Monday, April 6, 2015

What Off-Season?

by Don Yaeger

They are always working toward the next game. The goal is what's ahead - and there's always something ahead. 

Tonight I’ll be watching the NCAA men’s national championship basketball game.  No one has won more titles than Coach John Wooden.  Since Coach won his tenth and final trophy in 1975, forty champions have been crowned.  On the day before his last championship game Wooden, the Greatest coach in the history college basketball, announced his retirement.  In his twenty-seven seasons with the Bruins, Coach transformed UCLA into a powerhouse, developed world-class players, and became known for his profound leadership principles.

There are a lot of people who have asked me whether Coach could have won in the today’s environment.  Even though the game and players have changed, I believe he absolutely could.  I had
the privilege of learning from him for more than twelve years, and one of the Greatest lessons he shared with me was that principled leadership never goes out of style.  Coach didn’t win by the magic of X’s and O’s—he won because he had such a continuously successful (and ever-changing!) model for leadership.

Tips from the Great Ones:

Coach’s lessons were thoughtful, wise, and are universally relevant for anyone’s development.  He was a role model who never
demanded from his team what he couldn’t deliver himself—whether it be physical conditioning, extra work, or personal adjustments to anything from playing style or attitude.  His poised leadership was the reason why Great athletes wanted to play for him and Great coaches wanted to be on his staff.

 “A coach’s primary function should be not to make better players, but to make better people,” Coach wrote in our book “A Game Plan for Life”.

Coach’s teachings were unconventional, yet effective in their simplicity.  One of his most famous proverbs was, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”  He demonstrated this on his first practice with fresh UCLA recruits.  Instead of running drills, he’d lead his players through the proper way to tie their shoes and socks.  (Imagine the confused looks on their faces!) He explained to them that if their shoes were not tied correctly, they’d develop blisters, which would lead to them missing practice, and then...

“If you miss practice, you don’t play.  And if you don’t play, we cannot win,” Coach would say to them. “If you want to win championships, you must take care of the smallest of details.”

Coach would absolutely be successful today because his approach was rooted in practicality.  The The game might have become flashier and players may declare for the professional leagues early, but principled leadership is timeless.  It is exactly the reason Coach won ten championships in twelve years. We could all learn something from him.

What is it that you need to make sure that you are prepared for today?  What little steps – shoes and socks moments, Coach called them – must you take in order to be properly equipped for what lies ahead?  Like John Wooden, consider your goals in their most basic form, and from there determine your starting point.

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