What was it like when you were growing up in Indiana in the 1920s?
Are there things you learned growing up that stay with you in your life?
John Wooden: Undoubtedly. We read more.
There wasn't television. There wasn't radio, to speak of. We didn't have it. Dad would read to us in the evenings. He read the Bible every day and insisted that we did, and he'd read poetry to us. I can still remember him reading "Hiawatha."
Tell us about your father, how he influenced your life and career.
John Wooden: Like Mark Twain, when I was young, I probably didn't appreciate my father at all. But thinking back, some of the things he did became so meaningful. I didn't realize at the time. For example, he tried to get across to us never try to be better than someone else. Learn from others and never cease trying to be the best you can be at whatever you're doing. It doesn't make a difference what it is. Just try to be the best you can possibly be. Maybe that won't be better than someone else, but that's no problem. It will be better than somebody else, probably, but somebody else is going to be better than that. Don't worry about that. If you get yourself too engrossed in things over which you have no control, it's going to adversely effect the things over which you have control. I can remember his trying to get that idea across, and I remember two sets of threes that he gave us. One was "Never lie, never cheat and never steal." I've heard that since in different ways. The first time I heard it was from my Dad. The other one I never heard from anyone else was "Don't whine, don't complain and don't alibi." He tried to get those ideas across, maybe not in so many words, but by action. He walked it, let me put it that way. He was a gentle man, but physically strong, I think, but was gentle. As Mr. Lincoln said, "There's nothing stronger than gentleness." I think perhaps my dad emanated that.
When I graduated from the small country grade school, in the eighth grade, he gave me this little card, and all he said was, "Son, try to live up to this." On one side was a verse that said,
When did you start playing basketball?
John Wooden: In grade school. We had a little country grade school with an outdoor court, no indoor. We had to shovel snow off the court and play with no uniforms. We'd have a little thing we put over the bib of our overalls and maybe a different type of shoes, but not basketball shoes in the sense that we have now. But we had a grade school team and we played some other grade schools from around the area. Indiana's crazy over basketball, in some ways too crazy. Then I went to Martinsville, which had a fine reputation, and we had great teams while I was there. As a matter of fact, we went to the state championship game in all three of my years in the high school. We lost it twice and won it once. Everybody there is crazy over basketball. This little town at that time had 4,800 people, and yet they had built a gymnasium the year before I entered high school that seated 5,200 and it was always full. People don't believe me when I tell them about that here in California. Californians just don't believe that, but it's true.
You've coached and you've played a lot of sports. What is it about basketball that made it your game?
I'm concerned about the basketball today, somewhat. I think it's becoming too much showmanship and I don't like that. If I want showmanship, I'll go see the Globetrotters. In the pros today, the player that I'd rather see than anybody else is John Stockton from Utah, the all-time leader in assists. It's not just because he's the all-time leader in assists. It's his demeanor. He's a spirited player but never gets mad. He's quick., he's intelligent, he's unselfish and he can do all things well.
I've had many fans while I was coaching, say to me now, "Of course, I don't know anything about basketball, but..." And then, they'd start telling you what you're doing wrong, or why aren't you doing this, or why aren't you doing that. And, the fact that they're interested, that should never upset a coach. He should be pleased that they are interested. That shows that they are.
When did you realize that you had a talent for that game? What made you such an outstanding player, even as a youngster?
John Wooden: I don't know.
Just in playing with others, I seemed to do well. When I was in grade school, I seemed to do well. I would be one of the better ones, and in high school was one of the better ones, and in college one of the better ones. The Lord gave me some natural things. Perhaps in my coaching experience, I found out from my own personal playing experience that I didn't have as much size as many, but I was quicker than most all, and that was my strength. So, in my recruiting, in all the years when I became a college coach, I'm recruiting for quickness. Now, you want a certain amount of size, but more coaches will give up some quickness to get more size. I would not. I would give up some size to get more quickness.
I hoped my forwards would be quicker than opposing forwards. I hoped that my guards would be quicker than opposing guards. I hoped my postmen would be quicker than opposing postmen. And, that's what I'm looking for, and then I'm trying to incorporate that in making it into a team game.
