Accessibility links

Breaking News

What It Takes - Coach John Wooden

What It Takes - John Wooden
What It Takes - John Wooden
What It Takes - John Wooden
please wait

No media source currently available

0:00 0:36:32 0:00

00:00:02 OPRAH WINFREY: "Hattie Mae, this child is gifted," and I heard that enough that I started to believe it.

00:00:08 ROGER BANNISTER: If you have the opportunity, not a perfect opportunity, and you don't take it, you may never have another chance.

00:00:14 LAURYN HILL: It all was so clear. It was just, like, the picture started to form itself.

00:00:19 DESMOND TUTU: There was no way in which a lie could prevail over the truth, darkness over light, death over life.

00:00:27 CAROL BURNETT (quoting CARRIE HAMILTON): “Every day I wake up and decide, today I'm going to love my life. Decide.”

00:00:35 JOHNNY CASH: My advice is, if they're going to break your leg once when you go in that place, stay out of there.

00:00:40 JAMES MICHENER: And then along come these differential experiences that you don't look for, you don't plan for, but boy, you’d better not miss them.

00:00:52 ALICE WINKLER: Back in October, we featured an interview with Duke University’s Mike Krzyzewski, better known as Coach K, and I promised at the end of that episode that come March Madness, I would devote an episode to the words and wisdom of another legendary college basketball coach. Some might call him the college basketball coach, the archetype, the one who inspired the next generation of coaches, including Mike Krzyzewski, the one who won more NCAA Championships than any other, the first one voted into the Basketball Hall of Fame twice, once as a player and once as a coach: John Wooden.

00:01:33 JOHN WOODEN: The definition I coined for success is: “peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you're capable.” Now we’re all equal there. We're not all equal as far as intelligence is concerned. We're not equal as far as size. We're not equal as far as appearance. We do not all have the same opportunities. We're not born in the same environments. But we're all absolutely equal in having the opportunity to make the most of what we have, not comparing or worrying about what others have.

00:02:07 ALICE WINKLER: This is What It Takes, a podcast about passion, vision, and perseverance from the Academy of Achievement. I’m Alice Winkler, and I am keeping my promise. I think UCLA fans, in particular, could use the healing balm of a Coach Wooden episode to help them think about the glory days when the Bruins were mighty and it was just a given that they would play in the NCAA Tournament. But if Coach Wooden were alive today, he would never berate the current team. He was far too gentlemanly for that.

00:02:40 I imagine he would give them compassionate and firm words and a reminder of the cornerstones of his famous Pyramid of Success. And he might make them all sit on the bench in their bare feet.

00:02:52 KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR: The first day that you go to play for Coach Wooden, he tells you about how to put your socks on, and the reason he does that is because his system requires that you do everything on the run.

00:03:05 ALICE WINKLER: That is the voice of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the greatest NBA players of all time and, like John Wooden, a member of the Academy of Achievement.

00:03:14 KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR: You don't jog through things. You have to run full speed, and the wear-and-tear on your feet is immediate and intense, and if your socks aren't on right — if you have, like, a ridge that you're running over in your sock, you're going to get a blister, and then you won't be able to practice. And if you don't practice for Coach Wooden, you don't play.

00:03:41 So he was telling everybody how to survive his system and get through it without coming up with blisters on their feet.

00:03:48 ALICE WINKLER: Wooden’s interview with the Academy was recorded in 1996, when he was 85 years old. He was long retired at that point but still living by the aphorisms that he passed on to his students for more than four decades. Many of his favorites originated with his dad.

00:04:07 JOHN WOODEN: Like Mark Twain, when I was young, I probably didn't appreciate my father at all, but in thinking back to some of the things that he did that became so meaningful — which you didn't realize at the time — for example, he tried to get across to us, “Never try to be better than someone else. Learn from others, and never cease trying to be the best you can be at whatever you're doing. It doesn't make any difference what it is. Just try to be the best you can possibly be. If you get yourself too engrossed or concerned in regard to the things over which you have no control, it's going to adversely affect the things over which you have control.”

