1. Anything in your stomach draws blood to the stomach. Blood at the stomach means less blood in your muscles.
  2. Drinks should be spaced out. Bloating slows you down.
  3. Hydrating before a game and after a game, with little water during the game, doesn’t hurt the body. The body can handle it.


But today many “experts” will argue with that. They say, during a game, the body must take in as much liquids as it expels. And they add, we must replenish the electrolytes also. Perhaps the human body has evolved (or devolved) in 40 years to where it now needs more than it used to. Just saying.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

What is the Difference Between the Champion and the Runner-Up?

What is the Difference Between the Champion and the Runner-Up?


2018 NBA Playoffs, Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers

Jayson Tatum comes off the screen on the left wing and squares up. He’s open. He shoots. Nothing but net.  And what does he do? He turns toward the sideline and flexes his muscles (he doesn’t have much there) toward the crowd like he just made the shot that won a championship. Meanwhile, the Cavaliers have inbounded the basketball and are racing toward the other end. Now behind the play, Tatum tries to catch up but it’s too late. His pause for self-glory caused a five-on-four situation and Cleveland easily found the open man. Score Cavaliers.


1973 NCAA Playoffs, UCLA vs Memphis State

Tommy Curtis brings the ball up the floor and UCLA sets up. The ball goes to Greg Lee at the top of the key. He looks for Bill Walton but Larry Kenon is fronting. With a quick whirl, Walton spins toward the basket, leaving Kenon in his tracks. Lee’s lob is already on the way and is almost at the rim. Walton leaps high to grab it with both hands and lays it gently into the basket. Immediately, Walton points at Lee to acknowledge his contribution to the play and sprints back toward the other end of the court, all the while looking over his shoulder in case Memphis State attempts a long pass. They wouldn’t dare, not against the quickest and most-alert big man in basketball history.


There is an age-long question in basketball. “What is the difference between the champion and the runner up?” If we knew the answer, people could make a lot of money in Vegas during Final Four weekend, couldn’t they? Novices will mention peripheral factors such as talent, size, quickness, and speed. Those with deeper knowledge will bring up which team has the better guards, rebounding edge, points per game average, and points per possession. Although influences like these can help, in regards to predicting a winner, history had shown, they are not reliable. So what was the difference between UCLA and the other teams we beat in those championship games? What is the difference between number one and number two?


According to John Wooden, there is no single difference. It’s a bunch of little things that add up to something so big and significant, it can determine the winner. That was certainly true for John Wooden’s UCLA teams and one of those “little things” was for players to stay focused on what was happening on the floor. In any basketball game, for both teams, there are numerous “opportunities” which come and go like a flash. If one is not alert, one will miss that opportunity. The team that is trained to stay tuned to the game will take advantage of more opportunities than the team that has players acting like Jayson Tatum. And in the NCAA championship game where the two teams are fairly equal in talent, the team that capitalizes on opportunities will score more points.


Let me take you in a time machine to Pauley Pavilion when Coach was conducting a practice. The sounds you are hearing come from only three sources: Coach Wooden shouting instructions, The incessant sound of screeching squeaking sneakers, and Players communicating. One of the forms of communicating is mentioned above, where Walton points at Lee to thank him for the pass. From 2:29 to 4:59, you never hear a player give himself credit for anything. You never see him pound his chest, point to the name on his shirt, or do a fist pump. But you so hear, “Nice pass, I got help, switch, I’m at the high post, get my man, great cut, and what a play!” You never see any UCLA player with his mind on anything other than the job at hand.


There are many “little things” that, combined, help make a team great. Staying focused is one of them. A few others are: Putting your socks on correctly, drying your shoes between practices, keeping your shirt tucked in during practice, pulling your socks up, and being on time. But those are just a few.

Friday, May 18, 2018

John Wooden Makes a Sandwich

John Wooden Makes a Sandwich


All teachers know, there are times when students are very open to correction and times they are not. Fatigue, time of day, personal issues, falling behind, and distraction may be some reasons why students close their minds. Embarrassment may be another.


In a basketball game, one player makes a mistake that costs his team points. Let’s say he takes a shot when he should have passed the ball to a teammate who had a better one. At the next dead ball (play stops), his coach takes him out of the game. As he walks off the floor toward the bench, he is met by his coach who gets in his face and scolds him all the way to his seat. Then the coach squats down in front of him to continue his correction. The player cannot look the coach in the eye and it is very clear, his coach has embarrassed him in front of his teammates and the crowd. The player’s mind is closed to the information his coach is trying to transmit. He learns nothing. This scenario is all too common in sports.


