“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming.”
Coach John Wooden
I love basketball.
I don’t have many regrets in life, but quitting the Corona del Mar High School basketball team my junior year is one that has stuck with me through the years. I showed up late for a Saturday practice (in my wetsuit of course…), and coach Tandy Gillis made sure I would not want to do that again. And I didn’t. At the end of practice I sheepishly told him I was done. Quitting the team. Enough already. I was 17 years old and didn’t need some basketball coach telling me what to do.
Coach Gillis was a bit of an icon, which of course I appreciate much more now than I did then. Tandy played basketball for the University of California, and rumor had it that he held Jerry West to his lowest offensive point total in his college basketball career at West Virginia University. And if you don’t know Jerry West, he was good enough to have the logo of the NBA modeled after him. Tandy was an All American at Cal, where he had played under coach Pete Newell, who coached Cal to win the 1959 NCAA championship. In fact, Tandy’s Cal Bears beat Jerry West’s West Virginia team in the finals 71-70 that year.
Gillis knew how to coach defense like Einstein knew how to teach physics. It was quite simple really. He taught us how to play an extremely tight man-to-man defense by “crawling inside their jock strap” as he used to say, and denying every pass possible. If you ever conceded the baseline to an opponent with the ball, it was going to be a long practice for you. That was about it.
Growing up as a basketball fan in SoCal in the 60’s and 70’s meant you had to be a fan of what John Wooden was doing with his UCLA men’s basketball team. Dad had attended UCLA on the GI bill following the war, and quickly began to follow what the Wizard of Westwood (as he became known) was doing on the basketball court. They truly were a sports dynasty of unequal at that time. I have fond memories of dad allowing me to stay up to watch the KTLA channel 5 replays of those games at 11pm with Dick Endberg announcing. I could not wait for the “Oh MY’s” from Endberg, as UCLA ran endlessly up and down the court scoring at will, and seemed to always end up on the winning side. Truth be known, dad would clarify here that I fell asleep by halftime of most of those games.
The Wooden-coached UCLA Bruins went on an absolute rampage to win 10 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championships over a period of 12 years (1964-1975), including 7 in a row (1967-1973), and 4 seasons undefeated (1964, 1967,1972, 1973), and even had an amazing 88-game win streak. I cried the day they lost that streak to Elvin Hayes and the #2 Houston Cougars in what was billed as the game of the century at the Houston Astrodome with over 52,000 in attendance. I don’t want to get started on that story, other than to mention that UCLA’s star, Lew Alcindor (Kareen Abdul-Jabbar), had the worst game of his college career, playing with a patch over one eye due to an injury… Clearly, what Coach Wooden was doing was unprecedented in the sports world and had grabbed everyone’s attention.
Something was quite different about Coach John Wooden.
Amidst the many, many UCLA victories, coach Wooden had the ability to inspire people in his wonderful qualities as a person, and I was surely one who was caught up in the magic of what he was accomplishing. In all circumstances Coach Wooden was an extremely humble man, always giving the credit for those around him before himself. As a coach, I found it incredible that he never spoke to his teams about winning. His focus was in helping each of them become the best that they possibly could be. He liked to emphasize the importance of practice, and that if you practiced well, the games would take care of themselves. He was cool as a cucumber during the tensest moments of the game, often refusing to be the first to call a timeout to get his team settled down.
I could carry on at length, but there are many books written which tell that story [see “Resources” below for some suggestions].
“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
One could not help but wonder what was behind all the success those UCLA teams were having. It was puzzling to me, and I felt a strong yearning to learn more about this man’s inner philosophy and whether I could apply his lessons to life, as well as to coaching basketball.
Fast-Forward 20 years to Silicon Valley.
They Call Me Coach
As soon as our two children were old enough to play basketball, I could not wait to enter the coaching ranks to pass on all the valuable skills I had learned as a CdM High School Sea King. As painful as it was to carry the regret of being a quitter in a sport I enjoyed so much, I was determined to make amends through coaching. God works in amazing ways, and He has allowed me to use that experience as an opportunity to influence other players at the high school level that were contemplating the same decision to quit. Believe me, I give a strong testimony against it, and have had some success at keeping them on the team.
I was working for IBM as a Sales Training Instructor when I read John Wooden’s first book, They Call Me Coach, hoping I could leverage his model for success to inspire trainee sales representatives to achieve their sales targets. Buried in the middle of the book in Chapter 13, I was struck by another epiphany.
As Coach Wooden was discussing his beliefs on success and how he tried to coach his players about being the best they could be, he quoted a verse from the Bible, Matthew 6:33:
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.”