00:04:43 And then when I graduated from the small country grade school in the eighth grade, he gave me this little card, and all he said was, "Son, try to live up to this." On one side was a verse that said, "Four things a man must learn to do if he would make his life more true: to think without confusion clearly, to love his fellow man sincerely, to act from honest motives purely, to trust in God and heaven securely." And on the other side was a seven-point creed that I say I've tried to live up to.

00:05:13 I haven't, but I'm weak at times, and the one was, "Be true to yourself, help others, make friendship a fine art, drink deeply from good books, make each day your masterpiece, build a shelter against a rainy day by the life you live, and give thanks for your blessings and pray for guidance every day." Well, just graduating from the eighth grade, that little card, somehow I kept it with me until it completely wore out, but I have it.

00:05:47 I carry it around in a card, the same thing now, and always have it with me, not the original that Dad gave me because it just simply wore out, but my father was a good person, and I owe so much to my dad.

00:06:05 ALICE WINKLER: John Wooden was born in the basketball-obsessed state of Indiana in 1910. It was a pretty hardscrabble kind of life, but he wasn’t aware of it at the time.

00:06:16 JOHN WOODEN: I grew up on a farm. We lost the farm in the Depression the year I was a freshman in high school, and then we moved into this little town, Martinsville. But while on the farm, where we had no running water and no electricity, and practically everything we ate we grew, and when I think back on my poor mother, it must have been extremely difficult.

00:06:40 But we didn't think it was tough. There wasn't television. There wasn't radio to speak of — a little radio. We didn't have it, but there was, and we read more. Dad would read to us in the evenings. I know he read the Bible every day and insisted that we did, but he'd read poetry to us. I can still remember him reading Hiawatha: "By the shores of Gitche Gumee, by the shining Big-Sea-Water, lived the big Nokomis — " I can just remember that, and, well, the other —

00:07:09 Because then that encouraged my love for poetry, which I always loved, and probably the back of why all four sons — there were no athletic scholarships in those days, and Mother and Dad didn't have financial means to help, but all four sons got out of college. They worked their way through, all of them, and either majored or minored, all of them, in English.

00:07:32 ALICE WINKLER: Wooden started playing basketball in his little country grade school. It was just what you did if you grew up in Indiana.

00:07:40 JOHN WOODEN: Indiana's crazy over basketball, in some ways too crazy, but we went to the championship game of the state tournament all three of my years in the high school and got the very last game, and we lost it twice and won it once. This little town, at that time, had 4,800 people, and yet they had built the gymnasium the year before I entered high school, which seated 5,200. And it was always full, and that's amazing — people don't believe me when I tell them about that here in California. Californians just don't believe that, but it's true.

00:08:10 ALICE WINKLER: Despite his deep, deep Indiana roots, Wooden surprised journalist Irv Drasnin during this interview when he said that basketball actually wasn't his first love.

00:08:22 JOHN WOODEN: Baseball was always my first love. That's my favorite sport, but basketball, to me, is a greater spectator sport, and for a number of reasons. It's played with the largest object. The basketball is larger. It's — the spectators are closer to the action. They can follow the ball. You can't always follow the baseball or the puck or the football, but you can follow the basketball.

00:08:46 And it's a fast game. It's a game of action, and I think it is the best of all the spectator sports. It's a team game. I'm concerned about the basketball today, somewhat. I think it's becoming too much showmanship, and I don't like that. If I want showmanship, I'll go see the Globe Trotters, and that's what I go for.

00:09:05 ALICE WINKLER: Wooden was secure in his own beliefs about basketball and about life. He could not have cared less about conventional wisdom, and that often made him tack left when everyone else was tacking right.

00:09:17 JOHN WOODEN: Perhaps in my coaching experience, I found out from my own personal playing experience that I didn't have as much size as many, but I was quicker than most all, and that was my strength. So in my recruiting, in all the years when I became a college coach, I'm recruiting for quickness. Now you want a certain amount of size and — but more coaches will give up some quickness to get more size. I would not. I would give up some size to get more quickness.

