John Wooden, A Teacher Of Character

   This is one man I have always wanted to meet. John Wooden is about my age. He did his basketball coaching on the west coast and in 10 of 12 years he won the national championship. He was a man of character and those he tutored learned character from him. Winning games or championships was the result, not the cause.
   I remember when two young coaches were competing in the National Championship; John was asked what he would advise them to do. His answer was simple yet one that no one expected. There was a long pause before he said, “Don’t want to win too much!”  Neither school had won the National and the interviewer asked for an explanation. He replied, “When winning is the most important thing, you tend to forget character. You begin to react and play hunches which cause you to lose your focus. “Just don’t want to win to much” is the answer” and allows you to keep your cool – win or lose.
   Wooden coached 27 seasons in Los Angeles and now banners hang all over the gym.  None are there for ‘being in the final four’. All are there for winning the National Championship.He drew the finest high school players from all the states, but then the honing of character really began.
   The first day of practice he told the players to gather for a meeting. “Put the basketballs up and sit on the benches”. His first words were “I want to teach you how to put your shoes on. If your shoes don’t fit or you don’t take time to put them on right, you wear blisters and you are out of competition for a week or so. So here’s how to put your shoes on right.”
   The character of the individual and as a team together is the most important factor in winning. Skill is important, and natural ability is vital, but none of these things make a winning team.”
   When I coached basketball for the midgets and juniors, I would take the first five and stand them together. Then I would turn them at right angles and tell them to stand close.  “Closer, I would say”, in a louder voice. I said, “STAND CLOSE” and they came together so close it was almost embarrassing. To them and the other team members who watched, I would shout, “You are not five players you are ONE!” It little matters who scores or the points you post. It matters that you stand as one – forget yourself and play as one.”  Winning with character is vital. Without it, losing is easy.
   Learn how to put your shoes on, and learn that there are no stars on earth, just in the heavens. The apostle Paul wrote, “Teach these things and tell everyone to do as you say.  Don’t let anyone make fun of you because you are young, Set an example for other followers by what you say and do, as well as by your love, faith and purity” (I Timothy 4:11-12 – Contemporary English Version). I know the writer wasn’t talking about basketball but about life, and basketball is a part of it.
   This afternoon, the wife and I and all the family watched the forty-second playing of the “Super Bowl”. The New York Giants were playing the New England Patriots. The Patriots were a two touch-favorite. With 1:59 second left on the clock, NE was ahead by four points. The NY team took the ball 86 yards down the field for a winning score. After the game the interviews were most interesting. “It was character and team work”, explained one of the guards. “It was something you just can’t put into words”, one shouted, wiping tears from his eyes. Big men playing a little boys game, but when all was said and done, there was more done than said. This was only the third time in modern history where a team that was laughed at after losing most of the first five games, came from the bottom of the stack and won it all.
   I told Ann, it reminded me of when our little league players at the Quarterman Elementary School beat Bit Tanner and the rich kids from across the tracts. My brother Fred and I danced on the field in victory. The emotions of the moment were something none of us could explain, much less the one hundred and twenty three spectators who were stunned.  The character of the team stood against one that was bigger and more talented and held them scoreless when they were on our three yard line with fourth down. You explain it, I really can’t. That was 74 years ago but I remember it like it was yesterday.
   An English Bobbie (policeman) in London peeked in an expensive and beautiful pram (baby carriage) and received one of the shocks of his life. There was a child who was greatly deformed. His head was extremely large for the size of his little body. He was old enough that wire like whiskers were covering his chin.
   The Bobbie looked up for an explanation, and the nanny (governess), with tears streaming down her face said, “He just never grew up, he just never grew up”.
   Playing sports is growing up time and some just never make it. Start by learning  “how you put your shoes on”.


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