It is such a team game. It's a beautiful game when it's played as a team. To me, it's not beautiful when it's individual one working one on one and going out and making a fancy dunk. That isn't pretty to me. That may be what most of the fans seem to love, but I don't.
Could you coach the same way now that you did when you were coaching?
John Wooden: I see no reason why not, if you show those under your supervision that you really care for them. And that you're interested in the group as a whole, but also in them individually. One of my favorite coaches, Amos Alonzo Stagg, once said he never had a player he did not love. He had many he didn't like and didn't respect, but he loved them just the same. I hope my players know that I love them all. There are times I didn't like them. There were times I didn't like my own children, but it never had anything to do with my love for them. If people want to be basketball players, if they know you care for them, if you're not a dictator and if you make them feel that they're working with you, not for you, I don't know why I couldn't today.
We've talked about the importance of your father. Who, beside your father, was an important influence in your life?
I'd say that my college coach, Piggie Lambert, is one of the most principled persons I've ever known. He had a lot of effect on my life. The head of the English Department at Purdue University, Dr. Creek, took a liking to me and tried to get me to forget sports completely and just concentrate on becoming a college English professor. There was some sort of a scholarship that he could get me for graduate school, but, I wanted to get married and get a job. So, I'd say that my father and mother, I don't want to neglect my mother, and my wife and Piggie Lambert, my college coach at Purdue, probably had more influence on what I became as a teacher. That's all I was: a teacher. That's all I was as a basketball coach, just a teacher.
Are there any classroom teachers that you recall who influenced you in some important way?
What about books? What books were important to you?
John Wooden: Poetry, the early English poets. I enjoyed the early American poets too, but the Victorian era poets I enjoyed very much, all of them. I enjoyed Dickens and I loved all of Shakespeare. I always loved his plays. In college one year, I had a whole semester of Macbeth and another whole semester of Hamlet. In high school I taught Hamlet and Macbeth and I only had two weeks. Just for pleasure reading, I have all of Zane Grey's western books. I like them. Today, I try to get all of Leo Buscaglia's books. One of my favorite books of all time is Lloyd Douglas's, The Robe. I enjoy reading and I like pretty much all kinds.
I was looking through your bookshelves before you came in and I was struck by the fact that I didn't find one book about basketball.
John Wooden: I've got a lot of books of basketball in the other room, and I've got a lot of biographies. I have biographies of coaches who were in the limelight, but also many of my favorite people. I've liked to study Mahatma Gandhi, and my favorite person in the world today is Mother Teresa. I've got a whole group of Lincoln books. He's my favorite American. And books on Churchill and a lot of different people who have had a certain impact on civilization as a whole.
Where would you rank education in athletics?
John Wooden: There's too much leaning toward the athlete student, in my opinion, rather than the student athlete. One of the things I'm most proud of, in my years at UCLA, is that practically all my players graduated. Most of them did it in four years, when students today are taking five. Most of my players have done well in whatever profession they've chosen. Some 30 of my players became attorneys, some dentists, lawyers, eight ministers, teachers, just in all professions. It doesn't make any difference what the profession has been. Practically all of them have been reasonably successful, and I don't necessarily mean materially, but they've been successful in whatever profession they've chosen. That makes me very proud.
You have written about a high school teacher, Lawrence Schidler, who helped you think about the meaning of success. Can you tell us about that and how you define success?
John Wooden: Lawrence Schidler was my math teacher, and he was very strict, but he made us concentrate. One time, he had us define success in class. I never forgot about that, the different definitions that various students have. After I had graduated Purdue and entered the teaching profession, I became a little bit disillusioned with what parents seemed to expect from their youngsters. If they didn't get an A or a B, in one way or another, maybe subtly, they would make the youngster or the teacher feel that they had failed. They seemed to be very happy if the neighbor's children got Cs, of course, they were average. But for their own! I didn't understand that. I was very young. As I got older and had children of my own, I understand it a little better. But I didn't like that way of judging any more than I like the way they judge athletic coaches and teams.