00:09:45 I wanted — I hoped my forwards would be quicker than opposing forwards. I hoped that my guards would be quicker than opposing guards. I hoped my postmen would be quicker than opposing postmen. And that's what I'm looking for, and then I'm trying to incorporate that in making it into a team game. It is such a team game. It's a beautiful game when it's played as a team. To me, it's not beautiful when it's individual, and one working one-on-one, and going out and making a fancy dunk. That isn't pretty to me. That may be what most of the fans seem to love, but I don't.

00:10:19 ALICE WINKLER: He may have been against individualism on the court, but off the court was another story altogether.

00:10:26 JOHN WOODEN: If you show those under your supervision you really, really care for them, and that you're interested in the group as a whole, but also as them individually, as my — one of my favorite coaches, Amos Alonzo Stagg, once said, he never had a player he did not love. He had many he didn't like and didn't respect, but he loved them just the same. I hope my players know that I loved them all.

00:10:51 There are times I didn't like them. There are times I didn't like my own children, but it never had anything to do with my love for them. And you can't fool these kids. You shouldn't. It should be your responsibility to lead them in a way that's going to be beneficial to them all their lives, not just through their athletic days. And I wanted my players — and tried to get this across to them: “When you come on the basketball floor each afternoon, for the next approximately two hours, you are a basketball player.”

00:11:26 That's all. “I am looking at you and thinking of you as a basketball player. That is all. As soon as practice is over, you are not a basketball player. You are a student at UCLA, and you’d better keep that in mind. You're a student. That's the reason you're here. Basketball may be, in most of your cases, giving you a scholarship and it's paying your way. If you start putting basketball ahead of your academics, you're not going to have either very long, at least you won't have here.”

00:11:53 So I think that that must be stressed because it should be the student-athlete, not the athlete-student.

00:12:02 ALICE WINKLER: Again, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

00:12:04 KAREEM ABDUL-JABBAR: Jeez, there's so many things that I learned from Coach Wooden that had nothing to do with sports. Coach Wooden really made us think about things beyond just playing basketball. I started out as an English major, and Coach Wooden, I could talk to him about whether to use a colon or semicolon; when to use parentheses; what was appropriate, “like” or “as.” He wanted us to graduate. He was just like a parent, a strict parent. He wanted us to do well.

00:12:35 He was not someone that was just there to exploit us as athletes, and I have a lot of respect and undying love for Coach Wooden for that reason.

00:12:46 JOHN WOODEN: One of the things I'm most proud of — my years at UCLA — and most people think, "Well, because of winning championships." Now practically all my players graduated, and most of them in four years, and when most students today are taking five, and the fact that most of my players have done well in whatever profession they've chosen. Some 30 of my players became attorneys, dentists, lawyers, eight ministers, teachers, just in all professions, but it doesn't make any difference what the profession has been.

00:13:18 Very few of the players I've had have been — have failed to be successful. Practically all of them have been successful reasonably, and I don't necessarily mean material-wise, but they've been successful in whatever profession they've chosen. That makes me very proud.

00:13:35 ALICE WINKLER: It’s a pretty startling statement, coming from one of the greatest college coaches of all time in any sport, but while the rest of the world watched UCLA games and thought of him as a high-powered molder of teams, John Wooden always considered himself a teacher. That’s all, he said. A teacher.

00:13:55 JOHN WOODEN: I was just teaching basketball rather than English, but you have a — it's different. In my English, I had them under mental and, to some degree, emotional. In basketball or sports, I have a mental, emotional, and physical. It's — I love to teach English. I would have always loved to have taught English, but you get closer to those under your supervision in sports.

00:14:25 They become almost like your children. They're closest to you next to your own flesh and blood. You get very close to them. Their joys are your joys. Their sorrows are your sorrows, and that goes on forever. It doesn't end when they leave your supervision. That's with you forever. Hardly a day goes by that I don't get a call or a letter from someone who was under my supervision in the past, going back to my very first years at UCLA, going back to when I was at Indiana State, some even going back to when I taught in high school.

