Coach Wooden Remembered as a Builder 

John Wooden coached at UCLA 18 years before capturing the first of 10 NCAA titles.

John Wooden is the best college coach ever produced in the United States.  That is a bold statement, true, but it is also roundly agreed upon by his peers, followers, pundits and other experts in the field of sports.  His record of achievements are well documented, but perhaps the most telling aspect of Coach Wooden’s life and career is the tremendous impact on how college student-athletes and coaches should conduct themselves and approach their sport and life. 

To say that Coach Wooden was a builder would be an understatement.  He constructed an unparalleled college athletic program at UCLA.  With ten national championships and an overall winning percentage of over .800, Wooden set the bar of excellence so high that it will most likely never be approached.  But, the influence he has had on the lives of his players and the nation’s coaches in every sport at every level, as well as on others around the nation with his Pyramid of Success, Coach Wooden will always be remembered as someone who truly lived to serve others.

A myriad of articles can be accessed online and in print regarding Coach Wooden’s long list of accomplishments.  To re-publish them here would be, in our way of thinking, redundant and missing a golden opportunity to express something more meaningful in honoring this extraordinary mentor, teacher, coach and human being.  Instead, we will take this time to focus on how John Wooden the man became John Wooden the legend.

Wooden's Pyramid of Success Has Influenced Thousands of Coaches.

Renowned for his selflessness, humbleness, insightfulness and honesty, Coach Wooden did not develop these characteristics over time.  He did not start out as a brash, attention-seeking egomaniac whose histrionics on the sideline and in the press room were scoffed at as self serving.  He was not forced into good behavior through a series of embarrassing incidents which landed him on the front page of every newspaper and Web site in the country.  He did not begin as a chair-throwing hothead or a hard drinking womanizer.  No, John Wooden began his life as he ended it – as a genuinely unassuming man who would rather teach players than talk to reporters. 

Coach Wooden famously credited his approach to coaching and life on his upbringing and the influence of his parents, particularly his father.  The values he learned in rural Indiana became the guiding light in his life and were reflected in every thought he had and every action he took.  He was taught at home how to behave, how to treat others, how to serve one’s fellow man, how to be God fearing, how to be respectful while standing your ground and maintaining your values.  And he was taught the value of relationships, of responsibility and of being forthright. 

John Wooden wasn’t selfless because he grew into it.  He was taught to be that way.  He wasn’t dedicated to the importance of serving others before himself because it suddenly came to him in an inspirational bolt of lightning.  His parents impressed this on him as a young boy.  All his values, in fact, can be traced to the steady hand of his father in their home.  Honesty, Service, Consistency and Love were continually at the forefront of their conversations.  Those were the traits Coach Wooden’s father instilled in a young boy who would become the greatest college coach of all time.

Known for his mild manner, Wooden nevertheless demanded excellence.

What can we as coaches and parents today learn from John Wooden and his life?  How to win more games through better drills?  No.  How to recruit the best players in the country?  No.  Instead, we can learn how to develop quality young people through impressing upon them the importance of adopting strong values and using sports as the vehicle to demonstrate the use of those values, day after day. 

It is unimaginable that John Wooden’s father would coddle him by telling him he was the best, by telling coaches that he needed more playing time, by giving him everything he wanted, by yelling at game officials or by creating discontent within the team by being non-supportive of other players.  Instead, Coach Wooden would say, his father consistently talked about how to approach life, sports, your family, your faith or your work.  He would most likely take everyday scenarios to explain how Young John could have behaved in a way more in alignment with his values and value system.  John Wooden received life lessons each day from his parents in a way which permitted him to want to come as close to those values as possible as he encountered sports and life as an adult.   

So, John Wooden’s character was truly constructed at home.  His values were developed through the example of his parents and through constant reminders of how a value-based life revolving around service to others is a life worth living.   Coach Wooden’s internal constitution was created by his parents consistently reminding him of his responsibilities to himself, his community and to his neighbors and friends. 

In the end, Coach John Wooden became a legend because he refused to waver, under any circumstances, from his beliefs, his core values.  And, the lessons he taught through the years are reminders to us, parents and coaches, that sports is more than winning or losing, right or wrong.  It is about the opportunity and obligation to teach young people the necessity of taking each competitive opportunity and transforming it into a life lesson attached to a set of values which will take them far beyond today’s game.


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