Thursday, June 28, 2018

Coach Wooden and Fromin's Delicatessen

Coach Wooden and Fromin’s Delicatessen


I’ve worked for Costco Wholesale in the Seattle area corporate office for almost twenty-four years now. About twelve years ago, work took me down to LA so I decided to pay Coach Wooden a visit. He lived in Encino, California. My Costco boss, Rick DeLie, who was also there on business, asked if he could meet Coach Wooden. I arranged for the three of us to have lunch at Coach’s favorite delicatessen, Fromin’s, not far from Coach’s condo. As it turned out, my community college coach, Don Johnson and his wife were also visiting coach, and Coach’s daughter, Nan, wanted to go too. So I made reservations for six.  


The food was great and the conversation was even better. Rick, being a huge sports fan, asked Coach a lot of questions about the great UCLA teams and the glory days. Don Johnson, a UCLA All-American under Coach Wooden in the 1950’s, talked about “back in the day” stuff. Nan pretty much listened.


I have always looked for the humor in things so when the opportunity came, I told a joke. Everyone laughed, thank goodness. Coach then turned to me and asked, “Where do you come up with all these jokes, Swen?” This was my opportunity and I took full advantage.


As many of you know, I played about two minutes per game at UCLA because the starter was the great Bill Walton. In other words, I was a “benchwarmer.” I answered Coach, “Coach, you know I spent a lot of time on the bench.” He blushed a little. “I had plenty of time on my hands. People behind me, in the stands, used to tell me jokes. That’s how I learned them.”


Coach smiled and said, “You know, Swen, that’s interesting. There were a couple of times I was going to put you in the game and looked over toward you, but you were looking behind you so I didn’t bother.”


I blushed a lot while Coach patted me on the shoulder.

Coach Wooden and The Game of Life


Adults often make the mistake of prematurely-judging young people as to what profession it looks like they will eventually be involved in. Little Amy struggles in math but becomes a scientist. Little Johnny repeatedly fails his Friday spelling tests and morphs into a successful non-fiction novel author. I was getting C’s in math until the eighth grade when my teacher helped me make sense of it all and finished two years of college calculus. Born in The Netherlands, I struggled with English writing. I have six published books to date and I’m writing blogs.


Experienced adults have learned not to judge a book by its cover when it comes to youth. There may be some occasional “indicators,” but they know young people will surprise you and often prove you wrong.


Coach Wooden was no exception. Bill Walton was one of UCLA’s all-time most valuable players and it was relatively safe for Coach Wooden to predict he would become one of the NBA’s greats. But when, after the NBA, Walton decided to become a television basketball commentator, it surprised many he became one of the best, considering throughout college and well into the pros, Bill had a stuttering issue. But Coach Wooden was not surprised at all.


During a UCLA player reunion, when Coach was asked by the MC, “Are you surprised Bill Walton became a commentator?, he responded, “As many of us know, Bill stuttered quite a bit when at UCLA, so much so, he refused to get in front of a camera for interviews. I am not surprised, knowing Bill, he overcame this difficulty. But now we can’t shut him up.”


The Game of Life

Swen Nater


The Little League game was about to begin,

On a perfectly, wonderful day.

One team sprinted out

With a spirited shout,

For the boys were excited to play.  


As their coach saw the field, with his players in place,

A vision took over his sight.

Each Little League lad

Grew the age of a dad,

Complete with the beard and the height.


His pitcher, an artist, composed to create

On a canvas awaiting and bare.

His stroke on the ball

Made it spin and then fall

When it curved and it carved through the air. 


His catcher, a general, positioned in place,

Was leading the rest of the pack.

On his signal and sign,

They joined to combine,

With a quick and successful attack.


His shortstop, a surgeon, whose quickness and skill,

When it seemed as though death cast its fate,

On the double, he caught,

What the grave almost got,

And threw lifelessness out at the plate. 


His outfield consisted of no lesser men:

Three statesmen with not one reproach.

On third was a preacher,

And on second, a teacher,

On first was a Little League coach. 


