Every so often I re-read some of my John Wooden books … just to make sure I’m not slipping, or to be reassured I’m dealing with something in the best manner possible.
If you like basketball — and you think some self-help wouldn’t hurt — “They Call Me Coach” is a terrific, easy read.
(Just in case you’ve been in the Himalayas since the early 1900s, John Wooden is the late, storied coach of the UCLA Bruins during a period in which his school won 10 NCAA championships in 12 years. He had one losing season — his first year coaching high school in Kentucky — and is the only person ever to have won national titles as a player — Purdue in 1927 — and coach AND be enshrined in the college Hall of Fame as both player and coach. He was the nation’s first three-time All-American in the 1920s.)
Anyway, Wooden has been an inspiration since I first discovered him while I was in high school in Los Angeles in 1961. Coach took a couple of fairly short teams to back-to-back NCAA crowns in the mid-’60s. Then, when Lew Alcindor (Kareen Abdul-Jabbar) arrived, Wooden kept the championship trophy on his credenza for eight of the next nine seasons.
Having had two opportunities to sit down with The Wizard of Westwood in the 1970s, I once thought — because of my age and drive at the time — that those encounters were lost opportunities. Thanks to a couple of things that have happened to me in the past 20 years, I realized I was wrong. Wooden’s words sank in …
He told me a little story — one that he mentions in another of his books simply titled “Wooden.” It was about two travelers who stopped at the same gas station a week apart. Wooden was making a point about writers at the time, but the story has guided me over the years since.
The first traveler at the station asked the attendant, “What kind of people do you have in this town? I’m thinking about moving here.”
The attendant asked the motorist: “What kind did you have where you came from?”
The visitors replied, “Mean-spirited, dishonest, always trying to grab the spotlight.”
As he closed the gas flap to the driver’s car, the attendant answered, “You’ll find about the same here.”
Next week another man came to refuel. His inquiry echoed the previous visitor: “What kind of people do you have in this town?”
“What kind did you have where you came from?” the attendant responded.
“Trustworthy, helpful, honest people. Everybody was trying to help their neighbor,” came the reply.
“You’ll find about the same here.”
Wooden’s moral was eye-opening. We find what we look for.
While I Have You Here: OK, so I look for the silver lining in what I report on. Sue me. But remember I said I learned a COUPLE of things from Wooden in those meetings…
The other is something every youth-sports coach should know once he gets his team assembled: fit your style to the abilities of your players.
No round pegs in square holes. If you have 10 basketball players who are 5-foot-2, run like the wind.
Three trees at 7 feet tall? Slow it down. Crash the boards.
Also, find the one or two things your players do very well and take advantage of those skills. Build them up and use them, but try to develop a COMPLETE player. If you can’t teach your fastest base-paths runner to hit home runs, don’t worry, he’s still fast. Fall back on his bunting and running abilities.
However, as Wooden said so often, “You never know unless you try.” And that’s where the personal satisfaction in coaching or playing comes from: knowing you’ve tried and given it your best shot, regardless of score.
One of the winningest coaches of all time said he never cared about the score. It was always about the effort. I think, for the most part, Davis gets it right. I’m guessing Wooden’s second traveler was looking for our town.
— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 747-8047.