“Wooden On Leadership”

John Wooden knew how to build a winning team

“We had simpatico,” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said of his unlikely and successful relationship with Coach Wooden. “I’m not sure what ‘simpatico’ is,” replied Coach, “but I think it must be good.” They remained lifelong friends as did Coach with virtually all of his student-athletes.
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By Kevin Roeten:

Peak of Your Game

Book cover: Wooden on leadership
Book cover: “Wooden on Leadership”

“When it came to building a winning team, John Wooden wrote the book.”—-Bill Walton. I actually saw Bill Walton on TV play basketball at UNCA thirty years ago, even though I didn’t know much of what I was seeing. Albert Einstein and Coach John Wooden were highly complex. But both liked to keep things simple. Einstein summed up the complexities of nuclear fusion with a simple equation: E=mC2.  At UCLA Wooden had 10 national championships using the simple formula: 10 = C+F+U. For those unconditioned athletes, those initials stand for Conditioning +Fundamentals + Unity.

Someone let me know how one wins 10 national  championships, seven championships in a row, 88 consecutive victories, 38 tournament playoff wins , and four perfect seasons. In 41 years of coaching basketball, his only losing year, was his first. Finally calling it quits after 40 years in 1975, Wooden always sought the best from his players. A huge amount from what his Dad taught him.

Pyramid Building

Wooden focuses on the Pyramid of Success, and capitalizing on that pyramid, all wrapped up in his succinct equation: 10 championships = C + F + U. As In Einstein’s equation, Wooden has myriads of building blocks for his winning pyramid, totaling 15 characteristics building the pyramid itself. The book goes into detail on how exactly those characteristics were implemented. Steve Jamison assisted in writing.

Late in the book, Wooden probably reveals what he calls the cruelest trick fate could have played on him. During his second season in the college ranks, his phone rang with offers from several colleges. The two most prominent ones, were UCLA and the University of Minnesota. In actuality, UCLA was only four letters to him, while Minnesota—in the Big Ten Conference—was something unimaginable altogether. Already known by every coach in the territory, his previous playing for Purdue solidified the fact all of the Big Ten Conference teams would be potential recruiters for his program. He seemed to have a great desire to become the head coach for the Minnesota Gophers basketball team in the Twin Cities.

Wooden thought for sure he was going to the Twin Cities. Every term of the contact was agreed to, except for Wooden not accepting their replaced Dave McMillen, Wooden did not want a former head coach on the team who had a different philosophy of playing basketball. Wooden waited for Minnesota’s call. Hours later he finally got a welcomed call—-but in was from the UCLAathletic director Wibur Johns, asking Wooden what his decision was. Wooden told him that Minnesota never called, and he accepted UCLA’s offer.

Unknowingly, a spring blizzard had knocked out all telephone service in the Twin Cities, and Minnesota was only able to call an hour and a half later. But it was too late. Wooden had already given his word that he would be the Bruin’s next basketball coach. But Wooden followed his Dad’s advice. Earlier his Dad had lost the home farm, and he took his fate, and made it hIs friend. Wooden’s fate was poor, but made it into a dynasty that would live forever.

Changing The Game

Wooden essentially changed the game of basketball during his many years at UCLA. Of the many ideals Wooden fostered, many were beyond his time:

1)    He always said it takes ten hands to score a basket.

2)    He always said emotion is your enemy.

3)    Any beards, or long hair was forbidden, and jerseys had to be always tucked in.

4)    Don’t look  at the scoreboard during the game.

5)    Instituted full time press; even backcourt.

6)    Developed multiple (6) ways to make sure sweat socks were without wrinkles, creases, or folds while playing basketball.

7)    Demonstrated constantly how to lace and tie basketball sneakers.

8)    Pushed players like Dave Meyers, Bill Walton, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (a.k.a,, Lew Alcindor), to be better than just superstars.

9)      When the “stuff” was removed from the game, Jabbar concentrated on his famed “sky-hook”, and won multiple games almost singlehandedly. However, the “stuff” was eventually returned to the game of basketball.

10)  Wooden always liked the two-handed underhanded style of free-throws, but they never really caught on.

Learn And Win

Maybe Wooden was so successful because he took fate by the throat and hung on for dear life. Maybe Wooden was successful because of his hands-on, in-your-face coaching ethic. Maybe because he turned complex equations into simple ones that could be easily taught. Maybe because his Pyramid of Success was the answer to any sports malady.

As an “unofficial” coach-player on the Louisiana Tech Soccer Team playing for four years right after Coach Wooden retired, this author would like to say all of Coach Wooden’s attributes somehow inspired his play and leadership. Something had come in handy while physically reinstalling one of my players’ knees on the field of play having been completely dislocated by a slide-tackle.  And when one of my players’ teeth was knocked out of his mouth by another player, he was aghast. Fortunately, my dentist, who played on the opposing team, knew how to pop the tooth right back in the socket on the soccer field.

I guess Coach Wooden never had to go to those extremes. But I would be remiss if I never admitted Coach Wooden ever had any effect.


Kevin Roeten can be reached at roetenks@charter.net.

© Copyright by Kevin Roeten, 2015. All rights reserved.

Kevin Roeten
About Kevin Roeten 168 Articles
CHO's science editor Kevin Roeten is a former Chemical Engineer. He enjoys riding the third rail of journalism: politics and religion. As an orthodox Catholic, Roeten appreciates the juxtaposition of the two supposedly incompatible subjects.   Kevin is a Guest Columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times, and the Independent (Ohio), and writes for numerous blogs (Nolan Chart, Allvoices) and newspapers, including USA Today.   A collaborator in the book Americans on Politics, Policy, and Pop Culture (Jason Wright and Aaron Lee), he is also an amateur astronomer, and delves into scientific topics.   Kevin Roeten can be reached at roetenks@charter.net.