As the vision grew fainter, the coach stopped and thought.

The epiphany cut like a knife.

Baseball was more

Than a game and a score;

It was practice for the game of life.   

Monday, June 25, 2018

Through Coach's Eyes

Through Coach’s Eyes


My eight-year-old grandson, Chase Maxwell, started his very first basketball camp this morning. I was there. Camp started twenty minutes late due to registration, during which time Chase ran up to me and said, “I’ve already shot a hundred shots. I’m bored. When does all the fun stuff start, Papa?” He’s a little impatient due to his excitement for this week. As the camp director addressed the campers for orientation, Chase was glued to every word the man said. That’s when I remembered I wrote this poem.


I don’t believe anyone has put Chase down but I do believe, he’s not sure how good he is compared to the other boys. You see, in spite of his grandpa being seven feet tall, Chase is not tall for his age. And since this is a third-fourth grade camp and he is a third-grader, Chase is one of the smallest boys there.


I’m confident he is depending on the coach to believe in him, to encourage him, and to praise him. Chase watches everything I do and he talks to me about everything. He trusts me. He knows, no matter what the outcome, if he is doing his best, my smile tells him it’s OK.


I idolized Coach Wooden. He was everything I wanted to be. I wanted to see basketball and life through his eyes, and he was careful to make that happen.




Swen Nater


Hi, Coach. It’s me. I’m on the team.

Been looking forward to this day.

Got my glove and got my ball.

Couldn’t sleep last night at all,

But here I am, prepared to play.


They say you really love this game,

Not for the glory or the prize.

I want to love it just like you.

So teach me how to love it too.

I want to see it through your eyes.


My other coaches put me down,

And each time something in me dies.

I saved some faith I think is strong,

‘Cause I knew you would come along.

I want to see things through your eyes.


I don’t believe in me so much.

I’m just a kid inside my shell.

If you believe in me, I could,

See through your eyes, and know I’m good.

Then I’ll believe in me as well.


And through your eyes, I hope I see,

That if we’ve lost, or if we’ve won,

You won’t compare me to the rest.

You’ll see that I have done my best,

And smile at me and say, “Well done.”


Then someday when I’m all grown up,

Like you, I’ll be astute and wise.

I’ll face the choices, without pause.

I’ll make the righteous ones because,

I learned to see through Coach’s eyes.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Coach Wooden's "Two Sets of Threes"

Coach Wooden’s “Two Sets of Threes “


Never lie. Never cheat. Never steal.

Never whine. Never complain. Never make excuses.


They say, “Never say never,” but Coach Wooden didn’t agree with that. There are certain things you should never do. Try being true to the “Two Sets of Threes” for one day; it’s nearly impossible. As far as I could tell, Coach did.


I never caught him in a lie. There may have been one exception. He told us, “You are the best-conditioned team in the country.” He didn’t know if that were true but he did know, if we believed it, we would continue to put the pressure on the other team, knowing those players would wear down before we did. But that’s not really a lie, is it?


I never saw Coach cheat. Well, there was this issue about the net. When we played in the opponents’ arenas, when the basketball was shot and went through the net, it went through the net. Our nets were quite a bit stiffer for some reason. The ball seemed to take it’s time falling through, perhaps even one or two seconds longer. We full-court pressed after every made basket. That extra time to get in position but I’m sure that was just a coincidence.


Coach never stole a thing in his life but he taught us to steal. Whenever possible, take the ball away from the other team. We liked stealing and did a lot of it.  


But seriously, he did teach us never to whine, complain, or make excuses. For example, the last thing he told us in the locker room, before we went out to warm up for a game was, “If you know you have prepared to the best of your ability, I want your heads up at the end, no matter what the score.” In other words, no whining, complaining, or making excuses.


We didn’t lose one game while I was on the team but when I was redshirting (practicing but not on the roster to save a year of eligibility), we lost to Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. I saw the game on TV. Austin Carr played brilliantly for the Irish and I have to say, the refs played brilliantly for them also.


