How to Coach, According to John Wooden


Back in the 30s, when coaching legend John Wooden was just getting started he noticed that athletic teams were judged simply by how many games they won (sound familiar?). As he said in his TED Talk from 2001, “If you won them all you were considered to be reasonably successfully. Not completely, because I found out that we had a number of years at UCLA where we didn’t lose a game, but it seemed that we didn’t win each individual game by the margin that some of our alumni has predicted…I didn’t like it and I didn’t agree with it…” Coach Wooden was looking for a better way to define success, so that it just wasn’t solely based on a grade or the final score. His personal definition of success then, was simply that everyone does the best that he or she is capable of. If a student or player gave it their all and did the absolute best they possibly could have done the final score did not matter.

Coach John Wooden was the first person to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame both as a player and coach and ESPN ranks him as the greatest coach of all time, across all sports. In addition to a phenomenal 40 year career as basketball coach for UCLA, Coach Wooden influenced several generations of players and young coaches alike. His personal coaching style is one that we feel more youth sports coaches today could strive to emulate. Yes, we all want to win and we should encourage our teams to play competitively and play to win, but winning on its own is not the only thing that matters.

Coach Wooden’s personal coaching style boils down to three rules he made for himself and his teams.

1. Never be late. “I believe starting on time, and I believe closing on time.”

2. No profanity. “One word of profanity, and you are out of here for the day. If I see it in a game, you’re going to come out and sit on the bench.” (Wouldn’t it be great if more coaches and parents today adhered to this rule!?)

3. Never criticize a teammate. “…never criticize a teammate. I didn’t want that. I used to tell them I was paid to do that. That’s my job. I’m paid to do it. Pitifully poor, but I am paid to do it.”

As his coaching career continued Coach Wooden rounded out his personal coaching style and focused first and foremost on being a better teacher. “And I had blocks in the pyramid, and the cornerstones being industriousness and enthusiasm, working hard and enjoying what you’re doing, coming up to the apex according to my definition of success. And right at the top — faith and patience. And I say to you, in whatever you’re doing, you must be patient.” Youth sports coaches play a huge role in a young player’s athletic career and the attitude they have and the kind of team dynamic they create directly impact a child’s decision to keep playing…or to quit.

Coaches Wooden’s other rules for his players? Don’t whine, don’t complain, and don’t make excuses. He simply asked that each player perform to the best of their ability every time they stepped onto the court and he could ask for no more from them. As for the coaches? “Never mention winning. My idea is that you can lose when you outscore somebody in a game. And you can win when you’re outscored.” His attitude is that the score is the byproduct of everything else and above all else he wanted his players to be able to hold their head when they walked off the court no matter what the final score would be.

We here at SportsSignup don’t believe competition is a dirty word, but there is so much that youth sports can teach our kids about dedication, integrity, teamwork, commitment, and respect that we can’t let winning overshadow those other things! If a player gives it there all and leaves their heart on the court/field/rink can you really be upset about the score?