John Wooden: They use the winning percentage, and that's not an accurate way of judging success. I wanted to come up with something of my own, and I think there were three things embedded into it. One was the discussion in Mr. Schidler's class. Then, my dad's words: "Never trying to better than someone else, learn from others, and never cease trying to be the best you could be." And, always being interested in verse that makes a point, about that time I ran across a little simple one that said:
No conversation with you would be complete without talking about John Wooden's Pyramid of Success. Is it possible to say what the most important building blocks are in that pyramid?
John Wooden: They're all important, but the first two blocks that I chose were the cornerstones. If any structure is to have strength or solidity, it better have a strong foundation. Of course, the cornerstones anchor the foundation. One cornerstone is industriousness and the other one is enthusiasm. I think you have to work hard at whatever you're doing. If you're looking for the shortcut, the trick, the easy way, you can get by, perhaps, for a while, but you won't be strengthening the talents that lie within you. I often use verse to make a point. Grantland Rice wrote a poem called "How To Be A Champion." In part, he said:
Through the next 14 years, when I worked on the various blocks, I had a lot of ideas. I discarded some. I put something in their place. I moved the position within the structure some, but I never changed the cornerstones. They still remained constant, and I still believe that they are the cornerstones for success. The foundation, I had three blocks and they include others and had to add strength. Then we work up to the very top, of being competitive greatness. That's the last block. How do you become that? By being industrious and enthusiastic and being conditioned and having the skills and being imbued with consideration for others and so on. So they lead up. These things lead up. Below the top block, I have poise and confidence. How do you gain poise? By being prepared. How do you get prepared? By being industrious, by being enthusiastic ,and so these others. It all leads up, to my way of thinking. Perhaps it wouldn't to somebody else, but it does to me. In trying to use that in helping me become a better teacher, then I can now help those under my supervision be better. In the mid-'30s, about the time I coined my definition and was working on this, I ran across a couple of things that have stayed with me always. One was a verse that said:
We need that. We need models that are good, positive models. I ran across that. Another thing that I ran across that I've never forgotten was -- a lady was asked, a lady teacher had been teaching for many years and was asked why she taught. She later wrote some things down and she said:
John Wooden: I was just teaching basketball rather than English. It's different in sports. In my English classes, it's mental and, to some degree, emotional. In basketball or sports, it's mental, emotional and physical. In some ways you get closer to them. When I was in the service in World War II, I had a lot of letters from athletes that had played on my basketball or baseball or tennis teams in high school, all optimistic. Some of them never came back, but they were very optimistic, no complaining. I didn't have very many letters from my English students, and I had had a lot more English students than I had athletes. I didn't have that many athletes, but you get closer to them. I love to teach English, but you get closer to those under your supervision in sports, I believe, than you do in just the classroom.
What about all the hours of preparation and practice? That's something a lot of young people today might not be thinking about.
John Wooden: In anything, failure to prepare is preparing to fail. Like one of the points in the seven point creed that my dad gave me was "Make each day your masterpiece." Now you're not going to make great improvement in one day. But if you miss out one day, you've lost a little bit. You've got to build up a little each day. It's little things that eventually become big things and make big things happen. It's building up on the little things, and youngsters must understand that. I believe a little different than many coaches, as a matter of fact. I wanted my players -- and tried to get this across to them -- when you come on the basketball floor each afternoon, for the next approximately two hours, you are a basketball player. That's all. I am looking at you and thinking of you as a basketball player. That is all. As soon as practice is over, you are not a basketball player. You are a student at UCLA. Now you better keep that in mind. You're a student. That's the reason you're here. Basketball may be, in most of your cases, given you a scholarship and it's paying your way, but if you start putting basketball ahead of your academics, you're not going to have either very long. Or you must have, everyone must have, a certain amount of social activity. But if you put social activities ahead of your academics or your basketball, you're not going to have any of them at all before very long. At least you won't have here. So I think that that must be stressed, because it should be the student athlete, not the athlete student.
What is it about coaching that's meant so much to you over the years?
