In a comment in response to yesterday’s post about recently named Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley, friend and frequent commenter Jack Crane urged me to “spend more time” with John Wooden than with the Jersey City legend.
It is a recommendation worth heeding.
The storied Wooden’s life and actions almost stretch credulity. A three-time consensus All-American from Martinsville, Indiana who led his high school and college teams to national championships. The first person to be named to the Hall of Fame as a player and coach. And, of course, the unmatched record of 10 championships in 12 years at UCLA, including an 88-game winning streak during the Bill Walton years.
Wooden will be 100 this year, health permitting, and, although he has a number of physical problems the past few years, still attends basketball games and still fulfills his monthly ritual of visiting his wife’s Nelly’s grave and writing her a love letter.
He also keeps writing books.
At last count, Wooden had authored or co-authored half a dozen works on leadership, including one last year, on his famed pyramid of success, his values-based philosophy and his expectations for himself and others.
Wooden on Leadership contains many of these elements.
A seven point creed underpins Wooden’s actions. He explains that he received the creed from his father upon graduating from grammar school:
- Be true to yourself.
- Make each day your masterpiece.
- Help others.
- Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
- Make friendship a fine art.
- Build a shelter against a rainy day.
- Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.
By all accounts, he has lived by these values since receiving them.
The Pyramid of Success also runs through much of Wooden’s life, thought and written works. The pyramid is the 14 qualities that build on each other and lead to positive results.
The base includes qualities like industriousness, friendship, loyalty and cooperation, while higher levels include concepts like self-control, condition and poise. The final element is competitive greatness.
Many of Wooden’s teams demonstrated these qualities, and one of the book’s most interesting sections comes when he discusses how he evaluated squads not by their ultimate results, but by how closely they had come to fulfilling their potential. For example, one of the UCLA teams in which he takes most pride is not one of the 10 champions, but one that won little more than half of their games. He decided that they had nearly maximized what they could accomplish and praised them accordingly.
Wooden writes about attention to detail-he famously would teach his players the correct way to tie their shoes-and describes how he would document his practices so that he could tell you today what his team did during the two hours allotted for a practice in 1966.
At the same time, he notes both he needed to avoid programming his players too much and that it took him years to reach the championship level at UCLA because he needed to learn how best to teach and work with his players.
During this year’s tournament, Wooden praised fellow Indianan Brad Stevens for his Butler Bulldogs’ improbable run through the tournament that fell a desperation shot short of the title.
This is high praise indeed.
It is a rare person who can look at Wooden’s life and read his thoughts on leadership and not be inspired to do better. Thanks again to Jack Crane for the reminder to highlight the thoughts and deeds of this humble American treasure.