The nets have been cut down. The fans have celebrated. And new team has been heralded champions.The NCAA national championship came to a finale last night as the Kentucky Wildcats defeated the Kansas Jayhawks 67-59.
This was Kentucky’s eighth title championship. The number nine is already on the minds of Kentucky fans across the nation. But, as a Bruin fan, the number ten comes distinctly to my mind. This time of the year, more than any other, I thought it would be appropriate to pay homage to John Wooden, his morals, his convictions and his philosophies—both on and off the court.
Most people know John Wooden as one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time. Nicknamed the "Wizard of Westwood," he won ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period as head coach at UCLA. Under his leadership, his teams won an amazing 620 games, including a 88 consecutive winning streak, seven consecutive national championships, 38 consecutive games in the NCAA tournaments and four perfect 30-0 seasons. He was named national coach of the year six times. And was the first person to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player (1961) and a coach (1973).
Wooden attributed his success to hard work, a winning attitude and respect for others. He believed that success started the second you stepped foot on the court. And that same philosophy was expected to carry forward in all of his players' endeavors—down to the minute details of their daily routines. I once read that his players weren't allowed to play on his team until they learned to tuck their shirts in properly. He also taught them how to put their socks and shoes on their feet and tie their shoelaces. “Wrinkles can lead to blisters," he'd warn. Attention to detail was a hallmark trait of Coach Wooden. His success and his life.
And as a parent, I wonder if we all shouldn’t take note and follow suit. Wooden did win more than 90 percent of his games over a 40-year coaching career. His methods obviously worked. We would be wise to at least try to slow down and focus on each step one at a time. I know I, myself, often get caught up in the big picture. I need to get the kids off to school, make breakfast, prepare for a meeting and make a few phone calls—all at the exact same time. The house needs to be cleaned. Groceries need to be purchased. Bills need to be paid. And a million of other things to do—all before the end of the day. As a result, I end up rushing about and not paying attention to the individual seconds of the day. I have my eye only on the hour hand. But it is the seconds that should have my attention.
Making each action count was important to Wooden. Fittingly enough, he learned it from his father. When Wooden graduated from grammar school, his father gave him a seven point creed:
- Be true to yourself.
- Make each day your masterpiece.
- Help others.
- Drink deeply from good books.
- Make friendship a fine art.
- Build a shelter against a rainy day.
- Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.
Wooden kept the original card where his father had written this message in his wallet, until the paper crumbled away; then, Wooden replaced it with a new card that contained the exact same lessons. Without a doubt, they were the foundation for his success, as a student, a basketball player, a coach and a man. And nearly two years after his death, they still hold true today. Life is too short to not focus on each step of every moment. Coach Wooden once said, “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” That is what I hope to always keep in mind, both as a parent and as a person. We need to tuck our own creeds into our back pockets. And never let our hearts and minds forget that they are there. Like Wooden reminds us, we need to move with a purpose, but first we need to put the basics in place. We need to figure out who we are, but still find time to get to know others around us. We need to foster our individual talents, but never at the expense of our ethics, morals or convictions. And finally, we need to establish future goals for ourselves, but never forget to hold the memories of the past close to our hearts.
One of my favorite Wooden stories doesn’t even pertain to his coaching abilities. It was about his family life. On the 21st of every month, he would sit down with a pen and compose a love letter to his wife Nellie. He continued this ritual even after her death, neatly stacking his letters on her side of the bed. They were married 53 years. He never forgot a letter. In her memory, he slept only on his half of the bed, using only his pillow, with just the old bedspread they shared to keep him warm. Without a doubt, John Wooden is a man who understands the meaning of passion. He put passion into his career. But put the same amount of passion into the people around him. That was his masterpiece. Just like his father taught him, he layered all the small details of his life to bring out the bold colors of his humanity.
March Madness may be over. But we are still in the game. The best way to enjoy it is by taking it seriously. Just like Wooden taught us, we need to take a few minutes every day to tuck in our shirts, tie our shoes and truly put our best foot forward.