Wisdom from the Wizard of UCLA (Part 2) - John Wooden

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden speaks on basketball, growing up and life lessons.
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Coaching Pressure
Day 2 of 3
Guest:                    John Wooden
From the series:   True Success:  A Personal Visit with John Wooden
Bob:                A basketball tournament is a test.  It's a test of a team's skill and a coach's savvy.  But long before the players ever show up on the court, it can be a test of an individual's character as well.  At least it was for Coach John Wooden in 1948.
John:              I had one black player on my team, and they wouldn't let them play in the tournament, and I wouldn't go without him, because he was a part of the team, and finally they reluctantly said that he could come, but he couldn't stay in the hotel where the teams were staying.  He could have his meals there, providing we would take them in a private room.  So I refused the invitation and wouldn't go.
Bob:                John Wooden, who would go on to be come one of the greatest coaches in basketball history, but he was a coach who was known as much for his character as for his basketball prowess.  Stay with us for a conversation with the Coach, John Wooden on FamilyLife Today.
                        And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Thursday edition.  You know, this would make one of those great trivia questions that pop up on those sports talk shows from time to time – who was the Indiana Rubber Man?
Dennis:          Mm-hm.
Bob:                Now, you know and I know, because we had a chance to talk to the Indiana Rubber Man, but I wonder how many of our listeners know that a man who is considered today to have perhaps been the greatest coach of all time in any sport, Coach John Wooden of the UCLA Bruins, was once one of the great players in basketball – both in college basketball and then in semi-pro basketball.
Dennis:          That's right.  He is one of two that are in the Basketball Hall of Fame, both as a player and a coach.  The other is Lenny Wilkinson, I believe, and, of course, we talked yesterday about Coach Wooden and a little trip Bob and I made out to Southern California to interview him.  He slipped into the studio with Bob and me, and you need to hang with us today and tomorrow, because at the end of tomorrow's broadcast, I'm going to tell you a cute story about Coach Wooden autographing a book for me.  
                        Because I did play ball, as Bob mentioned yesterday, in college.  My average was just about the same as Coach Wooden's, in fact – no, it really wasn't.
Bob:                A little less than average is what's your average.
Dennis:          Yeah, I was less than average, no doubt about it, but he was an All American, as you said, Bob, but he was more than that.  He was a man of, I believe, a simple faith in Jesus Christ and in God and who lived out his commitments to his players, to his family, and to his wife, Nellie, and you're going to hear some touching moments about how this man fulfilled his marriage covenant with his wife.
Bob:                Coach Wooden has been known throughout the years as a man of great integrity, great character, and a great molder of men, and if you ask him what he did, he says, "I was just a teacher.  I've taught boys how to play basketball."
Dennis:          Yeah, in fact, he almost went into teaching, which is interesting.
Bob:                We'll hear about that today.  This is taken from a conversation – an extended conversation – that we had with Coach John Wooden not long ago.  Here is Dennis with Coach Wooden.
Dennis:          A story that you tell that I want you to share with our listeners came at the conclusion of your first year at Indiana State University, where you won the conference title, and you received an invitation to play in the NAIA Tournament, but you turned them down.  Why?
John:              We had a pretty good year, the first year, and the NAIA Tournaments played in Kansas City – 32 teams then – and I had one black player on my team, and they wouldn't let them play in the tournament.  So even though this was – of the 12 men on the team, he played the least of all, he didn't get to play very much, and I wouldn't go without him, because he was a part of the team.  So I refused the invitation and wouldn't go.
                        Now, the next year I had everybody back on this team, exactly the same team, no one came in and beat anybody else out, and so the next year we had a good year, and were invited again, and I refused again, and finally they reluctantly said that he could come, but he couldn't stay in the hotel where the teams were staying.  He'd have to stay someplace else.  He could have his meals there, providing we would take them in a private room.  I said no, I wouldn't do that, but I was persuaded by the NCAA and his parents that we should go; it might help.  So we went, and he stayed with a minister and his wife and came into the hotel from the game.  He didn't get to play very much at all, but that was the first black player that had ever played in that tournament, and I think a few years later an all-black team won.  So we sort of opened the door a little bit.
Bob:                You undoubtedly had some players – when you came back and told the team we've been invited to the tournament but we're not going to go because they won't accept this one player – there had to be some guys going, "Coach, I want to go to Kansas City, I want to play on the team.  Let's just go along with their rules."  Didn't anybody raise their hand in protest?
John:              I don't think anyone protested.  Some would have liked to have gone, yes, but they didn't.  I knew these men, and most of them I'd had in high school before, and they knew how I felt about things, and there was no problem.  They caused me no problem there.
