John Wooden is the greatest coach in American history. I don’t mean the greatest basketball coach, I mean the greatest coach of anything. His UCLA Bruins won 10 NCAA men’s basketball championships, ran off an 88-game winning streak, and finished four seasons undefeated. But Coach Wooden, who died in 2010 at age 99, wouldn’t have said winning was his greatest accomplishment. He focused on preparation to succeed while developing young men’s character, academics, and athletics. The wins happened because he was so remarkable at doing those things.
What set Wooden apart as a coach was his methodology. It was remarkable for its complete lack of anything remarkable. He didn’t seek to out-strategize or out-scheme anyone. He simply taught his players to be the best at the basics, even so basic as to how they put on their socks while insisting that they always be punctual. He pushed them in practice to the point that games felt like a deceleration, but he made practices fun, too, a privilege for his players. By emphasizing the fundamentals, Wooden’s teams were better prepared than their opponents, always, because they never had to think about or decide anything—they simply executed.
The glue that held all those fundamentals together was Coach Wooden’s character. He was a man of committed and substantive faith in God. Even as a fiercely competitive man, Wooden exemplified and taught respect.
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Bits of Wooden’s wisdom now hang in the offices of CEOs and coaches across the country: “Be quick, but never hurry,” “Little things make big things happen,” “Discipline yourself and others won’t need to,” “Failure is never fatal; failure to change can and might be,” and so many more. We read these and see that they apply to work, church, family, parenting, and so much more. But so few of us actually resemble the calm, sharp, determined, faithful persona of John Wooden. Somewhere along the way we got sidetracked.
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