I had the good fortune to be a student at UCLA during the 1970’s. During my freshman and sophomore years John Wooden was completing his last two years as the coach of our Bruin basketball team. It was during this time that I got to know him and to know more about the game of basketball.
Coach Wooden had been at UCLA since 1948 – years before I was born. He had turned the team around and was getting quite a lot of recognition for what he had been able to accomplish with the players. I didn’t truly appreciate what he did for me until many years later.
UCLA is a huge university. It’s easy to become invisible in a place so large, so the school assigned us to a group of 12 students that would meet once a week to discuss our experiences. Each group had a facilitator, and Coach Wooden oversaw my group. I had no idea who he was until someone’s father enlightened me. That’s when I started going to the Bruin’s basketball games at Pauley Pavilion. It didn’t take long until I was hooked on the game.
During our weekly group meetings, he would share a story, usually one involving basketball or golf, and make a point that would turn out to be a life lesson. We each had the opportunity to share our opinion about the topic, and to ask him questions. This proved to be extremely helpful to me. Perhaps the greatest strategy I learned from him was about managing my time. I lived twenty miles from UCLA, and coming to school five days a week was not easy. I had a husband and young children at home, and I knew that something had to give.
Coach took me aside and looked at my schedule. He showed me how to choose classes that only met two or three times each week, instead of five days a week. This may seem like an obvious thing, but it wasn’t to me when I was eighteen years old. I thought I had to be there every day to be taken seriously. I was there on a scholarship, and wanted to make sure the school knew that I had the best intentions. The next quarter I did as he had suggested, and everything changed in a very positive way. I was able to graduate on time, and with honors. During my senior year I only had classes two days a week. I usually drove in on a third day to go to the library and to meet with other students, but I did not have to be there on Friday’s or early in the morning.
He also shared with us his Seven Point Creed, which he had learned from his father sometime around 1922:
- Be true to yourself.
- Make each day your masterpiece.
- Help others.
- Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
- Make friendship a fine art.
- Build a shelter against a rainy day.
- Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.
Coach also created a leadership strategy that he referred to as his Leadership Pyramid. You can download it here. I keep it framed in my office as a reminder of what I am striving for in my life, both personally and professionally. The sections on ‘Initiative’ and ‘Intentness’ have taught me the most over the years.
During the past ten years I only saw Coach Wooden about once each year, and sometimes less often than that. He remembered me, and affectionately called me ‘Blue Eyes’. He would always ask me if I was keeping up with the Lakers, and I would tell him which game or player I was most interested in that season.
I’ll miss you, Coach. I know you are now with your beloved wife, Nell. Thanks for being such a positive influence and role model for me during those years when I needed it so very much.