John Wooden: The rapport that you have with so many youngsters. Hardly a day goes by that I don't get a call or a letter from someone who was under my supervision in the past, going back to my very first years at UCLA, and going back to when I was at Indiana State, some even going back when I taught in high school. That's the relationships that you have because of the way you're working with them, more than just from the mental aspect, you get closer to them. They become almost like your children. Next to your own flesh and blood, you get very close to them. Their joys are your joys, their sorrows are your sorrows and that goes on forever. It doesn't end when they leave your supervision. That's with you forever. I can name almost all of the basketball players who played for me, even going back in high school, but I can't begin to name all of the English students I had.
It's clear that you see coaching as a responsibility. What is the main responsibility of a coach?
John Wooden: You must set an example. Your players must know that you care for them more than just as athletes. Certainly, they understand that they are there because of their athletic ability, speaking of college. That's why they're there. That's paying their way. But when you have them under your supervision, it's up to you to make sure that they understand that you care for them as individuals. As I mentioned -- his name was Alonzo Stagg -- said, he never had one he didn't love. A lot of them he didn't like, couldn't respect. But he loved them just the same. He also said that you couldn't tell whether you had a successful season until 20 years or so after they've graduated. There's a lot to that, too. If your players come to the belief -- which they won't know when they first come to you, it will be your actions that determine this -- that'll be what will determine this. It won't be from the things you say. That will have some influence, yes, but are you walking it or just talking it? You can't fool these kids. It should be your responsibility to lead them in a way that's going to be beneficial to them all their lives, not just through their athletic days. I really think most coaches do that. I think most do, not all, no. But not all doctors are as ethical as they should be, not all attorneys are as ethical as they should be, not all businessmen are as ethical as they should be, but I believe the vast majority are.
In your first year at Indiana State as coach, you and your team were invited to the National Tournament and you didn't go. Tell us about that.
John Wooden: I had an African American boy on my team. He wasn't a starter. He was probably the twelfth man on a 12-man team. He didn't get to play very much, but he was a member of our team and dressed for every game, was with us for every game. They did not permit black players to play in the National NAIA Tournament at that particular time, so I refused the invitation because of that. Now the next year, since that first year I was at Indiana State, I had 11 freshmen and one sophomore on that team, so I had them all back the next year. No one beat anybody else out. I still had the same 12 players the next year and we were invited, again. We had a better year. We'd had a good year the year before, but that next year we had a really better year. We were invited again and I refused. But through this youngster's parents, and through the NAACP, they felt it would be a good thing, that it might open the doors in a sense. I was persuaded to do that, to take him. He couldn't stay in the hotel with us. He could eat in the hotel if we ate in a private room. He couldn't eat in the dining room. So we had our meals in a private room and he stayed with a black minister and his wife in Kansas City. He would sit with us in the game and we had no problems. He was accepted. There were no problems at all. But he was the only one; he was the first one. But I know in driving from Terre Haute to St. Louis, we stopped some places in Illinois maybe to eat, they won't let him in. So I would leave. "You take us all or you don't take any." Then we'd go someplace else and get some things and take out. It's good that times have changed. I'm proud of the fact that, I think in some ways maybe I helped bring about some changes. There's way too much prejudice in this world, not just in race, religion and other ways. Anything anyone can do to help it, even if it's just a little, that's good. Because there are a lot of us, and if everyone would help just a little, that could be a whole lot. It's like we are many, but are we much? We're not much until we all contribute to some degree.
John Wooden: That's correct.
How do you explain that decision that you made?
John Wooden: I think that's one of the things my dad tried to teach us: You're as good as anybody, but you're no better than anybody. Don't expect privileges at all, in any way. I think, maybe from that, we saw no color. As an athlete in college, there were hardly any black athletes that I played against. The same thing in high school. My first years of teaching in high school, I had no black athletes, but later on a lot of them. It was just my upbringing that you never looked down on anyone for any reason at all, and certainly not race or religion.
In general, how have you dealt with difficult decisions, whether they had to do with athletes on your teams or your personal life?