00:15:02 ALICE WINKLER: Wooden said that the person who influenced him most as a teacher was Piggy Lambert, his college basketball coach, back when he was a student at Purdue University. And he credited his wife, Nell, his childhood sweetheart and one-and-only love, for almost everything else. But it was his high school math teacher, Lawrence Schidler, who set him on a path toward developing his distinctive view of success, a view that would permeate everything he ever taught his students.

00:15:34 JOHN WOODEN: One time, he had us define success in class. It seems funny, maybe, a math teacher doing that. You would think that might be an English teacher. I never forgot about that, the different definitions that various students have. And then after I had graduated Purdue and entered the teaching profession, I became a little bit disillusioned with what parents seemed to expect from their youngsters, an A or a B.

00:16:00 Now if they didn't get an A or a B, in one way or another, maybe subtly, but they would make the youngster or the teacher feel that they had failed. They seemed to be very happy if a neighbor's children got C’s, of course — they were average — but for their own — and I didn't understand that then.

00:16:15 I was very young and didn't quite — as I got older and had children of my own, I understood it a little better. But I didn't like that way of judging any more than I liked, even then, the way they judged athletic coaches and teams. They used the winning percentage there, and that's not an accurate way of judging success. So I wanted to come up with something of my own, and I think there were three things embedded into it.

00:16:41 One was Mr. Schidler's class, when we discussed success and came up with our own definitions. Then my dad, about never trying to be better than someone else, learn from others, and never cease trying to be the best you can be. And then, about that time, I ran across a verse, and always being interested in verse that makes a point, just one little simple, it said, "At God's footstool, to confess, a poor soul knelt and bowed his head. 'I failed,' he cried. The master said, 'Thou didst thy best. That is success.'"

00:17:18 I think those things, more than anything else, accounted for my own definition.

00:17:26 ALICE WINKLER: He came up with his own definition in 1934. He was 24 years old, but it was carefully considered, and it’s the definition he stuck with for the rest of his life. I played it for you at the beginning of this episode, but it bears repeating now.

00:17:41 JOHN WOODEN: Peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you're capable.

00:17:50 ALICE WINKLER: A few years after settling on his definition of success, John Wooden started working on his famous Pyramid of Success. He refined and tweaked it for the next 14 years but with his definition always perched firmly at the top. To this day, other coaches and even business leaders rely on Wooden’s pyramid as a model.

00:18:13 JOHN WOODEN: The first two blocks that I chose were the cornerstones, and if any structure is to have any strength or solidity, you’d better have a strong foundation. And of course, the cornerstones anchor the foundation. And one cornerstone is industriousness, and the other one is enthusiasm. I think you have to work hard at whatever you're doing.

00:18:35 If you’re looking for the shortcut, the trick, the easy way, you can get by, perhaps, for a while, but you won’t be strengthening the talents that lie within you. And the other, enthusiasm. If you don't like what you're doing, how in the world can you do the best of which you're capable? You can't reach your own particular level of competency unless you enjoy it, unless you're enthusiastic about it.

00:19:02 You may be talented, and you may be better than somebody else, but if it's not near your own level of competency, you're not really succeeding. Those blocks just stand — I never changed them, and through the 14 years, the next 14 years, when I worked on the various blocks, I had a lot of ideas. I discarded some. I put something in their place. I moved the position within the structure of some, but I never changed the cornerstones. They still remained constant, and I still believe that they are the cornerstones for success.

00:19:34 ALICE WINKLER: Between industriousness and enthusiasm at the foundation lie friendship, loyalty, and cooperation.

00:19:42 JOHN WOODEN: And then we work up to the very top of competitive greatness. That's the last block. Well, how do you become that? By being industrious and enthusiastic and being conditioned and having the skills and being imbued with consideration for others and so on, so they lead up, and these things lead up. Below the top block I have poise and confidence. Well, how do you gain poise? By being prepared. And how do you get prepared? By being industrious, by being enthusiastic, and so these others — so it leads up to the — to my way of thinking...

