30 second time outs

Saturday, June 05, 2010

A Lifetime of Learning with Coach John Wooden

I ran into Ernie Vanderwegh, Kiki's father, at a basketball camp a while back and mentioned to him that I had wanted to send a message to Coach Wooden for quite a while and he encouraged me to do so. I was always concerned with the time Coach spent on matters such as this and felt needed to have some time to himself just to concentrate on his declining health. I never sent that message that would have been one of hundreds like my own - although now I suspect he knows the draft has been on my computer for some time.This is the Wooden I grew up with, giving instruction, with rolled up program, to players listening intently in a huddle - and the team then proceeding to execute to perfection. I graduated from an L.A. area high school in 1976 (go ahead - do the math), so my entire basketball youth was during the string of UCLA championships from '64-'75. The first basketball game I remember seeing on TV was a televised Bruin game from the Astrodome when UCA took on Elvin Hayes and the Houston Cougars. Later I remember a game on ABC vs Purdue, starring Rick Mount that was Alcindor's final game when I was 9 years old. As a freshman point guard in high school I wore #43 because I loved the way Greg Lee would pass to Bill Walton (although I snuck in some baggy socks to pay homage to Pistol Pete). We ran a play called "UCLA" based on their High Post Offense and ran our version of their vaunted 2-2-1-1 Full-Court Zone Press. UCLA's final championship in Wooden's last season occurred as I was preparing for my final year of high school basketball. Coach Wooden and "the UCLA Way" was imprinted in my basketball DNA.

In college one of the biggest Influences on my style of coaching was one of the very first papers I wrote as a Physical Education major on an article by Tharp and Gallimore titled , "What a Coach Can Teach a Teacher". The article was in Psychology Today and Tharp and Gallimore were Educational Psychologists - so it didn't have a typical "jock" spin to the research. It contained a chart of over 2,000+ observed acts of teaching, verbal and non-verbal, during the '74-'75 season (of which no one knew it would be his last). I then took that chart and recorded my own coaching techniques to develop a similar set of statistics for comparison. BOY, did I have a long ways to go!

However, it gave me some guidelines - a template of what a Master Teacher on the basketball court would look like. The importance of providing information, the concept of scold/reinstruct, and the technique of praise-reinstruct-motivate stuck with me for a long time. My son became a coach and in college wrote a paper on Tharp & Gallimore's follow up 25 years later. I picked up a 1st Edition copy of Coach's book "Practical Modern Basketball" and became a student, which is still applicable today -although some terminology has changed a bit. I've developed quite a collection of Wooden's books, which I'll highlight sometime in the near future.

I eventually was fortunate enough to have worked Coach Wooden's final basketball camp at Cal Lutheran University, when then owner of SportsWorld Camps, Max Shapiro, coaxed him into "one more", from what I remember, in order to start a trust fund for a soon-to-be-born grandchild. Of course the first thing Coach did at camp was to have the kids (and Coaches) sit down and teach them how to put on their socks and tie their shoes - with a full explanation of why it is important to do so. As I watch the Lakers on TV now, I remember Luke and Nathan Walton as youngsters and Bill limping around after one of his many surgeries to fuse an ankle. Because I wanted to soak as much of greatness in as I could, I would walk with Nate's camp coach (who was in our division) and we'd accompany Bill to the dining hall. So I was always last for every meal - but to hear Walton talk so glowingly about Coach Wooden was priceless.

Because my goal was to make the most of the week, it was imperative to take Coach Wooden up on his offer of breakfast with the staff every morning in the dining hall at 6:45 AM. Coach would tell all the stories we've read in books, but it was something special to hear him tell them in person, just dripping with wisdom. Most of the "seasoned" coaches led by Mike Kundstat and our camp director, Tom Gregory worked Coaches camp year after year and would be there every morning. I wonder if that's what guys call me now... "seasoned? I digress. Kundstat, from Texas, and others from out of state would bring their entire families to stay in the little dorm rooms. The families enjoyed a California vacation while the coaches enjoyed camp and learned so much along the way. Of course, us younger coaches also had to enjoy the "night life" in the area. The week really drove home the adage "you cant hoot with the owls, if you want to soar with the eagles!"

At the end of camp Coach Wooden took time with every camper and coach to take photo's and sign memorabilia. It wasn't until this final day that I realized that after this whole week of giving so much to the campers and coaches - Coach Wooden had been retired from UCLA for 17 years and was 82 years young! Coach signed my copy of "They Call Me Coach" with the inscription,
"Thanks for taking an interest in this coach"
The humility and gratitude behind his "..taking an interest" inscription has been a cornerstone of my approach throughout my 25+years. Of course I would take an interest. Since then there is nothing like being around wise people. I'm hoping some of it sunk in at least through osmosis.

Coach also signed two copies of the Pyramid of Success one for me and one for my son, coming with the inscription,
"Shawn, Best Wishes. John Wooden"
At age 10, it was nice for Dad to bring something home but it lived on a shelf surrounded by Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Now, as a high school basketball coach himself, it hangs framed near the entry way of his house, as he and his wife expect their first child.

Of course the Pyramid has been a guideline for every team that I've ever coached. After winning a CIF Championship at our Ring Ceremony, each of the 15 members of the team received a copy and their own corresponding "block" of the Pyramid representing which characteristic they contributed to the group. Each coach was "awarded" a quality from the mortars, which I believe are all too overlooked by others, in your Pyramid. Amazingly we had members that covered all of the qualities in the Pyramid, and that is what contributed to our achievement.Now, as the Lead Trainer for Positive Coaching Alliance, we teach the principles that Coach Wooden lived by. He was truly what we call a Double-Goal Coach - one who prepares his team to do their best in the quest for victory, but never forgetting the larger goal of teaching life-lessons along the way. We talk about the "Magic Ratio" of 5 positives to every 1 criticism or correction. While coach wasn't prone to lavish praise in it's most simplistic form, the research of Tharp and Gallimore proved that all of his negative "criticisms and/or corrections" totaled 17% - precisely 5:1. Coach Wooden explained this during some conversations and interviews by pointing out he would "praise" his substitutes" more than his starters - "they get enough praise in the newspapers" and pointed out every time they heard their name announced in the starting lineup or hear the cheers of the crowd it "Filled their Emotional Tanks", if I could use PCA lingo. Coach also said, over one of those early morning breakfasts in the Cal Lutheran cafeteria that, "Teaching a student (or a player) gives an implied confidence that you have the belief that they can accomplish the task." So Coach taking the time to give information was a "Tank-Filler" in itself.

All I know, is that anytime I'm walking anywhere and greeted by students, players or colleagues, past or present, I think of Coach Wooden whenever *They Call Me "Coach"*.Coach Wooden - Thanks for everything - you've made so many of us what we are. I'm sure as you got to the Pearly Gates to be with Nell, their first words were "Well done."
And I will always try to live by another "Wooden-ism"
"I'm not what I should be, I'm not what I want to be, I'm not what I'm going to be, I'm not what I could be, but I am better than I used to be."

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