John Wooden: It's my own conscience that would guide me on things. I make many mistakes of judgment that I have done, but I hope I don't make mistakes of the heart. I always felt in teaching, one of the most difficult things I had to do was cutting the squad. You have a lot of players come out, they all want to play and you can only take so many, you can't take them all. That's hard. Sometimes maybe you have 15 players you keep to work with, but when you travel you can only take 12. You have to leave three at home. That's hard, particularly the first when you decide who the 12 of the 15 are going to be. Those were difficult things. At the end of the year, when you give awards, some don't qualify. That's hard. Those are the things I tried to do that I think was right. I've always said that when coaches were complaining about pressure, I don't buy that at all. I don't buy that at all. Do you think a salesman doesn't have pressure? Do you think a barber doesn't have pressure? He doesn't cut all the hair in town. The butcher doesn't sell all the meat in town. A salesman, if you don't do a good job, they'll put somebody else in your spot. How about a surgeon performing delicate surgery? Oh my goodness, there's far more pressure than the coach is going to have. And the only pressure that amounts to a hill of beans is the pressure one puts on one's self, and you better put pressure on yourself. If you're not putting pressure on yourself, you're cheating. You're cheating yourself, you're cheating those under whose supervision you are, you're cheating others. But if you are affected by outside pressures, that's a weakness. As a coach, if you let the media affect you, if you let the alumni affect you, if you let the parents affect you, they're going to keep you from doing what you think is proper and right and correct. You should know better than they. This is your profession. You're working at it every day. You see these players every day. You see them together. You should know more about it. If you let the fact that others don't think you do bother you, you can't go and cut meat like the butcher can. You can't cut hair like the barber can and so on down the line. So don't worry what others think about. Somehow I was brought up to not let those things bother me, outside pressures. I never worried about a job. I think I can get a job and I think I can get the job I want, but I'll get a job. I'll feed the family. That's the important thing, to take care of my family. I think you can do that. So I never worried about a job and I think that probably because I didn't let outside pressures unduly affect me. I'm not saying you don't feel them. You don't like to be criticized. No one likes to be criticized. I didn't like to be criticized, but at the same time, you've got to accept it and do what you think is right and not let outside criticism sway you. At the same time, don't be stubborn. You can be wrong, you know. We're all imperfect.
When you came to UCLA, you wanted to quit after two years. What persuaded you to stay?
John Wooden: I didn't want to quit. I wanted to leave. Let me put it that way. I had been led to believe by those under whose supervision I was -- shown plans for a new building, a place on campus -- when my three years was up, that we'd have a nice place to play on campus. Well at the end of two years, nothing had been done and I could see that it's not forthcoming. The conditions in which we had our practices and played our games in comparison of what I'd had, they didn't compare with what we had in high school back in Indiana. We were practicing on the third floor of an old gymnasium with gymnasts practicing on one side and Briggs Hunt and his wrestlers down below. I loved the coaches, both of them. We became very close, I think, because we shared adversity and that brings you closer. Sometimes trampolines on the other side of the floor, and sometimes beautiful young co-eds would be up there in leotards jumping on those and you're trying to get your team's attention. I wouldn't notice them, but my players would. After my first two or three years, as you know, we played games in Venice High School and Santa Monica City College, Long Beach City College, Long Beach Auditorium, Pan Pacific, all over. We played home games in as many nine different places.
