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John Wooden on Coaching and Success

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8 months ago

John Wooden said:

“In the early days, Dad’s message about basketball--and life--was this: ‘Johnny, don’t try to be better that somebody else, but never cease trying to be the best you can be. You have control over that. The other you don’t.’ It was simple advice: work hard, very hard, at those things I can control and don’t lose sleep over the rest of it. His advice was easier said than done, but very good advice.

No player is bigger or better than the team. And just as important, I came to understand that the bench is a coach’s best friend. If there are two more important coaching concepts in the game, I don’t know what they are. And I learned them sitting on the bench next to a dirt court when I was eleven years old.

You lose, you feel bad--sometimes very, very bad. But a much worse feeling is knowing that you haven’t done everything you possibly could have done to prepare and compete.

Stand up for what you believe--even when you stand alone.

You need to do something to make things happen. The “doer” will make mistakes. Mistakes of commission, to a point, are accepted but not mistakes of omission--that is, the mistake of not doing anything.

before casually discounting the potential of any individual or team, give them a chance to succeed--give them your sincere belief and full support. I was slow in doing that, a cautious doubter. I corrected this mistake by late January of that first season at UCLA and never repeated it again. It served me well in 1964 when UCLA--not even ranked among the top fifty teams in preseason polls--won the NCAA national championship.

‘Let them worry about us,’ was my philosophy. My job, and the team’s job was to get us as close to being as good as we could get. The final score would be a by-product of that effort.

powerful self-control and poise. I so greatly admire this and believe it fundamental to achieving success. Without it, how do we resist the temptations that pull us off course?

It is never simply a case of win or lose, because I do not demand victory. What I demand--and that’s exactly the word--is that each player expend every available ounce of energy to achieve his personal best, to attain competitive greatness as I define it. Victory may be the by-product, but the significance of the score is secondary to the importance of finding out how good you can be. This is only possible with ceaseless, not selective, effort toward that goal. There is no shame in learning that someone else is better at doing something than you are. Shame is only justified when someone else is better because you failed to make the effort, 100 percent, to realize your potential.

There should never be a need for me to give a pep talk to instill motivation. The motivation must come from the player’s belief--deeply entrenched--that ultimate success lies in giving their personal best. More than anything, I wanted players to love the process of doing that. Unlike a pep talk that might generate temporary enthusiasm, loving the process of working to be your best isn’t temporary. When players truly believe this, giving them a pep talk so they can “rise to the occasion” is unnecessary; they’ve already risen to it. Now let the opponent try to rise to our level with a pep talk. This belief is a pure and most powerful force. It has been and remains the source of my motivation--not fame, fortune, or power, all of which can be taken away by others. No one can take away the effort you strive to make, under whatever circumstances exist, to be your best. This cannot be taken away by anyone but you.

For me, how you play the game--and prepare for it--really does count. In fact, it counts most of all. Why? Because even winning can become routine. Striving ceaselessly to get better and better and better--and doing it--never becomes routine.

Each day of the journey is precious, yours and mine--we must strive to make it a masterpiece. Each day, once gone, is gone forever.

And as I hope you find in your own life, none of it amounts to a hill of beans without the love of family and friends. I’m a very fortunate man who has much to be thankful for. Love is the most important word in the English language, and my journey has been filled with so much love. I pray that yours is too--that your own journey is full of love. And that along the way you never cease trying to be the best you can be--that you always strive for your personal best. That is success. And don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.”






Latent Thoughts #07

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