Dennis:          As your career was taking off, you were also in the process of beginning your family.  You had a daughter and a son, and what I wonder is, I wonder how did you juggle the tension of your marriage, your family, your faith, and a demanding profession?  What value in your core, as a man, was your measurement?  How did you juggle it all?
John:              I wish Nellie were here to answer that question for you.  Well, Nan, of course, was born in Dayton, Kentucky, when I was down there, and then Jim was born in South Bend two years later, but I tried, definitely tried – Nellie always went to games with me, and I wouldn't leave her to go scout or anything of that sort, unless she couldn't go, not bring basketball home.  I tried not to do that.  Now, can you do that 100 percent – probably not.  But I tried not, and Nellie, when she was interviewed at times, I'd heard her say that, "John never brought the games home.  I could never tell after a practice" – she was practically at all the games – "but never after a practice, I could not tell by his demeanor whether he had a good practice or a bad practice or had problems at all."  And maybe she stretched the truth a little bit there, but I certainly tried not to.  I wanted – next to faith – I wanted family first.
Bob:                We had the opportunity once to interview Coach McCartney from Colorado – a football coach who started Promise Keepers, and his wife told us that at the beginning of the football season all of the coaches and their wives would get together for a party that they said was the "Football's Here, Goodbye, Dear," party.  Because they said that from the middle of the summer until the end of whatever ball game you were going to, you rarely saw your husband.  Is the demand of coaching higher today than it was when you were coaching or did you just order your world differently than other coaches did?
John:              I don't think demand is any higher, it's just what you make out of it.  You have to be disciplined on what you're doing.  You have to establish your own priorities and then stick to them.  I don't think it's any different, and as far as pressure being on you, the only pressure that amounts to a hill of beans is the pressure you put on yourself.  If you permit outside pressure, alumni pressure, or parental pressure from the outside, if you permit those to influence you, then you're weak.  You better get on with something else, but you'd probably find the same thing someplace else, too.
It's like my players – when I'd recruit the player, I'd say, "Now, if you come here, you're going to be unhappy for a while.  You're going to be unhappy.  You're going to be away from home for the first time, you're not going to be the big shot that you were in high school, but you're not going to like it here for a while.  But if you go someplace, it would be the same thing.  You wouldn't like it there, so it might as well be here."  I sort of felt that way about it, and I think that pressure is – when the coaches talk to me about pressures, I say, "Get out, get out, get out."  The pressure amounts to a hill of beans of what you put on yourself.  You've got to put pressure on yourself, do a good job, do the best you can, study, work as you can, but don't let that be all-encompassing.  There are other things more important.
Dennis:          How did Nellie keep your family on the track and help John Wooden as a man keep his priorities?  I mean, you undoubtedly had your moments when you would work too hard, too long, and be a little too consumed with it all.  How did she come alongside you – how was she a good helpmate and counterpart to the Coach?
John:              Well, she was just a good mother and a good wife, and we had a little disagreement, I remember, one time many, many, many, many years ago, many years before I lost her, we had a little disagreement, and I left the house to go to work without [inaudible], and I should have but when I went to bed that night there was a little note on my pillow with a card, it's still there, it says, "Don't try to understand me, just love me."  And that's it.  I think we had a great relationship more than anything else, and I've said that when we – we talked about this, and, gracious, we're going to disagree on a lot of things, but let's try not to be disagreeable.
Dennis:          You had a little tradition that you and Nellie enjoyed right before the game started.  Now, Bob, I remember watching Coach Wooden on TV when college basketball games started being televised, but there was something I missed as an observer, a little tradition that he had with Nellie before the game started.
John:              Back when I was playing in high school, she played in the band, and I'd try to position myself where I could look up and see her in the band, and she's always give me a – and I'd give her a wink or a nod, and that continued, you know, in my teaching days.  Before every game, I'd find her and I'd give her a wink or a nod, and so that's probably what you're thinking of.  Superstition?  No, it wasn't superstition, it just made me feel good.
Dennis:          Just a little wink.
John:              That's right, that's right.
Bob:                You wound up as the coach of UCLA because of a snowstorm.
John:              Correct.
Bob:                Tell us how you got that job.
John:              I was considering both UCLA and the University of Minnesota.  That had both offered me the jobs, and I wanted to stay in the Midwest in the Big 10.  UCLA was going to call an hour after Minnesota was going to call.  Minnesota didn't call, and UCLA called, and I accepted.  About an hour later I got a call from Minnesota saying everything was all worked out, and I said, "I'm sorry, I've committed myself.  I can't back out now."  And there was what they called an "unseasonable" snowstorm that had the lines down, and they couldn't get to a phone to call me at the time, they said.  So that's how close it came.
Bob:                Why didn't you just hang on until they got on – why did you take the job at UCLA if you wanted to be in Minnesota?  Did you think they were going to not call?  They'd decided to go with somebody else?