00:20:11 You know, in the mid-‘30s, about the time I started and coined my definition, I was working on this, and I ran across a couple of things that have stayed with me always. One was, a lady was asked — a lady teacher had been teaching for many years and was asked why she taught. And she later wrote some things down, and she said, "They ask me why I teach, and I reply, ‘Where could I find such splendid company? There sits a statesman, strong, unbiased, wise, another later Webster, silver-tongued. A doctor sits beside him, upward rise — ‘"

00:20:52 No, see, "A doctor sits beside him whose quick, steady hand may mend a bone or stem the lifeblood's flow. And there a builder, upward rise, the arches of that church he builds wherein that minister may speak the word of God and lead us stumbling soul to touch the Christ. And all about a gathering of teachers and nurses, laborers, those who work and vote and build and plan and pray into a great tomorrow. And, I say, ‘I may not see the church or hear the word or eat the food their hands may grow, and yet again, I may.’ And later, I may say, ‘I knew him once, and he was weak or strong or bold or proud or gay.’"

00:21:36 "I knew him once, but then he was a boy. They ask me why I teach, and I reply, ‘Where could I find such splendid company?’" And as a teacher, you see that. You see these youngsters. Now I saw that — all those, in many of these classes, grow up. I saw a youngster become an admiral in the Navy, and I saw them become doctors and dentists and just all different professions, and whether you did really or not, you like to feel, “Maybe I helped them a little... maybe I did.”

00:22:07 ALICE WINKLER: John Wooden loved the company he kept, and he tells a story about having to make a difficult choice early on in his career to stick up for one of his loved ones. It was his first year coaching at Indiana State, and his team was invited to the national tournament. Wooden declined.

00:22:25 JOHN WOODEN: I had an African American boy on my team. He wasn't a starter. He was probably the 12th man on a 12-man team. He didn't get to play very much, but he was a member of our team, and he had been dressed for every game, was with us on every game, and they did not permit black players to play in the National NAIA Tournament at that particular time, so I refused the invitation because of that.

00:22:53 Now the next year, we had a better year. We'd had a good year the year before, but the next year we had a really better year, and we were invited again. And I refused, but through this youngster's parents and through the NAACP, they felt it would be a good thing, that it might open the doors, in a sense. And I was persuaded to do that, to take him. He couldn't stay in the hotel with us.

00:23:24 He could eat in the hotel if we ate in a private room. He couldn't eat in the dining room. In a private room. So we had our meals in a private room, and he stayed with a minister and his wife, a black minister and his wife, in Kansas City, and we stopped some places in Illinois maybe to eat. They wouldn't let him in. “You take us all, or you don't take any,” and then we'd go someplace else and get some things and take out.

00:23:46 But it's good that times have changed, and I'm proud of the fact that, I think, in some ways maybe I helped bring about some changes. There's way too much prejudice in this world, and not just in race, religion, and other ways. And anything anyone can do to help — even if it's just a little, that's good because there are a lot of us, and if everyone would help just a little, that could be a whole lot. It's, like, we are many, but are we much? We're not much until we all contribute to some degree.

00:24:21 ALICE WINKLER: Wooden’s principled stance, he says, was rooted in those early teachings he got from his dad.

00:24:27 JOHN WOODEN: In one way or another, he tried to teach us that you're as good as anybody, but you're no better than anybody. Don't expect privileges at all, in any way, and never look down on anyone for any reason at all, certainly not race or religion.

00:24:47 ALICE WINKLER: He was also able to resist outside pressures because he was quite clear, he said, about the difference between character and reputation.

00:24:56 JOHN WOODEN: Your character is what you are, and you're the only one that truly knows that. Your reputation is what others perceive you to be, and they can be wrong. So which is the most important? What you really are. And it doesn't make any difference what others might think. You'd like for them to think well of you, but it really doesn't make any difference. You'd just like for them to.

00:25:20 But, boy, it's very important what you think about yourself. That's very important. I've been asked, "Do athletics build character?" And my answer has been consistent, "It can, and it can tear it down. It can do either one. It depends on the leadership." I believe that to be true. I say that in athletics — equal ability — the one with the better character will be the one that will emerge on top.

