Lessons From John Wooden

American sports lost a legend of legends yesterday. John Wooden, universally regarded as the greatest college basketball coach of all time – many would say he’s the greatest coach of all time period – died yesterday at the age of 99.

The weight of his life should be evidenced by the fact that a 28 year old (me) who was born 6 years after he coached his final game got a little teary-eyed at the news followed by the subsequent reaction and tributes.

The consistent description of Coach Wooden from former players, friends, and colleagues mostly revolves around this idea – he was a great coach, but a better person. We can’t make final judgments on anyone’s internal condition, but we know that Wooden appeared quite biblically literate and was a devoted church-goer.

We can also know that nearly all, if not all, that knew him found his life to be profoundly consistent with what he professed to believe. He talked like a Christian and walked like one too. And if there’s one thing to take away from his life it’s this: our careers are important, but they are only part of what makes us a total person. We should strive for excellence in our profession, but the type of man or woman we are to those around us, i.e. the degree to which the Gospel and its truths sink in to our hearts and come out in our lives, is what will have the more lasting impact.

With that mini-biography I wanted to share his personal creed and a handful of sayings that were attributed to him over the years. They’ve personally encouraged and challenged me this morning.

Coach Wooden’s father gave him this 7-point creed upon graduating from grammar school. Wooden tried to live by it the rest of his days:

  • 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.

And here are my favorite quotes:

“I have always tried to make it clear that basketball is not the ultimate. It is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. There is only one kind of life that truly wins, and that is the one that places faith in the hands of the Savior.”

“Talent is God-given; be humble. Fame is man-given; be grateful. Conceit is self-given; be careful.”

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.”

“You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.”

“Adversity is the state in which man mostly easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.”

“A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.” (What if we all counseled, advised, parented, and taught with this in mind?)

“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”

“Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights.”

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