Right there, Coach Wooden told the story of his faith, and how basketball was of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. In Coach Wooden’s view, there was only one kind of life that truly wins; one that places faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. Only then could true peace of mind take place.
Wooden carried on to explain how he had carried a metal cross of Jesus Christ in his pocket through all those many games over the years so he could hold on to it and be comforted by his Savior when things got tense in the game. He held the cross in his hand and would rub it for comfort — to the point that it had been worn down on the corners over the years.
I was a new Christian at that time, and that really hit home with me. It was so simple, yet so very honest, and so true! It made a great deal of sense to someone who was just starting off in their career, and it would continue to ring true over the next two decades chasing that model of “success”.
Most remarkable of all was that Coach Wooden felt strongly that he had to practice what he preached in order for his teachings to be effective. His players all looked up to him for his principles and for his commitment to his faith. He really lived it! And I believe that is what set John Wooden apart from all others and enabled him to see the level of success he achieved.
At the time I had this revelation with Coach Wooden, I had just been promoted to a Sales Manager position for the IBM branch sales office in Santa Clara selling telecommunications systems to our installed base accounts. To this day I have never held a more challenging and demanding job. I hold all sales people in the highest regard as a result. It took me to the limit – and then some…
In the late 1980’s IBM regarded their sales force as the most important ingredient to their success. New-hire sales reps were in a sense brainwashed through an intensive 18-week sales training program. They hit the streets running and were expected to deliver on quota immediately. So as a Sales Manager, the pressure cooker was on the fire, and I was fighting on a daily basis for territory, accounts, quota, and that most elusive Purchase Order to bring home the bacon.
But that fine balance between the work (which never seemed to stop) and my life outside the office was immediately in jeopardy. Hard work not withstanding; I was working my tail off! But I struggled with a perspective, which would allow me to both inspire my team to success, as well as give me a sense that I could rest at the end of the day knowing I had done my best to meet the day’s challenges.
“Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”
Pyramid of Success
The Pyramid of Success was another jewel I discovered in They Call Me Coach, a model of which has been on the wall in my office ever since. Coach Wooden described how he struggled with the definition of the word “success”, and what it truly meant. This led him on a sojourn over a 15-year period to create a block pyramid, which summarized the building blocks required for success, both on the court and off. It is easy to summarize. Hard work was definitely at the core of it. No getting around the hard work with Coach Wooden. But once you had done that, it came down to patience (“good things take time”), along with faith through prayer to turn it over to God. All this resulted in “peace of mind” that you can rest in the fact that you have done all the right things, now is the time to rest in God’s plan for the outcome. Never a thought about winning. Just making sure it was your best effort. And of course, as Coach Wooden liked to say: “you are the only one who truly can judge that!”.
Here was a model that said you did not have to win to succeed! I quickly adopted it for the children’s basketball teams I was coaching (they all had to memorize each of the 15 blocks), as well as incorporated it into the mentoring of our sales team at IBM.
I got so excited about discovering the Pyramid of Success that I even typed out a letter to Coach Wooden, asking for additional resources that I could use in our sales training classes. I figured he had someone sorting his mail that could send me some information. Amazingly, within a week of sending the letter, I had a hand-written response from Coach Wooden with details of the resources I could call on. He was truly modeling the principle’s he was teaching.
As a coach, father, and believer in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I have found the pyramid of success to be a wonderful way to model the values our holy Bible teaches, both to children on the basketball court, as well as to adults in the business world. It has enabled me to go home at the end of the day over the years with a sense of satisfaction that regardless of the outcome, I gave it my best effort.
Wooden authored and co-authored 17 books before his death in 2010 at the age of 99, and I have listed a couple of my favorites below. But an Amazon search on “John Wooden” will bring up many more. They all model the values and beliefs of this amazing man.
“Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization” (2005) by John Wooden and Steve Jamison. Wooden’s strategies for competitive greatness translated into a leadership principles book for business or sports. A Wall Street Journal and L.A. Times bestseller.
“Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks for a Better Life” (2005) by John Wooden and Jay Carty. A translation of Wooden’s philosophy with the Pyramid of Success into a self-help handbook based upon each of the blocks of the pyramid.
They Call Me Coach (1988) by John Wooden
This was his first, and my personal favorite, as it describes his humble upbringing on a small farm in Indiana, and how his relationship with his father impacted him. It also is the only one of his books which covers the UCLA basketball teams in quite a bit of detail, which I appreciated, having watched so many of those games.