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Parenting Lessons From a Deceased Basketball Coach

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Watching March Madness last month reminded me of the very first time I followed March Madness, although back then it was simply the NCAA Men's Division Basketball Championship.

I was a senior in high school, and I sat in our living room with my father to watch the championship game, which was UCLA vs. Kentucky. I remember that Curt Gowdy was the TV announcer, and he certainly left you with the sense that this was a historic moment in sports, principally because it was the final outing of UCLA coach John Wooden. UCLA won that night, and it was John Wooden's tenth championship in twelve years, an NCAA record that still stands today and is unlikely to ever be broken.

I've always been intrigued about John Wooden, who passed away at age 99 in June of last year, because he is frequently quoted or referred to in books about leadership. So when I was strolling through the local Borders two weeks ago and came upon the sports section, I looked for a book by or about him. There was no shortage; there were probably 10 different ones. I decided to purchase the most recently published, "Coach Wooden," by Pat Williams. Less than 200 pages long, it was an easy read, and to my surprise, very little of it was about basketball. Most of the book was about the Seven Rules for Living, which John Wooden's father, Joshua Hugh Wooden, had scribbled on a piece of paper and given to his son upon the latter's eighth grade graduation.

These Seven Rules for Living are:

  1. Be true to yourself.
  2. Help others.
  3. Make each day your masterpiece.
  4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
  5. Make friendship a fine art.
  6. Build a shelter against a rainy day by the life you live.
  7. Pray for guidance and counsel, and give thanks for your blessings each day.

According to the author, Joshua Wooden gave that slip of paper to his son and said, "Son, try to live up to this," and John Wooden kept that piece of paper in his wallet till the day he died.

I read the book and time after time thought, "If only parents could raise their kids this way, we wouldn't have the problems we do." Really. Most of the lessons are so basic, but it's hard for me to shake the notion that these are the basics that we are missing today.

Regarding his father's first principle, "Be true to yourself," Wooden wrote, "I believe it is the first point in Dad's creed for a reason. You must know who you are and be true to who you are if you are going to be who you can and should become. You must have the courage to be true to yourself." He told his players, "You can fool anyone, but you should never fool yourself. As soon as you fool yourself, you are done."

Here are some other great quotes and excerpts from the book.

In those early days, Dad's message about basketball -- and life -- was this: "Johnny, don't try to be better than somebody else, but never cease trying to be the best you can be. You have control over that. The other you don't." It was simple advice: work hard, very hard, at those things I can control and don't lose sleep over the rest of it.

Do not be too concerned about what others may think of you. Be very concerned about what you think of yourself.

When I was teaching basketball, I urged my players to try their hardest to improve on that very day, to make that practice a masterpiece.... It begins by trying to make each day count and knowing you can never make up for a lost day.

Poetry, biographies, and all the other great books will greatly enrich your life. There are so many that are so good, and they will all be available to you. The poetry Dad read to us when we were kids instilled a love of reading. Drink deeply from those great books of your own choosing and you will enrich yourself.

Don't take friendship for granted. Friendship is giving and sharing of yourself. Someone is not a good friend because he or she does good things for you all the time. It's friendship when you do good things for each other. It's showing concern and consideration. The first and most important step in friendship is being a friend.

Then there was this from one of his former players, Swen Nater: "John Wooden's philosophy was that you have never lived a perfect day until you have helped someone who can never repay you in any way. John Wooden's goal was to live a perfect day -- not once, but every single day. He really concentrated on that goal."

I highly recommend that anyone who is a parent read about John Wooden. You will learn fundamental lessons about what it takes to raise a responsible, successful child, and I can't help but believe that it's the fundamentals that we are so sorely lacking today. I am reminded of the time a few years ago when one of the counselors at Spectrum Youth and Family Services, where I work, was recuperating from an operation and was laid up at home for a few weeks. When I asked her what she did all day, she replied, "I watched old reruns of 'The Andy Griffith Show,' and if only today's parents raised their children like Sherriff Taylor and Aunt Bea did with Opie, our society would be fine."

Amen to that.

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