Listen to Coach Wooden’s words:

On being a coach

On being a model

A poem about being a model

A poem about teaching

On how to reach a “youngster”

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The Coach….
…..On Coaching

(one in a series of exclusive interviews granted to The Goal by John Wooden)


by Bruce W. Biesenthal

He is recognized as the preeminent coach of the 20th Century, if not of all time. He has achieved the status of “legend”, not just because of the great success of the UCLA basketball program, but because of his integrity, wisdom, humility, caring and faith.

According to the Coach, John Wooden, a coach is nothing more, nor less, than a teacher. The coach is there to teach each “youngster” (a phrase Coach uses over and over) more than just the fundamentals of the sport. There’s something larger at stake. A coach is teaching each youngster about life itself.

A coach “worth his salt” will convey to his athletes that he is concerned about them and interested in them beyond their performance on the court or on the field. Developing the athlete as an individual beyond their athletic prowess is a responsibility of every coach. In fact, helping athletes (“youngsters”) become better people, not just better performers, is the main function of any coach.

Wooden taught English in a classroom for many years, and acknowledges that a classroom teacher doesn’t have the opportunity to get as close to students as a coach. In the classroom, the essence of what is being taught and shared is academics, and to a lesser extent, the student’s emotions. A coach has an opportunity to deal with students mentally, spiritually, physically and emotionally.

With a great love of poems, although terming himself a “rhymer” rather than a “poet”, Wooden seems to have a poem for every value and character trait he tried to instill in his student/athletes. Recognizing that a coach is, first and foremost, a “model”, and that youngsters need models more than they need critcs, he recites a poem that has held great meaning for him since entering the educational field in the 30’s –

“No written word, no oral plea
can teach our youth what they should be,
Nor all the books on all the shelves.
It’s what the teachers are themselves.”

Everyone, according to Wooden is a model for someone else, and all bear the responsibility, especially those in the public eye, whether coaches, athletes, politicians, or teachers, to serve as a model.

That which brings Coach Wooden greatest satisfaction is the way his former athletes have succeeded in the world beyond the basketball court. He is as proud of his graduation rate as he is of his national championships and winning streak. His athletes have gone on to be lawyers, businessmen, doctors and ministers, and for the two years he was at Indiana State, every player he had graduated went into teaching, a fact Wooden recounts to this day.

Above all else, a coach cares. He or she cares about the student/athlete under his or her supervision. That applies especially to those times when an athlete needs to be disciplined. A coach is a teacher, and teaching requires correcting and criticizing, but it must be done within the context of caring. According to Wooden, a coach “can’t antagonize and get results.”

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yet to come – The Coach on…..
….success
….personal development
….faith
….leadership
….death