John Wooden: Remember, I came from the farm, the country, and Los Angeles was frightening to me, definitely frightening. I'd say from the beginning, Nellie, my dear wife wasn't the happiest she could be. Neither were my children at the very beginning, but after three years my children were pretty well settled. They didn't want to leave their new friends, and we were more acclimated to Los Angeles and always loved UCLA. It was nothing against UCLA. It was just the fact that the facilities with which we had to work with and the conditions under which we played and practiced that way. You may or may not have heard this, but for my first 17 years in that old gym, I with my managers swept and mopped that floor every day before practice. Every day I had the buildings-and-grounds people build me two six foot-wide brooms and six foot-wide mops. And, we'd first sweep it to get the dust off from the activity in there during the day, and then dampen these mops, and I took the easy job, I must say. And I didn't want managers doing things I wouldn't do myself, but I'd take the easy job and take a bucket and go along in front of them just like I was feeding the chickens to get it a little damp. I did that for 17 years. A lot of people don't know that. When these coaches today start complaining about things, I say, ugh! With all the things they have today! When we got Pauley Pavilion, I just felt, gee, this is tremendous, really tremendous, and it was. But, yes, I would have left had I only taken the two-year contract as they wanted me to when I came. But when I did take a three year... I've always been against the people who fail to honor contracts. I'd even go farther than that and say word of mouth was good enough. To me, that's a contract if you make it. Now today, I don't think even the written contract, many don't think too much of even that.
John Wooden: The handwriting on the wall came in '63. In '62, we went to the Final Four. It surprised me we could get to the Final Four under the conditions in which we were working, because they were still the same. That sort of changed my attitude. In '63, I decided to stick with something that had been very successful for me at Indiana State and high school. That was a pressing defense. I had tried it through the '50s at UCLA and I gave up on it. I gave up on it too soon, and I shouldn't have. But in '63, I looked at the personnel that I had and said I'm going to stick with it this year and I'll find out. And we improved regularly. I had all the starters back for '64.
John Wooden: In '65 we went back to Illinois and played the first game of the season and they thrashed us good. We'd just come off of 30 straight and they thrashed us good. It was probably an awakening to some of the players. We lost only one other game the rest of that season, and repeated as the champions. The other game we lost was also to a Big Ten team, Iowa. But I had Erickson hurt in that game, and we were not the same team without Erickson at all. But I was very, very proud of that '65 team, just as proud as the '64. But I was very proud of my '48, '49 team. They weren't supposed to do anything. They were supposed to finish last. We won the conference, won 22 games. No National Championship team gave me any more pleasure than that very first team I had at UCLA.
Those weren't big teams, those '64, '65 teams.
When you won that first title, did you ever imagine you'd win nine more?
John Wooden: No. I don't think anyone could have imagined that. After '62 I thought maybe we have a chance. But I think the most amazing of all our championships were the first two. With no home court, in a sense, and the practice conditions! We had only two baskets and a lot of conflicts and no private dressing rooms, no private shower rooms, just one big thing for all sports. If you can do it with that, when you've got Pauley Pavilion, my goodness, it ought to be easy now. Of course, players like Alcindor made it a little easier, too.
You've often said that you didn't want your teams to have peaks or valleys, that you didn't believe in getting them emotionally charged even for big games.
Your players accepted their roles. They had no choice. You insisted on discipline. What is the role of discipline in your success?
John Wooden: I say a coach has the greatest ally in the world if he isn't afraid to use it, and that's the bench. Put him on the bench. They all love to play. I hear comments like "Well, he didn't want to play." I think they all want to play. I don't care how good he is if he isn't producing, it's just potential, and potential doesn't produce. It isn't much good. No better than someone else that doesn't have that potential. So I think that putting him on the bench, you have that ally.
John Wooden: I tried to explain to my players that every person has a role and every role is important. You may not hardly get in the game, but your role is helping develop these players that are going to play more, and that's extremely important. And I like to use that with them. Sort of keep this in mind: "I will get ready and then perhaps my chance will come." Now if you're not ready and your chance comes, when is it going to come again? It might not come again at all. So always think in terms, I will get ready and then perhaps my chance will come. Fill your role. Is a powerful engine in an automobile any more important than a wheel? What can you do if you lose a wheel? What good's that engine if you lose a wheel? What good is that wheel if you lose a nut that holds it on? You don't have it. So you may be just a nut, you may be just a wheel, and you may be a powerful engine. If you're not all together on the same page, we're not going to accomplish what we're capable of accomplishing. I don't say it's easy to get them to accept their roles, but you've got to -- in practices, for example -- you've got to pay attention to the players that aren't getting to play very much. The players that are getting to play a lot get praised in the papers. They've got the alumni patting them on the back and all that. These others, they're not getting that. You have to give it in practice. That's why in some ways, I think I became a little closer with some of my players that didn't get to play very much than I did with some of my stars. They must know that you care for them. Just because they're not getting to play that much, you still care for them just as much as the one that's playing more.