When Coach conducted the next practice on Monday, he didn’t mention one word about the game. It was practice as usual. It would have been easy to make excuses, and there were some valid ones, but Coach practiced what he preached. As a result, we had one of the best practices of the year and we didn’t lose a game the rest of the season.  



Swen Nater


On the road to the top of the mountain,

At the base of the very last hill,

There’s a pleasing and well-traveled exit,

For the faint with a weakening will. 


For the last stretch is steep and is daunting,

And for most, it’s just too much to bear.

And those with the best of intentions, 

Turn right and then settle down there.


And together they built a calm city.

And they talk of such things as, “could have.”

And they find consolation in “but” and in “if,”

And of course the most popular, “would have.”


There’s a sign up ahead by the highway,

“Excuseville: A Sweet-Dreaming Town.”

You’ve done well; you can stop.

It’s too far to the top.

Take the exit and just settle down.   

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

John Wooden and Priorities

John Wooden and Priorities


I suppose it was on the farm in Indiana where John Wooden first learned priorities. If the field doesn’t get plowed at the right time, the soil won’t be ready for seeding. If the grass is not harvested at the right time, they quality of hay will be reduced. If the hay doesn’t get stored in the barn on time, the rains will spoil the bails.


As a coach, he also understood the importance of prioritizing. If recruiting is not finished by a certain date, you can’t create the offense and defense. If your master practice plan is not finished, you cannot create weekly plans. And weekly plans are essential for creating the daily practice plans. Equipment must be ordered, managers must be selected, and the all-important season game schedule must be set in stone by a certain time.


Coach Wooden often quoted Ben Franklin, “By failing to prepare, you prepare to fail.” He learned that early in his life and continued to excel in this area through his coaching career at UCLA.


Knowing this, it may not surprise you to learn, Coach Wooden placed his family at the top of the priority list, above coaching basketball, as time-consuming and demanding as that job might be. If you think I’m kidding, after practice was over, we couldn’t talk to the man. He and his coaching staff darted to his office for a short debriefing and Coach was in his car on his way home. Practice was over at 4:59 and Coach was home before six.


Like his father, he helped his children with their homework, ate dinner with his family, and read bedtime stories, while other coaches around the country were watching game films, practice films, and calling recruits.


When I discovered that, it inspired me to write this poem.



Swen Nater


“Daddy, come and play with me.”

He begged with outstretched hand.

He was so small—below my knee.

He didn’t understand.


I had far bigger things to do

Like further my career.

Instead of him, I chose to view

The corporate frontier.


“Later, son, I’ll be there soon,”

I hoped that would appease.

I had a meeting right at noon,

But heard, “Please, Daddy, please!”


“The babysitter’s waiting, son,”

I said, with plastic smile.

“She’ll read you books and let you run.”

“Dad, just a little while?” 


I tied my shoes and tied my tie,

And draped my suit coat on.

While from the floor, he caught my eye:

My one and only son.


“The Army guys in red are bad,

And the good guys are in blue.

I’ll let you be the good guys, Dad.

I’ll let you beat me too.”


“Rrrunga rrrunga rrrunga rrrung,

The bad guy’s tanks did blare,

And toward the good guys troops they sprung,

Who had no leader there.


Five or ten already dead;

The raid was under way,

Until the good guys’ general said,

“I’d better sit and play.”


The battle waged and fierce it was;

Both sides were holding fast.

There was no stop; there was no pause,

Just guns and tanks and blast.


I saw my watch and I was late,

“Son, pause this army brawl.”

He stared and I said, “Son, please wait!

I’ve got to make one call.”


I dialed the phone; he looked so sad.

I said, “It’s Larry Burr.

You know that twelve o’clock I had?

Well, I can’t make it sir.


“Yes, sir, I understand the cost.

Yes, sir, I’ll be surpassed.

But I’ll be poor if I have lost

A son who’s growing fast.


“I’ll see you in the morning, sir.

When day replaces night.

But now, will you excuse me, sir?

I’ve got a war to fight.”

