From the Walls of John Wooden

Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m no literary or cinematic snob.

I can find enjoyment in nearly any genre or topic or bites of information if there’s something to connect with (even tiny women carrying elephant-sized satchels).

Sports are no exception.  And for the snooty-snoots out there who think they have nothing to learn from people who spent their lives coaching games I’m here to tell you, you’re wrong.

John Wooden is considered the greatest college basketball coach in history winning 10 National Championships in the 60’s and 70’s.

But did you know, it took until the sixteenth season at UCLA before he won his first title?  And before that, his teams were mediocre. 

Besides the idea that in today’s world, he’d have been fired back at season three, what’s most interesting is the way he made the transition from good coach to great.  He examined his weaknesses (stubborness being one of them) and changed his approach.

Sports Illustrated did a fantastic article last week (March 19, 2007) on him and in reading it I see connections to every area of life–even writing.

“When you’re through learning, you’re through.”  Well isn’t this the truth.  How many of us know people who know it all, are stuck in a rut, can’t listen to anything that might inject their work (writing or otherwise) with the vigor or the new direction it needs?  How many of us are this person?

Of the weaknesses I may have as a writer, they’re not rooted in unwillingness to learn.  But, as Judy at Judy Schneider’s Writing Lab can attest, I can be a block-head.

She’ll give me some direction and I question every bit of the advice, not because I don’t believe her, but because I can’t understand how her advice is or isn’t already being played out in my writing.

“What do you mean my protagonist isn’t doing anything?  She’s all over the place doing crap!”  And eventually I figure out what she’s saying and I incorporate the concept or idea into my work as is appropriate.

This quote hangs in Wooden’s office:  “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”  I don’t doubt the difficulty in breaking through the thinking you know it all to take your expertise to a new level.  Many people think they know it all because they have years of experience and success behind them.  They have reason to think that to  some extent. 

But, it’s those special people who realize there’s some nuance, some detail that’s revealed only as you continue to wonder what you don’t know, who become truly great and influential in inspiring others.  Learning is an uncomfortable state of instability.  Working to fit the pieces of new knowledge into the old is hard and unsettling.  Wooden clearly managed to get past the fear of not knowing and not being afraid to admit it.

Seriously, who are you more inspired by?  The gifted person who can’t verbalize their talent, their process, their greatness because they’ve never had to do more than merely entertain it.  Or the person who has some talent, but wrestles his greatness from the jaws of ordinary life, doesn’t stop until he’s acheived something and then moves on for more?  That’s the guy I like to talk to.

And finally, this:  “Coach has admitted his stubborness kept him from winning”–Jack Hirsch

It’s painful to change, to examine something closely enough to see where you should part company with what you’re doing and what aspects of your past life, approach to work, etc. is worth hanging onto.  I’m sure Wooden didn’t abandon everything about his coaching when he finally changed what he was doing.  But he pushed past the point of total and ineffective clutching of what wasn’t working so he could say this was what I was doing wrong, this is what I need to do differently, and all of it will make me better.

That is someone worth listening to.

3 thoughts on “From the Walls of John Wooden

  1. Great post, Kathie! I’m always interested to know what it is that triggers change in a person. What causes the pivot? When we’re stubborn like Wooden was, we’re closed to change. But usually something a person says, something we observe, or an occurrence that happens to us causes us to become open again. I think zeroing in on such triggers is fascinating. Often, the most insignificant of events have the greatest impact. It’s all in how you look at it.

    This reminds me of the Lou Holtz quote: “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”

    Thanks, Kathie! Have a great weekend!

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