00:25:51 By having better character, you accept things better. You work harder. Character gives you more peace, and if you have more peace with yourself, you're going to function better. In a way, not probably connected exactly with this, but — in some other things — when Socrates was falsely imprisoned, facing imminent and unjust death, he was at ease. There was such tranquility about him that his jailers — who were mean, mean, maybe the meanest people of the day — they couldn't understand, and they said, "Why aren't you preparing for death?"

00:26:33 And Socrates’ answer was simply, "I've been preparing for death all my life by the life I've led." If you have character, you're at peace, at ease with yourself, and therefore you're going to have poise, and you're going to function near your particular level of competency.

00:26:50 ALICE WINKLER: It’s a principle he practiced on the basketball court while clenching a rolled-up program, as he always, always did.

00:26:57 JOHN WOODEN: When coaches are complaining about pressure, I don't buy that at all. I don't buy it at all. Do you think a salesman doesn't have pressure? Do you think a barber doesn't have pressure? He doesn't cut all the hair in town. The butcher doesn't sell all the meat in town. A salesman, if you don't do a good job, they'll put somebody else in your spot, so — how about a surgeon who's performing delicate surgery? Oh, my goodness, there's far more pressure than the coach is going to have on...

00:27:24 And the only pressure that amounts to a hill of beans is the pressure one puts on one's self, and you’d better put pressure on yourself. If you're not putting pressure on yourself, you're cheating. You're cheating yourself. You're cheating those under whose supervision you are. You're cheating others, so — but if you are affected by outside pressures, that's a weakness. If you let — as a coach, if you let the media affect you, if you let the alumni affect you, if you let the parents affect you, they're going to keep you from doing what you think is proper and right and correct.

00:27:58 You should know better than they. Your — this is your profession. You're working at it every day. You see these players every day. You see them together. You should know more about it, and I think that somehow I was brought up to not let those things bother me. I'm not saying you don't feel them. You don't like to be criticized. No one likes to be criticized, and I didn't like to be criticized, but at the same time, you've got to accept it and do what you think is right and not let outside criticism sway you.

00:28:29 But at the same time, don't be stubborn. You can be wrong, you know. We're all imperfect.

00:28:34 ALICE WINKLER: True enough, but John Wooden came pretty darned close to perfection as a coach, judging by UCLA’s record under his leadership. When he arrived in 1948, basketball was low priority. The team had just two hoops to practice on, no private locker room, not even a dedicated gym. They had to share it with other teams practicing other sports, but by the early '60s, he’d turned the Bruins’ program around. Since we’re talking about sports here, I’ve got to lay some numbers on you.

00:29:05 In Wooden’s 29 years as head coach at UCLA, the team won 664 out of 826 games. They did not lose a single season. They took home a jaw-dropping 10 national championships during a 12-year span. The first one was in 1964. The next in '65, and those teams were not big, by which I mean tall.

00:29:33 JOHN WOODEN: No, probably height-wise, they were probably the shortest teams to ever win, and I suspect now, probably, the shortest teams that ever will win, as far as height-wise is concerned, but size isn't always the answer at all, and that was proven by those two teams. But they came together real well, and players accepted their roles. I believe coaches today are having a little more trouble getting players to accept roles today, and that makes it a little more difficult, but those did.

00:30:06 They were strong. Maybe there were some other teams that might have been individually better, but as a unit, these were two very strong teams.

00:30:14 ALICE WINKLER: So what was the key to getting his players to accept their roles and work as a team? Wooden laid it out during his interview with the Academy of Achievement.

00:30:23 JOHN WOODEN: I tried to explain to my players that every person has a role, and every role is important. Now you may not hardly get in the game, but your role is helping develop these players that are going to play more, and that's extremely important. And I like to use with them — sort of keep this in mind — "I will get ready, and then perhaps my chance will come."

00:30:49 Now if you're not ready and your chance comes, when is it going to come again? It might not come again at all. So always think in terms, “I will get ready.” Is a powerful engine in an automobile more important than a wheel? What can you do if you lose a wheel? What good's that engine if you lose a wheel? What good is that wheel if you lose a nut that holds it on? You don't have it. So you may be just a nut.

