The legendary John Wooden passed away on Friday at the age of 99. The greatest college basketball coach ever, Coach Wooden led his UCLA teams to 10 national championship in 12 years, including seven in a row…simply mind-boggling. (Upon hearing these numbers, my hoops-crazed nine-year-old son said, “What? Impossible!”)
But success on the scoreboard is not what defined Coach Wooden. It was always about the journey, not the destination; preparation was the prize. His Pyramid of Success addressed how to bring out the very best in yourself and others in all areas of life.
In college and for a bit after, I worked in radio and had the privilege one time of interviewing Coach Wooden. He was as generous with his time as if I were the Bruins’ beat writer with LA Times. He was modest, sincere, insightful, and straightforward during the interview and always. I remember Coach Wooden telling me that the game of basketball needed more “class” and less “flash.”
My second memory of Coach Wooden came from hall-of-famer Bill Walton, who once spoke at Ashland University when I worked there. I expected to hear stories about Walton’s many accomplishments, such as winning NCAA championships at UCLA and NBA titles with the Trail Blazers and Celtics. Instead, there was one central theme to Walton’s remarks: the enduring life lessons he learned from Coach Wooden. “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail,” Walton said, reciting one of Wooden’s many simple yet profound sayings.
Over the weekend I reread Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court. Reading Wooden’s recollections of his Indiana roots, I felt proud to be a Hoosier. Before starring at Purdue, he played at Martinsville High School, where the gym capacity (5,200) exceeded the town’s population (4,800) at the time.
I last read this book about eight years ago, and most compelling this time around – and three kids later – was Part I: Families, Values, and Virtues. “The person you are is the person your child will become,” Wooden wrote. It’s a great book on leadership and life, full of these pieces of simple wisdom. Another favorite: “Learn as if you were going to live forever, and live as if you were going to die tomorrow.”
According to Wooden, success is making the effort to do the best you are capable of doing. “Don’t measure yourself by what you’ve accomplished, but rather by what you should have accomplished with your abilities.” Focus on what is within your power to control – your effort, preparation, and attention to details. Why worry about the competition and others things not under your control? Try your hardest in all ways, and you are a success.
Wooden said that we should be more concerned with our character than our reputation, because our character is what we really are. (When is the last time you talked about the character – not reputation – of your institution?) And when is the last time you embraced adversity? Coach Wooden knew that facing it is the only way to become stronger, smarter, better.
Long live the message and the example of John Wooden, and make each day your masterpiece.