John:              I suppose I thought that.  I don't remember exactly now.  All I know is they didn't call in time, and I'm a stickler for time.  My players will tell you one of the rules that I had throughout is be on time to your classes, to practice, to the bus – be on time – and if you're not, some action will be taken.  As the years went by, I learned not to tell them what the action would be.
Bob:                It didn't matter whether there was a snowstorm or not, they needed to be on time.
Dennis:          I want to know, Coach, why you chose coaching.  I mean, you said you loved to teach English, you were a teacher at heart, you could have done a lot of things.  Why did you do it?
John:              I went to Purdue to become a civil engineer – that's what I wanted to do, but I didn't know – high school counseling, obviously, wasn't as good in those days, and I didn't know that to get your degree in civil engineering you had to go to civil camp every summer.  Well, I knew I couldn't go to civil camp every summer.  I had to work in the summers, so I couldn't do that.  So I changed to a Liberal Arts course and majored in English, and I knew, from that time on, I'm going to teach.  I enjoyed teaching, as time went by.  I enjoyed it.  I taught English in high school, and I wanted to be a good English teacher, and I enjoyed it, and once I got into it, I had opportunities to get out in other areas where, financially, it would have been better, but I enjoyed teaching.  Who was it said that you find a job that you enjoy, you'll never work a day in your life.
Dennis:          And you view coaching as teaching?
John:              Of course, it is.  That's all it is.  You're teaching sports.  You've heard some of my players, particularly some of the talkative ones like Bill Walton, will often say in his interviews that coach was teacher.
Dennis:          Coach, as you taught, you believed in teaching about the fundamentals.
John:              Oh, absolutely.
Dennis:          In fact, in coming into this studio, the one thing I regret that I didn't bring in here – I brought you a banana, because I know you like a banana, but I should have brought a pair of socks – athletic socks – into the studio, because you took high school stars – you began with a very simple point of instruction.
John:              That's correct.  I taught them how to put on their socks and their shoes.  I wanted no wrinkles in the socks, and I'd show them how to put it on and smooth around the little toe.  Your blisters usually come from around the little toe or the heel area, and I wanted to show them how to do that, because I know if you don't, they just pull them up.  To me, I think, it was just as important thing – a little detail, but little details is what make big things happen.
Bob:                You had some players who obviously became players of note not only in college but on into the NBA.  Some of them seem to be outside of the Wooden paradigm, if I can call it that.  You know, Bill Walton does not strike me as the prototypical John Wooden basketball player.  It almost seems like here's a guy who can play the game, but here is a disciplined coach and a player who – well – discipline was not high on his list of virtues, was it?
John:              In certain areas, you might say that, but Bill is very dear to me.  For many, many years he calls me three or four times a week from all over, but at the time he played for me, it was a time of the anti-establishment, and he was anti-establishment very much at that particular time.  I was concerned about money and things, but I have no right to determine the politics of my players.  Now, actually, the religion – that's them.  But he's a good student, he's an honor student, he's in the academic hall of fame.  When he came on the basketball floor, you couldn't ask – no one could ask – for a player to be more cooperative, set a great example.  No one worked harder – never a problem in any way.  But he had his little quirks, as we all have, and …
Bob:                … what about his facial hair, though?  He did show up one time …
John:              … well, he decided I didn't have the right to tell him how to wear his hair, and I said, "You're absolutely right, Bill, I don't have.  All I have the right is to determine who plays, and we're going to miss you."
Bob:                You said, "If you want to keep the beard, you're off the team?"
John:              That's right.
Dennis:          This is an All American you're talking to.
John:              That's right.
Dennis:          But you drew a line in the sand over the facial hair.
John:              I did, I did.
Dennis:          And what did Bill do?
John:              Then he hurried and got fixed up then.
Bob:                He shaved his beard off, didn't he?
John:              And he's been asked, "Do you think Coach would have gone through with it?"  And he said, "Well, you know what I did."  If I have a rule, I'm going to stand by it.  But always remember there can be a gray area at times.  There was a time in my teaching that I had no gray area – it was either black or white with me.  But there can be a gray area, and I made two mistakes – I made many, but I know two that I recall that I regret very much because I didn't see the gray area.
Bob:                What are those two?
John:              Well, I had a rule in high school that smoking was automatic dismissal from the squad for the year, and my finest player, my only center I'd had, I caught him smoking, and I dismissed him.  I had the rule, and I …
Dennis:          … and you think it's a mistake now, looking back?
John:              Well, he quit school, he never finished school.  He would have gone on to college.  I think I was wrong.  I should have handled it in a different way.
Bob:                What was the second thing, you said, that you regretted?