00:31:16 You may be just a wheel, and you may be a powerful engine, but if you're not all together on the same page, we're not going to accomplish what we're capable of accomplishing. And, now, I don't say it's easy to get them to accept their roles, but you've got this — practices, for example. You've got to pay attention to the players that aren't getting to play very much. The players that are getting to play a lot, they get praised in the papers. They've got the alumni patting them on the back and all that.

00:31:47 These others, they're not getting that. You have to give it in practice. That's why, in some ways, I think I became a little closer, from a personal point of view, with some of my players that didn't get to play very much than I would my stars. Just because they're not getting to play that much, you still care for them just as much as the one that's playing more.

00:32:05 ALICE WINKLER: John Wooden was a tenderhearted man, but he was notoriously strict with his players about their appearance and their personal behavior on and off the court.

00:32:15 JOHN WOODEN: Never criticize a teammate. Never. Never criticize a teammate. That's unpardonable. That's my job. I'm paid for it. Pitifully poor, I would tell them, but I'm paid for it, but don't you do it. And no word of profanity, or you're off the floor for the day. No excuse for that. No excuse for that. That — now that, in turn, to me, will help them maintain self-control, and the maintaining of self-control, it's going to make him a better basketball player.

00:32:43 It's more than just the use of profanity, although I don't want it at all, so I think those things are — speaking about the little things, those are little things that I think help bring big things about.

00:32:54 ALICE WINKLER: He demanded that players keep their hair cut short, no more than two inches, and this was during the counter-culture movements of the 1960s and '70s, so it was no easy task. Bill Walton tells a story about how, after winning three College Player of the Year awards, he got a little cocky. When he got back from summer vacation, he came into the first practice with bushy hair and a beard, and he told Coach Wooden that he had no right to make him change it.

00:33:22 Coach Wooden said, "You’re right, Bill. I don’t, but I do decide who plays and who doesn’t," and that was that. During the Academy’s conversation with John Wooden, journalist Irv Drasnin asked how he handled strong-willed players. Wooden took exception to the word “handled.” It was another revealing moment.

00:33:44 JOHN WOODEN: You made an interesting statement there. You said, "How do you handle those players?" I can tell you a little story that's always sort of meaningful to me. When Wilt Chamberlain came to the Lakers, I was invited to the press conference announcing this, and in the press conference, one member of the press asked Wilt, he said, "Do you think that Bill van Breda Kolff can handle you?" Bill van Breda Kolff was the coach of the Lakers at the time.

00:34:08 And Wilt said, "No one handles me. I am a person, not a thing. You handle things. You work with people. I think I can work with anyone." Just prior to this, my coaching book, Practical Modern Basketball, had been published, and I had a section in this book entitled, “Handling Your Players.” I left this meeting, came home, and took my book and marked out, crossed out “handling your players,” put “working with your players,” and any place that I had eluded to “handling your players,” I changed.

00:34:45 I called the publisher and wanted that correction made for any future editions. So you have to work with them. I think any person in any business, any person of leadership, those under your supervision must be made to feel they're working with you, not for you. Otherwise they'll just punch the clock in and out, and that's it.

00:35:09 ALICE WINKLER: Think about the images you carry in your head about how a coach behaves and talks to players in the locker room. John Wooden didn’t do or say any of those things. He didn’t try to get his players all pumped up before a big game. He didn’t tell them they had to win, and he wasn’t disappointed when they lost if he believed everyone on the team was doing his best and working together. He worked with them, and you might say he worked for them, to help them become the best, most successful people they could be, whether they went pro or never played again.


00:35:46 U...C...L...A...

UCLA, fight, fight, fight!

00:35:56 ALICE WINKLER: Coach John Wooden. He died in 2010 at the age of 99. I'm Alice Winkler, and this is What It Takes from the Academy of Achievement.

00:36:12 Funding for the Academy of Achievement, as always, comes generously from the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation.


What It Takes is a podcast of conversations with well-known people in almost every field. The interviews have been recorded over the past 25 years by the American Academy of Achievement. They offer life stories of people who have had a huge impact on the world. They offer insights you can apply to your own life.