Coach Wooden was a master at teaching the fundamentals of the game, strategy, Xs and Os, conditioning, and teamwork. However, none of that would have been possible if he was not a master at knowing how students learn. For Coach, maximizing learning during practice sessions meant winning championships, and one thing he discovered in his research was, correction, coupled with embarrassment, results in reduced learning or no learning at all.


There’s no getting around “correction,” as a key to instruction and learning. It must be done. But how does one open a student’s mind after that student has screwed up? How did Coach morph someone who “didn’t want to hear it,” into someone who was eager to make the correction? He made a sandwich.


The John Wooden Correction Sandwich

  1. Show the Correct Method.
  2. Show How the Player Did It.
  3. Show the Correct Method.


The player in our example above received the middle of the sandwich first, “Show How the Player Did it.” The Coach said, “You missed the open player. How the heck did you not see him?” This immediately put the player on the defensive and closed his mind. Had the coach waited until the player sat down and then squatted in front of him and explained how the play is supposed to work (find the high-percentage shot), and then explained how the player did not do that, and finally say, “Next time you have the ball, let’s consider the percentages, OK?” magic would have happened. Here’s what I mean.


  1. Show the Correct Method: The player has made a mistake and he knows that. The coach shows him the way it is supposed to be done. Immediately, the player, knowing how he did it, compares that information with the correct model and sees the difference. The “magic” is, he is teaching himself.
  2. Show How the Player Did It: This strengthens the comparison of the right and incorrect methods and allows the player to continue the comparison and self-teaching.
  3. Show the Correct Method: As the player returns to the practice, he does so with a clear vision of what the correct method is.  


Next time you are teaching and are ready to correct a student, have a Coach Wooden Sandwich. By the way, your own children will like Coach Wooden Sandwiches too.

Monday, May 14, 2018

John Wooden and Controlled Scrimmage

John Wooden and Controlled Scrimmage
When weather permits (We live in the Seattle area), Wendy and I go to the tennis court. We’ve been doing that for over two years. We don’t play a game; we practice. I teach.
Until recently, our “practice” consisted of Wendy doing service practice, return of service practice, and just hitting the ball back and forth. Because I am a much-more experienced player, nine-percent of those rallies ended with Wendy either hitting the ball in the net or out of bounds. Ninety percent of our rallies ended in Wendy being frustrated. I never thought anything of it.
I don’t know why I didn’t see this before, but if the end result of teaching is for the student to do it right, I was not teaching. When Wendy plays a tennis match and hits a shot that ends a point, she doesn’t always hit the ball in the net or out of bounds. Sometimes, many times, she hits a good shot that wins the point. But that didn’t happen when we practiced. And this hard-headed tall drink of water had not figured that out. But one day I did.
For the return of serve, for example, I limited her shots to two, the first one being the return and the second being the next shot. No matter if she hit the ball out or in, I caught the second shot and we started over. Most of the time, she hit a great second shot. In fact, she improved tremendously as, due to the repetition, her second shots increasingly morphed into more-accurate and more-powerful connections. Since that day, we’ve been doing just that. As a result, Wendy’s confidence, disposition, and general enjoyment skyrocketed, not to mention her skill (But I already mentioned that).
After a few sessions of this, it hit me (It takes a while because I was a PE major). This is what a John Wooden UCLA practice looked like. How could I forget? When it was time for the five-on-five scrimmage, which was always toward the end of practice, we started at one end of the full-court, transitioned to the other end, and Coach blew the whistle. We never went down and back, ever. This was called, “Controlled Scrimmage.”
For example, let’s say the plan was for the starting team to work on a particular offensive play. The guard would have the ball and, on John Wooden’s signal, he initiated the play while the second team played defense. If they scored, missed the shot, or turned the ball over, the second team raced the ball down the court in an attempt to score while the starting team tried to stop us. We usually took a quick shot because if we took too long, Coach blew the whistle.
When the first team regained possession, Coach had the guard set up again, running the same play, but this time, instead of from West to East, East to West. But before they started, Coach always pointed out an improvement the first team needed to make (That is a nice way of saying, he corrected them.) Let me say it again; we never went down and back, only from one side of the full court to the other, Coach corrected, and we set up again.
Why did Coach Wooden use “Controlled Scrimmage?”
One: When you allow too much uninterrupted scrimmage, things get sloppy, bad habits form, and you are working against yourself.
Two: The only time to teach is immediately after action.  
Three: Coach believed “Repetition is the Key to Learning.” This was accomplished by having the first team run the same play over and over again, usually for fifteen minutes.  
Someone may ask the question, “How did you guys learn to play a full game when you never got to go up and down? I don’t know, but we were pretty good at it.  

