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John Wooden on Being a Mentor

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Written by   1
7 months ago

John Wooden said:

 

 

“The English teacher side of me shows a bit when I point out that the word ‘mentor’ is both a verb and a noun. It is simultaneously something you do and something you are. The first definition is one you can control; the second one isn’t. In other words, you can make a conscious decision to sit down with someone and share wisdom, experience, and encouragement. That is mentoring. However, you also can become a mentor whenever someone chooses to learn from you. You may never have met; your lives may never intersect; nevertheless, you can become a source of guidance and inspiration for another person. That’s being a mentor.

 

I suddenly realized that advice was not trying to voice one’s opinion, but rather, a valuable tool for strengthening the listener and giving him a leg up in his own situation. What an amazing gift--to be able to give someone knowledge from experience!

 

My father’s spirit of gentleness came to be one of the trademarks of my coaching. He never yelled, never grew angry, and treated everyone with respect. In interviews, I was inevitably asked about why I sat on the bench with a rolled-up program in my hand rather than pacing the sidelines, hollering out directions to the players and objections to the referees. The answer to that is simple: I did what my father would have done.

 

My father refused to speak an unkind word against anyone. I know--I tried to get him to do it. It was amazing; but growing up under such a strong example of that, I found that it inherently became part of my own character. That’s one of the important things about mentoring that I believe is often overlooked: Some lessons are learned more subconsciously than consciously. There are things I learned from watching my father that I purposely tried to copy in my own life. But other things I found were just kind of absorbed and became a part of my thinking and reactions without my really thinking much about them.

 

Consistency is essential. You have to make sure that your students know what is expected of them and what the consequences will be if those expectations are not met. My players knew that the team bus left precisely at the time I said it would. They knew what behaviors would be tolerated (politeness) and what would not (any form of disrespect toward the other team, its staff, its facilities, or its fans), and they knew that the rules wouldn’t change. Hand in hand with consistency come honesty and trust. When a teacher or a coach or any kind of mentor is consistent in his or her principles, it creates trust between the mentor and the people he or she is mentoring.

 

We practiced everything until it was second nature to us. We didn’t spend our time worrying about trick shots that might come in handy once a game; we spent the vast majority of our practice hours working on the most basic moves that carry the majority of the action in any basketball matchup--not just grasping them and moving on, but working until we had made them perfect. There wasn’t a secret formula; we just focused on becoming brilliant at the basics.

 

These high school practices are almost certainly the source of my disinterest in pouring over game reels from opponents. You win by becoming a better player of the game at large, not by adapting your technique to every new team you face. Your opponent will always be changing; it’s a losing race. But if you master the game, you will have the skills and knowledge you need to defeat whoever you are facing.

 

A person cannot always choose who will surround him or her in life. We always can choose what biographies to pull from a shelf, or what studies to seek in the library. Sometimes we select the mentor for the lessons we want to learn. And the mentor doesn’t have to be someone who is physically present in your life. It isn’t necessary to have ever actually met an individual to have been mentored by him or her.

 

You have to have a reason for believing what you do. You need to figure out what that reason is and what’s wrong at the present, and see if you can reach a resolution.

 

A mentor must always guide, never push. It was my job to listen to them, offer my perspective, and encourage them to pursue the ideals they believed to be true.”




Latent Thoughts #25

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Source: A Game Plan for Life by John Wooden

Painting: Benois Madonna by Leonardo Da Vinci

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