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

John Wooden and his Maxims

John Wooden and his Maxims


I don’t remember much about my ninth-grade English teacher, not even her name. But I do remember one thing. I loved learning new words and prided myself in expanding my vocabulary. One day, after class I asked her, “What’s the key to learning a new word?” She smiled and said, “Use a word three times and it’s yours.”


When visiting Coach Wooden in his Encino Condo I asked, “Coach. What’s the key to teaching?” He said, “The best teacher is example,” and then he quoted the following, anonymous, poem.


No written word no oral plea

Can teach our youth what they should be

Nor all the books on all the shelves;

It’s what the teachers are themselves.


On another visit, frustrated that my basketball team didn’t think rebounding was that important, I told Coach, “I have taught them how to rebound but they won’t do it.” Coach held up his hand as if to stop me and said, “You have not taught until they have learned.”


When I was coaching, I called Wooden and said, “In our first team meeting, I told the players that I didn’t trust any of them and it was up to them to gain my trust.” Coach replied, “It’s better to trust and be disappointed once in a while than to not trust and be miserable all the time.”


When I boasted to Coach, “I helped a little boy with his shooting today,” he said, “You haven’t lived a perfect day until you have done something for someone without the thought of receiving anything in return.”


Those of you who knew John Wooden know that he spoke in Axioms or little sentences of wisdom. It is not surprising when you consider his father did the same. For example, when teaching his sons about success, he said, “Don’t try to be better than someone else but never cease trying to become the best you can be.” This was the basis of, what would later be, John Wooden’s definition for success, “Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of the self-satisfaction of knowing you made the effort to become the best you can be.”


Another contributor to Coach Wooden’s love for timeless truths was Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was in the habit of spewing out truisms on a regular basis. One that Coach shared with me was, “You can learn something from everyone although most of the time it’s what not to do. But that’s learning just the same.” One more was, “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?” (I wonder if that motived Coach to drive across town and make friends with Bob Boyd, USC coach.)


But seriously, why did Coach Wooden speak in maxims? They are true, short, and power-packed. Just a few words can have a potent effect on someone. “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” can change someone from blaming others to thinking, ‘The fault may be with myself.’ “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, for your character is what you are while your reputation is merely what others think you are,” can make someone do a 180 to focus on what’s controllable rather than what’s not.  


I don’t know about you but I’m motivated to become a Maxim Man. I have grandchildren and I want to be able to have one of those little nuggets of truth in my back pocket, should one of them need a prescription.  


And may I apply my ninth-grade teacher’s advice for learning Maxims? Use a maxim three times and it’s yours.” How about you? Are you coming?


If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.

John Wooden

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Key to Stardom is the Rest of the Team


In the early 1970s, Sidney Wicks was a very talented 6’9” forward for UCLA. Sidney became a Bruin when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then Lewis Alcindor) was on the team. He competed for the wing position on the left side of the floor where Kareem was positioned, along with Lynn Shackelford, a left-handed 6’5” long-range sharp shooter. Lynn had the starting spot since he played that position the previous year when UCLA won the championship.


The offensive job description for the left-side forward was to pass to Kareem if he was open, shoot the jump shot if open, or pass to the guard if neither option was available so the team could get a good shot on the other side of the floor or get the ball to Kareem a different way.  


Sidney Wicks, Shackelford’s backup and playing far fewer minutes than Lynn, did not have Shack’s shooting range but he was a much-better athlete. In practice, he out-rebounded and out-defended Shack, not to mention scoring on the fast break with his incredible speed. Half-way into the season, this prompted Wicks to pay Coach Wooden a visit in his office to plead his case for replacing Lynn. This is how Coach Wooden explained the meeting to me.


Sidney told me, “Coach. You know I’m better than Shack.” I told him, “I know you are, Sidney, and it’s a shame you’re letting Lynn beat you out.” Sidney was under the false impression; I was responsible for his lack of playing time when in actuality he was. He was trying to do too much and, at times, it hindered the flow of the offense. Now that he had an open mind, I went on to encourage him to concentrate his efforts on doing the things we needed him to do so the team would operate at its most-efficient level.


