Happy Birthday Coach Wooden

Oct. 13, 2009, 2:32 p.m. (ET)

I was fortunate in my beginning stages of coaching in the early 1970s to cross paths with Stew McDole of Graceland College (now University), where I was mentored by Stew and coaches like Chris McLaughlin and Carl McGown. We would work seven days a week doing summer camps, putting in three-a-days for months on end in the heat and humidity of the Midwest. Stew's "24-hour break" looked like this - train one day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. including the training, competitions and closing luncheon featuring a camp staff skit like the classic "History of Volleyball," then return the next day at 2 p.m. for the all-afternoon evaluations, and first training from 6-9:30 p.m. See, 24 hours off! 

We would take this gift of time to do laundry like crazy, nap, and flee to the air-conditioning of a movie theatre. We got so much training in these months, evaluating each day to make the next version better, it was wonderful...and the energy of the athletes coming in never let you get tired.  

In these formative years, one of the very first books I read was John Wooden's They Call me Coach.  I still have it, a Bantam paperback, yellowing with age, copyright 1972 first printing, costing a whopping $1.25 new. Therein I saw my first version of the "Pyramid of Success" with the overall concept phrase being "Success is peace of mind which is the direct result of self satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming"  ... This focus on effort over outcome became a cornerstone to my coaching that continues to this day. The theme of being the best teacher you can be, and applying the principles of good teaching, also began with the words shared in his book.

This great man is having a birthday Oct 14, and turns an amazing 99 years young.  We all should celebrate with him, for the impact he has had on our sport, let alone basketball.  He again has turned the tables, and is giving us all a gift, in a new book called A Game Plan for Life.   Do you know that this is his SIXTH book written since he hit 90 years old?  Talk about teaching...

If you visit my office, you would find a large poster of the Pyramid of Success signed by Coach Wooden, and over a dozen different books written by or co-authored by him as well, several also signed. You would even see a 4-inch tall figurine of coach, holding a rolled newspaper in his hand.  I think I actually have every book he has authored, but I have not taken the time to confirm that thru Amazon or halfdotcom. I can say his teachings have impacted me greatly in parenting and coaching.

When coaches take IMPACT, they hear a story of one of the sections in the manual on coaching philosophy. Marv Dunphy, our 1988 Olympic gold-medal coach wrote his PhD thesis on none other than John Wooden. Marv put in hundreds of hours of personal interviews, research and studying of this man that ESPN magazine recently pronounced the America's best sport coach of all time. So back in 1988 when I was writing the first IMPACT manual, I called Marv to ask him to contribute some thoughts to this new coach's manual. I said, "In twenty five words or less, what did you learn in writing your thesis about John Wooden which you would want a new coach to know that I can put in this manual?"  Marv replied, "I don't need 25 words John, I just need two 'Be consistent.'" He went on to marvel at how no matter  he spoke with or about Coach Wooden, that he was struck by how consistently coach treated everyone, and how they all noted that. A good reminder to each of us growing the game, that the kids need us not to coach in practice one way, and treat them differently in competition - they need role models and mentors, not critics and doubter.

For those new coaches who might not know of this amazing mentor coach, I suggest visiting his website at http://www.coachwooden.com/.

This weekend at my daughter's high school volleyball tournament, I was inspired to see one of the visiting teams all wearing a shirt that said - "You practice for a season; we practice for life."  I wish other coaches truly embraced the life lessons our wonderful sport can teach, rather than the focus on winning and achieving a college scholarship. Which made me think of another great online resource that amazingly many are not aware of being able to use - the Pass It On site funded in part by Phillip. Nielsen Media says their spots have been view over five billion times. I encourage you to do the same, and share their mission statement below as a great example of how we all can grow the game.


Mission Statement  - The Foundation for a Better Life creates public service campaigns to communicate the values that make a difference in our communities - values such as honesty, caring, optimism, hard work, and helping others. These messages, communicated utilizing television, theatres, billboards, radio, internet, etc., model the benefits of a life lived by positive values. The Foundation encourages others to step up to a higher level and then to pass on those positive values they have learned. These seemingly small examples of individuals living values-based lives may not change the world, but collectively they will make a difference. And in the process help make the world a better place for everyone. After all, developing values and then passing them on to others is The Foundation for a Better Life.

So I was pleasantly surprised to hear from Bloomsday last month, when they offered me a free copy of Coach Wooden's latest book - A Game Plan for Life.  My gosh, I did not have to buy a coaching book? I was honored and surprised. This is what the publishers say about it... The first half of his new book, A Game Plan for Life tells the stories of the seven mentors of John Wooden's life, the seven people who made him the man he has become. The second half of the book includes the stories of seven people whose lives he's changed, through mentoring. Interestingly, two of Coach Wooden's seven mentors are people he has never met; one being Abraham Lincoln and the other Mother Teresa. One of the people whose life is featured in the second half of the book, Bob Vigars, is a middle school basketball coach of learning disabled children who, similarly, has never met Coach Wooden.  The point Coach makes is that mentoring is really about a life well lived.

And what do I say about it? When a book contains practical tips and wisdom on being a better mentor, from a 99 year old coaching phenom, you should get it and embrace the ideas then share them with others you coach and mentor yourself.

Readers of my blog know the value of TED.com... well here is a great speech by Coach Wooden on the site.

And Rick Reilly's brillance shines in this piece called "Love Letter" - about making each of us better people...

Thanks Coach Wooden, for all the time and effort you have directed at helping volleyball be a better sport too, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

P.S. - For any of you who might be interested, a Web site was established to allow those who wanted to honor Coach Wooden to send him a happy birthday wish. The Web site is www.HappyBirthdayCoachWooden.com. The goal is to have 9,999 send him a note by Wednesday night.


The following comments were made on our previous web platform and have been transferred here to maintain the historical record.

On October 21, 2009 bob vigars wrote

Dear John, My name is Bob Vigars and I just finished reading your Birthday wish to Coach Wooden. I am the Special Education Teacher/Basketball Coach from St. Thomas, Ontario, Canada who has been blessed to be included in Coach Wooden's very last book, "A Game Plan For Life"/The Power of Mentoring. How and Why Coach Wooden chose me to be in his book I will never know. However, I will treasure this gift for my life and can't wait to start teaching Coach Wooden's Principles to my young sons Josh, 4 and Kris 3. I wanted to let you know that your blog is wonderful and gives me goosebumps when I read it. I feel privileged to be able to try my best every day as a teacher to the students/players that I spend my working days with. I love my job and to see a young person light up after they achieve success from our guidance is a great feeling. I wish there was a way for Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success to make it into the curriculum of all Elementary and Secondary Schools. I believe that Coach Woodens teachings/principles are so sound and actually work that as Teachers we need to find a way to get the administrators to believe in what Coach Wooden has been living/teaching for years. To me Coach Wooden is a walking Saint and I dream about how better our World could be if we were able to teach Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success to the future of all of our countries. I have admired Coach Wooden since I was 11 years old and today I am 44 and his teachings are very easy to understand but to get up every day and actually do your best is one tough task but its a great goal to try to achieve each day. Again your blog was a wonderful tribute to a Great Teacher and I commend you on such a great piece of work. Sincerely, Bob Vigars& quot;Make every day a masterpiece."& quot;Nothing will work...unless you do."

On November 17, 2009 Eric Hodgson wrote

There is an amazing interview with Coach Wooden at http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/woo0int-1 For those Wooden fans out there, you will enjoy this as well. Great stuff no matter what age, no matter what sport.

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