Wooden the Legacy of John Book Report

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20). Distractions, whether a simple as a cell phone or as complex as an interpersonal relationship, not only keep one out of the present, as Wooden argues, but also distance the individual from the team as a whole by dividing the individual's attention (Collins, 2012, p. 22). Though a seemingly minor point, the importance of shutting out distraction is highlighted by Wooden's belief that it is team cohesion which unites and multiplies the individual players' abilities. Furthermore, the ability to stay alert, present, and engaged with the team can serve to alleviate the anxiety that arises from competition, because the individual will better function as a seamless element of the team, rather than a lone actor attempting to force him or herself into the flow of the game (Collins, 2012, p. 22).

Because of Wooden's straightforward style and the way he manages to pair down the findings of peer-reviewed research into simple maxims, it is easy to generate some ideas as to how one might apply Wooden's coaching philosophy to real-life situations. Perhaps most obvious place to start would be with the bottom of Wooden's pyramid, which is almost entirely committed to concepts of teamwork, industriousness, and enthusiasm. From the perspective of a coach this means evaluating one's own enthusiasm and how that is conveyed to the players, because whether they intend to or not players will take after their coach, making every interaction count. If the coach is unenthusiastic, short of temper, or otherwise nonconstructive, this can bring down the entire team by discouraging cohesion and encouraging discontentment, which leads to distractions such as complaining.

For assistant coaches and other subordinates leaders (such as captains and elder players) the bottom tier of Wooden's pyramid is arguably even more important, because their enthusiasm, loyalty, and self-motivation is what allows the coach to effectively lead. If an assistant coach is undermining the head coach, through a lack of enthusiasm, a sense of disharmony, or any other reason, then the entire leadership structure suffers, and as suggested by the importance of the base of the pyramid, the success of the entire endeavor is in doubt. Thus, for anyone attempting to apply Wooden's principles to real-life situations, examining the way in which enthusiasm and cooperation are fostered and expressed is the first step, because it is only by evaluating and potentially altering this base can one hope to increase the chances of success through more specified means.

As discussed above, encouraging self-motivation is a key component of success, because this will allow individuals to sharpen their own skills and virtues through their own encouragement. For a coach, encouraging self-motivation demands communication with players and others above and beyond the standard interactions of the game. This means genuinely conversing with players and understanding their personal motivations independent of those satisfied by the game directly, such as a desire to win or the enjoyment of physical activity.

No matter what level the game is being played at, players will always have motivations that go deeper than the game itself, and it is the job of an effective coach to discover these deeper motivations and tie them to the players' own practice and performance. Wooden was a teacher as well as a coach, and the evidence suggests that one reason for his stunning success is that he was able to effectively draw a line between the relatively trivial matter of a college basketball game and the larger, more significant hopes and dreams of everyone involved. This does not mean bringing up something personal every time a game is played, but rather helping players to draw a line between their own personal motivation and the success of the team as a whole, because this will simultaneously serve to help them view their own contributions as important while further engendering team cohesion and cooperation.

Before concluding, there is one more area that seems important to discuss, and that is the concept of continuing to develop one's skills. What was so stunning about Wooden's career is the fact that not only did he win games, but that he continued to win them, sometimes in previously unheard-of streaks. He continued to be successful throughout his career, and part of this was almost certainly due to his tendency to never stop growing. The third tier of his pyramid is occupied by a block for "skills," but by this term he does not merely mean physical ability. Rather, he is referring to all those skills that may be honed and expanded, and one may view his transition from player to coach as the ultimate demonstration of this tendency (Wooden & Jamison, 1997, p. 152). In real-life situations this continual improvement is no less important, because encouraging constant growth and developmental on the part of coaches and players alike is the only way of effectively coping with the pressures of competition, which only heighten as time goes on. By encouraging players and coaches to hone their skills in all areas of their life, one can more effectively outfit a team with the broad range of physical, mental, and emotional abilities necessary for dealing with the demands of competition, in sports and elsewhere.

The only possible downside to the philosophy of coaching and living laid out by John Wooden in his book Wooden: A lifetime of observations and reflections on and off the court is the fact that he does not seem to have a single, overarching thesis, but rather charts the development of his philosophy via anecdotes and observations from disparate periods. From this he develops a series of assertions, maxims, and ideas that largely correspond with what contemporary sports psychology research says about effective leadership. While this is part of what allows for his easy, understandable delivery, it also keeps one from effectively identifying a "Wooden program" for coaching, although admittedly this may have been part of Wooden's intention.

Instead, the closest he gets is his pyramid of success, and it is the general applicability of Wooden's pyramid that hints at recommendations for the future. In particular, it seems as if a more in depth comparison of Wooden's philosophy with other theories of leadership would be helpful for both sports psychology and the wider world of management and leadership, because even as Wooden's philosophy is buttressed by sports psychology research, it seems as if his ideas have likely cognates in other leadership fields, albeit expressed in different terms and with different examples. Thus, an analysis of Wooden's pyramid in conjunction with other theories would likely yield useful results. Furthermore, a more in depth study of Wooden's actual coaching might prove productive, because one could examine his actual in-game coaching decisions in order to determine how his philosophy fares when enacted in real life. Obviously, history demonstrates the efficacy of his approach, but it would nevertheless be useful to understand how this philosophy breeds success on a more immediate level.

John Wooden's stunning success is enough to warrant an investigation of his coaching philosophy, but the fact that he codified it into such simple terms positively demands it. By examining Wooden's philosophy and comparing it to contemporary sports psychology research, it becomes clear that Wooden's ideas are reflected in the academic literature. Recognizing this, one can subsequently draw real-life comparisons in order to more effectively apply these principles in the coaching profession.


Adam, D.C., & Gordon, a.B. (2009). Coaching knowledge and success: Going beyond athletic experiences. Journal of Sport Behavior, 32(4), 419-437.

Collins, K. 2012. Strategies fur using pop culture in sport psychology and coaching education. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 83(8), 20-22,31,

Forck, M. 2010. Lessons from a legend. Professional safety, 55(9), 20-21.


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