John Wooden and New Basketballs


If you played basketball in high school, remember how every year the AD would buy a set of twelve new basketballs for the varsity? The first day of practice, there they were on the rack at half-court, fresh out of the boxes, pristine, and shiny. The light-brown leather was a stark contrast to the black lettering and they smelled like new.   


At UCLA, we had new balls also, but only two or three out of the twelve. The rest were either one or two years old. The colors ranged from light brown to very dark brown, almost black from the wear and the sweat.


When I walked on the Pauley Pavilion floor for my first UCLA practice and saw a rack of eclectic basketballs, I wondered what was going on.  At Cypress Community College the year before, we had brand new balls. Did Coach Wooden forget to put basketballs in the budget? I heard he was frugal so perhaps he wanted to save money. I didn’t know. But when I considered the UCLA athletic department netted over one million dollars a year, mostly due to basketball and football attendance, and the cost of twelve new basketballs was somewhere around $600, it didn’t make sense. I was confused but afraid to ask.


It wasn’t until years after graduation I finally asked Coach about it. He said, “It’s simple. Do you remember, for some of our away games, the game ball was strange-looking and had a different feel?” I nodded. “That team had been practicing with that ball all week?” I nodded because we used to talk about that happening at Notre Dame. The basketball was almost pale and seemed larger than a regulation ball. Coach continued. “By shooting with a variety of balls during practice, I conditioned the players to be able to adjust quickly to any basketball.” 


At the time, some thought John Wooden, being older than other coaches, was old school and set in his ways. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was the most-innovative coach in the world.


For example, while all other teams were going with the fad of wearing polyester reversible tank tops which remained wet all practice, we were wearing inexpensive cotton t-shirts which sucked the sweat from our bodies and dispensed  it into the air. 

The John Wooden Nod

The John Wooden Nod


From the year he became the UCLA Men’s Basketball coach (1948) to the year he retired (1975), John Wooden was ambitiously and methodically-engaged in, what is commonly referred to as “Continuous Improvement.” Each off season, he chose one component of the game of basketball (e.g., rebounding, out of bounds plays, full-court press) and employed the scientific method of research in order to arrive at what was true about that particular subject. For example, after studying jump shooting, he determined, after polling several coaches, reading everything written on the subject, and interviewing experts such as Bill Sharman, the essential technical details were:


Preparation: Balance, Elbow above the knee, Wrinkle in the shooting wrist

Finish: Elbow above the ear, Snap of the wrist, Hand comes back down on the same path it went up.


And there was a reason for each.

Balance: In order to be able to jump on a plum line and avoid floating to the side.  

Elbow above the knee: Keeps the shooting hand square to the target.

Wrinkle in the wrist: Eliminates having to cock the wrist during the shot (less movement).

Elbow above the ear: Causes a lift rather than a push.

Snap of the wrist: Provides backspin which allows the ball to go farther and produces a soft bounce should the ball hit the rim.

Hand comes back down on the same path it went up: Promotes the lift of the ball.


Oh yes. There was one more for the finish. It was a nod. Yes, you read that right. He believed, at release, the shooter should nod at the rim, in the same way a person nods at a someone when passing them on the sidewalk or in the hall. What was the purpose of this nod? Was it to say hello to the basket? Hardly.


The next time you watch a basketball game and someone is shooting two free throws, watch. When shooting the second shot, the shooter often moves his head back. Many think this is because he’s preparing to go back on defense. Whatever the case, his head is moving in the opposite direction as the ball, reducing acceleration. Coach Wooden believed every part of the body should serve a function in moving the ball toward the target and that includes the head.


Years ago, when shooting around in a gymnasium by myself for an hour, a young man came and began to do the same. He was majoring on shooting three point shots. I watched. When he missed, which was most of the time, his ball came short and hit the front of the rim. After about fifteen minutes of watching this fiasco, I asked him if I could help. He agreed and I introduced him to the John Wooden nod. He made twenty in succession. The twenty first hit the back of the rim.