One in a billion

“That’s right boys.  Carefully pull up the socks so there are no wrinkles…pay close attention to the heel and little toe…starting at the bottom, carefully tighten the laces...”

Anyone who has ever played or coached, regardless of the sport, has to have a spot in their hearts for “Coach.”  Coach Wooden passed away last month at the age of 99, but he will continue to be a mentor to coaches yet to be born.  He is certainly as relevant today as he has ever been.  The reason is likely that, as a man or as a coach, he never changed.  And yes, he did begin each and every season of his illustrious coaching career with detailed instruction on how to properly put on your socks and shoes.

“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have the time to do it over?”

One thing that made Wooden different from most every coach I have ever known was his near total disregard for how the other team stacked up.  He firmly believed that if you took care of your own business, there was no worry in what the other team had up its sleeve.  He simply didn’t believe in taking away from your own preparation time in order to scout an opponent’s tendencies.  It is said that every second of a UCLA practice was accounted for.  Movement from one drill to the next was rapid fire.  Drills were repeated over and over seeking perfection. 

Once the drill was perfected, it was repeated infinitum.

“Never mistake activity for achievement.”

Coaches and athletes put a great amount of time into honing their crafts.  Too many of us fall into the trap of marking time.  We put in our two or three hours of practice or workouts without evaluating how the workout is going to benefit us.  In working with young athletes with busy family schedules, I have developed a mentality of “less is more.”  If the coach puts together a legitimate practice plan, the team can often accomplish more in an hour than they used to accomplish in two.

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is who you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

We talk so much about reputation, but does it really matter?  Maybe it is best to just to ponder the man in the glass.

“You can’t let praise or criticisms get to you.  It is a weakness to get caught up in either one.”

 “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”

In this era where the development of high self-esteem in so prevalent, I see young athletes often viewing themselves as far better than their actual skill levels would suggest.  Any criticism by a coach or teacher is seen as a personal affront.  Wooden understood and was able to convey to his boys that criticism was a constructive force.

“You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”

I have long shared with my players the adage of treating people with respect on the way up, because you’ll certainly pass them on the way down.  Wooden was a gentle spirit who was almost as famous for the way he treated the custodial staff as he was for being a great basketball coach

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

I constantly deal with athletes who are either petrified of making a mistake or when they do err they suffer great embarrassment.  Mistakes are the building blocks of a successful life.

“Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

In working with middle school athletes and students, one of the more common phrases I hear is, “I can’t.”  My response is always, “You’re right.”  Some get the message quicker than others.

“It’s the little details that are vital.  Little things make big things happen.”

Or as my dad used to be fond of saying, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”  I had the privilege of coaching a wonderful athlete this spring at Matoaca High School. 

Six years ago, when I was coaching him at the middle school level, he wanted to be great now.  His frustration grew until he realized that improvement was coming in baby steps.  Today, Jamarian Bates is a national-caliber long jumper.

“Talent is God-given.  Be humble.  Fame is man-given.  Be grateful.  Conceit is self-given.  Be careful.”

Oh, my!  If today’s athlete could learn just one thing from Coach Wooden, this would be it.

“The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”

As I wrote several months ago, the “travel team syndrome” has really instilled the “I” in “team.” I recently heard of an athlete who deserted the team in a state championship game because the match would interfere with a “travel” experience.  How sad.

“Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

This is the most compelling reason for my love for track and field.  Our success is so easily measured, and it provides such a thrill watching the athlete strive to be the best.

“Success is never final; failure is never fatal.”

Life is a continuum.  Successes and failures are a daily part of life.  Today’s success or failure means very little tomorrow.

I’ve admired Coach Wooden for a long time, although I used to root against his Bruins because, just as I do now, I tend to root for the dark colored shirts.  The last several weeks have been a wonderful celebration of a life so well lived.  I am hopeful that the above Woodenisms will help us all become better human beings.



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