After Kareem graduated, Sidney Wicks was our best player. Had he been on any other team, he could have easily been the leading scorer in the nation. But he continued to do things Wooden’s way, doing what the team needed, allowing his teammates to do what they did best, and eagerly-shunning a desire for personal glory. This team spirit resulted in two more NCAA championships for UCLA, but for Wicks, a nice surprise.


Coach Wooden said, “The key to stardom is the rest of the team.” And he was correct. In two years as a starter, Sidney Wicks was:

  1. Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four, 1970
  2. Helms National Co-Player of the Year, 1970
  3. USBWA and Sporting News Player of the Year, 1971
  4. Two-time Consensus All-American, 1970, 1971



Swen Nater


I have awed at a solo performance,

And spectacular flashy display,

But I crave for the best,

And my eyes are more blessed,

When an unselfish team makes a play.


A play that’s so perfect and simple,

With the weaving of role with a role,

Every piece partly seen,

Like a fine-tuned machine,

And you notice not one but the whole.


Like an orchestra tuned to perfection,

Where harmonious beauty is found,

Every note has a quest,

To be part of the rest,

And the whole is a masterpiece sound.


Every wild one, once blinded by glory,

Is now cured and is one of the tame.

He receives his esteem,

As a part of the team,

And is eager to sacrifice fame.


It’s amazing what teams have accomplished.

It’s astounding how much they have done,

When the ultimate call,

Is when one is for all,

And the credit is reached for by none.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Coach Wooden Lives On


After you leave this earth, you will live on in the people you affect. The more of an influence you had, the more of an affect there will be.


For those who spent time with Coach Wooden, and many of you have, you know this to be true. You will be doing a task and suddenly you hear, “Be quick but don’t hurry.” You make a mistake and you hear, “If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that doers make mistakes.” Life takes you on a road you didn’t expect to be on and you hear, “Things turn out best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.” You are tempted to berate a student and Coach reminds you, “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”


And if you are one of his basketball players, you will have seen all of that, and much more, in action, day in and day out. In this way, Coach Wooden lives on.


With that in mind, I wrote this poem to Coach Wooden shortly after he passed away. For those who don’t know, Nellie was Coach’s wife.



Now That You’re Home with Your Nellie

Swen Nater


Now that you’re home with your Nellie,

In peace and sweet bliss up above,

Your precepts still teach,

And your axioms preach,

Of a decency, wisdom, and love.


Now that you’re home with your Nellie,

You’re still teaching us fathers and mothers.

Your words, they still ring,

And your truths, they still sing,

Of a life that’s best lived for others.


Now that you’re home with your Nellie,

And I mourn with a joy and a tear,

Through your teachings, I’ll try,

Till we meet in the sky,

To become a John Wooden down here.


C: All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

I Saw Love Once

I Saw Love Once

When Coach Wooden recruited me to come to UCLA after I played two years of basketball at Cypress College, he warned me, the great Bill Walton was also coming in and he did not promise me playing time. What he did promise was, the experience of playing against the best team in the country and against the best center. Coach said, “With the body you have, and that experience, you will improve greatly and the pro scouts should give you a good look.” I believed him and signed my letter of intent.

Red Shirt
After a couple of practice weeks, Coach recommended I “red shirt” which means I would practice and not suit up for games, saving one year of eligibility; I was allowed five years of college to play four. That was disappointing, but I trusted Coach Wooden.

Walton was on the Freshman team. Freshmen were not allowed to play varsity in those days. I practiced against the varsity and its center, Steve Patterson. Occasionally, Walton came over to scrimmage against the first team which meant, I had to stand on the sidelines and watch. That was disappointing, yet I trusted Coach. (By the way; Walton more than held his own.)

1972 Olympic Trials
When Bill became a Sophomore and I a Junior, I practiced against him and the varsity every day. I was terrible but improving. I saw about two minutes per game of playing time, what they call, “garbage time.” My spirits were slumping.

