In Coaching: Good/Bad/Unfair, Winning/Losing

Just this past season, basketball Coach Don Meyer of Northern State University in S. Dakota passed UCLA basketball coaching legend John Wooden for most wins ever. Coach Wooden’s philosophy about coaching and winning is as timely now as it was when he was winning his 10 NCAA Championships in a row. Those coaches across every sport who truly want to be successful could learn some very basic, yet valuable secrets from the master. Here’s one of Wooden’s former players, Swen Nater speaking on why Coach W was so successful:

“Regarding “winning,” I just want to bring something to the forefront for consideration. John Wooden, the “winningest” college men’s basketball coach so far, never mentioned the word “win” to his players. Instead, he kept us focused on becoming the best that we could be, rather than trying to beat some other team. Making the effort to become our very best, individually and collectively, gave us peace of mind, whether we won a game or not. Here’s the point. When a coach approaches winning and losing in this way, that coach maximizes his team’s chances for outscoring the other teams. It’s almost an oxymoron. The less you concentrate on beating the other team, by concentrating on your own pursuit of perfection, the more you increase your chances for winning.

This is true because the coach that works to maximize his own team’s potential, will:

1. Pay particular attention to the teaching of the fundamentals of the sport (You cannot become your best if the foundation is not there. You cannot reach the stage of creativity without the basics, i.e. Michael Jordan and Coby Bryant.)

2. Create practice plans that aim to condition the players, both physically and mentally.

3. Devise ways to promote and create true teamwork (A team cannot reach its potential without everyone sacrificing personal glory for the benefit of the team.)

These are only three, taken from the heart of Wooden’s pyramid of success. There are many more.

What coaches need to be convinced of is: Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of the self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable. When a coach truly believes that, lives that philosophy in front of his players, and, in so doing, teaches them the same, after any game, win or lose, he can tell his players, “We prepared with all our heart, tested what we learned on the court, and now we know where we stand. All of us can hold our heads up high knowing we could not have done more.” This is what Wooden told us before and after every game because, to him, a game was only a test of how well we prepared ourselves and how much progress we made toward our own potential.

To some, there is not much difference between a coach who stresses beating the cross-town rival and Wooden’s way. But I’ve played for both types. Wooden’s way makes it possible never to be discouraged. A loss is only a means of taking inventory of what you need to learn to reach your potential. A win only means we were better than the other team, on that particular day. We are not satisfied with beating someone because we are moving far beyond that—toward our own potential. Anything short of maximum effort to reach it, is failure, even if we win a championship.


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