John:              I had a player that didn't qualify for his letter.  This was in high school, but he was a fine person that worked very, very hard, and – but, anyway, his dad came in one day and called me and wondered if I'd come out and talk to him.  I did, and he said, "Is Joe going to get a letter?"  I said – no tact ­– I said, "Well, I haven't really decided yet."  And he said, "I'll tell you this" – remember, I'm just a young man – and he said, "I'll tell you, if he doesn't, I'm going to have your job."
Dennis:          He threatened you.
John:              Yes, he did, and I didn't like that, and I ended up by not giving the boy his letter, and I feel, down deep in my heart, that I would have given him the letter if the dad – for the youngster because of the dad, and that's wrong.
Bob:                That's Coach John Wooden from the UCLA Bruins, although, at the time he made that decision that he regretted, he wasn't coaching on a national platform, he was just coaching high school boys back in Indiana.  It's interesting just to listen back to that story and hear it resonate with a coach who cared more about doing the right thing than almost anything else.
Dennis:          And, you know, Bob, he was reliving that story before us, and he's 91 years old.  That story occurred 60 years ago, but he really had a deep, profound regret that you could see on his face, as a man, that he had not done what he thought was the right thing, and I think there is a tremendous lesson for us to live lives with no regrets – to do the right thing today, to obey Jesus Christ, His Word, and the commitments to responsibilities we have.  And one of the things He's commanded us to do that I think you can use Coach Wooden to accomplish is Christ has given us the Great Commission, and we're to go and proclaim Him.
                        I think this interview with Coach Wooden we've compiled into 107 minutes, two CDs, that would make a great gift to give each of your children's coaches, whether they be a Little League coach, a junior high, high school, college, it doesn't matter.  In fact, Bob, I've reflected on this – many times I wish I'd had these two CDs to have given a coach who maybe was saying a little more than he should be saying; maybe acting a way that he shouldn't have been acting, and I just have to believe that there are some coaches who are going to get these CDs – some dads and some moms who are going to – they're going to think about how they coach, how they behave, how they teach in ways because of this great coach's example.  He is truly like Christ.
Bob:                What they're going to hear in the interview with Coach Wooden that you can have character and integrity and self-control and still be a champion.  In fact, you can be one of the greatest coaches who ever lived.  We've got the two-CD set available here on our FamilyLife Resource Center, and whether you want to listen to it yourself or pass it on to a coach or a player, you can contact us at 1-800-FLTODAY, 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  Ask for the two-CD set entitled "True Succes:  A Personal Visit with John Wooden" when you contact us.  Again, you can order online at FamilyLife.com or you can call 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.
Dennis:          It's a little early yet to be buying a Father's Day gift, but you might think about just getting this and stockpiling this for June.
Bob:                That's a great idea.  And when you think about true success, Coach Wooden has mapped out for us what he calls a "Pyramid of Success."  He's taken the character qualities that he thinks are foundational to success – things like industriousness, loyalty and cooperation and initiative and alertness and skill.  There are many of them in this pyramid.  He's put the pyramid together, kind of like an engineer would do, to show that it's possible for anyone to achieve success in any field if these things are true about them.
                        We've got his Pyramid of Success.  We've got a video where he explains the pyramid.  We've got the pyramid itself on our website at FamilyLife.com and on a mousepad that you can have at your desk, and then we've got a wallet card that has been laminated that you can carry around where some of Coach Wooden's counsel on living is recorded.  His seven-point creed – that's on a laminated card that we'll send to you, along with the video and the mousepad.  Ask for those resources when you call 1-800-FLTODAY.  
                        You know, our opportunity to provide these kinds of resources to you really comes as a direct result of folks all around the country who help support this ministry week in and week out with donations.
Dennis:          And, Bob, there are two ways that they can join with us.  One is as a Legacy Partner, a monthly donor to our ministry, and there's another group of people who give from time to time – they may make out a check and just send it in and say I can't help you each month, but I can help this month.  You need to know that this ministry is 100 percent dependent upon God to move people like you who benefit from our broadcast to join with us in a partnership, and we need your partnership.  These are important days for you to stand with us.
Bob:                Once again, if you'd like to donate to FamilyLife Today, you can do it online at FamilyLife.com or call 1-800-FLTODAY or mail a check to us at Box 8220, Little Rock, Arkansas.  Our zip code is 72221.  
                        Well, if you ever wondered what it was like to coach a basketball game in the Astrodome with TV lights blaring down on you, a nation watching, 50,000 fans there cheering the home team on, and you're the coach of the opposing team, and you've won 88 games in a row, you're going for number 89 and you lose – do you stay up all night worrying about what happened?  We'll find out when we talk to Coach John Wooden tomorrow.  I hope you can be with us for that.
                        I want to thank our engineer today, Robbie Neal [sp], and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today. 
                        FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. 
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