 We won the championship again and at the end of the season, Coach Wooden surprised me. The Olympic Committee refused to let Bill Walton on the team because Bill requested limited practice time due to his bad knees. So Coach asked the committee to let me try out. They agreed, and to everyone’s surprise, I led the trials in scoring and made the team. All pro scouts were there.

1973 Pizza Hut All-Star Game
We won the championship the next year as well but I played even fewer minutes than the year before. Shortly after the end of the season, Coach Wooden called me to this office and announced, the Pizza Hut company wanted me to play in their nationally-televised Pizza Hut All-Star Game which featured the top 24 seniors. I wasn’t one of them but somehow, Coach convinced them to let me in. I was MVP of the game, scoring 35 points and grabbing 26 rebounds. All the pro scouts were there.

When I stood at half court holding my trophy, it became clear; his promise was not “recruiting talk.” Coach Wooden cared deeply about me, deeply enough to keep his promise. To me, that was love.


I Saw Love Once

         By Swen Nater (for Coach Wooden on Christmas, 1998)


I saw love once, I saw it clear.

It had no leash; it had no fear.


It gave itself without a thought.

No reservation had it bought.


It seemed so free to demonstrate.

It seemed obsessed to orchestrate,


A symphony, designed to feed,

Composed to lift the one in need.


Concern for others was its goal,

No matter what would be the toll.


It’s strange just how much care it stores,

To recognize its neighbor’s sores,


And doesn’t rest until the day,

It’s helped to take those sores away.


Its joy retains and does not run,

Until the blessing’s job is done.


I saw love once; ‘twas not pretend.

He was my coach; he is my friend.

Coach Wooden and the Three Rules for Practice

Coach Wooden and the Three Rules for Practice
Much has been written and said about comparing sports and life. They say, “Sports is a microcosm of life.” Coach Wooden has been credited with teaching “how to live life through basketball.”
How does a coach prepare teenagers to be successful professionals? Can sports do that? Many of Coach Wooden’s players ended up successful businessmen. Did he use the sports setting to train us for management and how to run a business? If so, how did he do that?
The complete answer to that question cannot be covered in one article; it would take volumes that would list numerous ingredients including setting an example, working as a team, and pushing oneself to ultimate conditioning, to name just three. Here, I would like to focus on one, and I think a very important one.
At UCLA, we had one team meeting, two weeks before the first day of practice. There, Coach taught us how to properly put on our socks and tie our shoes, and he gave us his three rules for practice. That’s right; we had only three rules.
  1. Be On Time
  2. No Profanity
  3. Never Criticize a Teammate
Being on time demonstrated respect for the team and the coach, and was pivotal for maximizing practice production.
Besides being morally wrong, profanity is always accompanied by emotion, either high or low. Too much rejoicing or depression hindered effort. A relatively-even emotional level is important for maximizing production during practice because it saved time and sustained team intensity and concentration.
According to Coach Wooden, correction was the “coach’s job” not that of the players. Player-to player critique quenched team spirit. Our task was to allow the coach to do the criticizing while we acknowledged each other for a good pass, shot, rebound, or defensive maneuver.
As I’m sure you have already surmised, being on time, no profanity, and never criticizing a teammate not only help make a great sports team, but also a great business team.
Yes! Coach Wooden taught Beyond the Basketball. Here is a poem I wrote years ago and mailed to his condo in Encino, California.   
Beyond The Basketball 
Swen Nater

Beyond the grand Pavilion
Where Bruin banners span,
Beyond the accolades, I learned
To be a champion man.

Far beyond material
Or book on any shelf,
Beyond the break, the pass or play,
I learned about myself.

Beyond the fundamentals
Or how to work the task,
Beyond the "how," I learned the "why"
And learned to think and ask.

Beyond the Bruin uniform
Beyond the Blue and Gold,
I gained a pride in who I am,
That lasts until I'm old.

And far beyond instruction
Beyond the hardwood class,
Beyond the game and all the tests,
Beyond the fail or pass,

The Teacher loved me, so he coached
Beyond gymnasium wall.
I thank my God, The Teacher taught
Beyond the basketball.