You've talked a lot about self control. You were known to have things to say to opposing players and coaches and officials. Did you have to bring yourself under control as a coach?
You coached during the counterculture era of the '60s and '70s. And you've had some pretty strong-willed players, even before then: Jerry Norman and Bill Walton. How did you handle those times and those kinds of players?
John Wooden: You made an interesting statement there, in one word. You said, "How to handle those players." I can tell you a little story that's always sort of meaningful to me.
John Wooden: When Wilt Chamberlain came to the Lakers, I was invited to the press conference announcing this. In the press conference, one member of the press asked Wilt, "Do you think that Bill van Breda Kolff can handle you?" Bill van Breda Kolff was the coach of the Lakers at the time. And Wilt said, "No one handles me. I am a person, not a thing. You handle things. You work with people. I think I can work with anyone." Just prior to this, my coaching book, Practical Modern Basketball, had been published, and I had a section in this book entitled, "Handling Your Players." I left this meeting, came home and took my book and marked out, crossed out, "handling your players," put "working with your players." And any place that I had alluded to handling your players, I changed. I called the publisher and wanted that correction made for any future editions.
You have to work with them. I think in any business, those under your supervision must be made to feel they're working with you, not for you. Otherwise, they'll just punch the clock in and out and that's it. I think with players, you have to have certain standards. You have to back them up. If you have a rule, back it up. Don't put a rule in that you're not going to back up. When you have it in there, back it up, but if someone fails in some way, don't keep after them the next day. Dismiss them maybe from practice that day. But the next day, don't say, "Don't do that again." Take care of it when it happens, just as when your youngsters misbehave, take care of it then. You don't have to keep bringing it up. Now, if it occurs over and over and the methods you used didn't correct it, then you'll have to change your method. I'll give you a good example. This happened the year after Alcindor graduated.
I had two players from the preceding year that are going to be very, very fine players this year. They came to practice or to that picture day, and they had been growing mutton chops from the end of the preceding year until now, and this is a few months now. I knew they were doing this and I also knew they were kids and I knew that they were going to test me. I know that's coming. So when they came to draw their uniforms, I'll put them in them the day before practice started. I had them put on the game uniforms to get pictures and everything. They came to draw their uniforms and they hadn't taken care of themselves. I'm there with my managers because I want to anticipate any problems. And I say, "No uniforms." One of them said, "Why not?" I said, "You know why. I'm not going to explain it again to you. You have about 15 minutes to determine whether you're going to play this year or not. You have 15 minutes to get up and see Ducky Drake, our trainer, in our training room, and let him get busy with his razor and clippers and get you in shape." He said, "You don't have that big guy (Alcindor) this year." And I said, "No. Fourteen minutes and I'm not going to have either one of you two if you don't get up there. Now make up your minds, now." Well, they stared at me. They turned and ran up. They got fixed up. They were testing me. I know they were testing me. After the day is over, they hung around. They kept hanging around 'til everybody's gone. I'm usually the last out, along with the managers, last to leave, to see everything is put away and everything. One of them said, "Can we talk to you, coach?" I said, "Sure." And he said, "We're sorry." I said, "That's okay." I said, "When I was your age, I tested people too. But now, let's have a great year." "You bet we will," he said. "We can win without that big guy." And then they ran away happy. They're not mad. They'd have lost all respect, they'd have been disappointed, I'm sure, if I had given in to them, rather than disappointed because they didn't. What would that have done with the rest of my team too, if I had given in to them?
Do you always pay a great deal of attention to detail, to the small things?
John Wooden: I think very definitely it's the little things that make the big things happen. It's putting your shoes on properly. It's getting the wrinkles out of your socks so you won't get blisters. Those are important things. It's making sure that no soap is left on the shower room floor where someone -- maybe not you, but somebody else -- might slip and fall and hurt themselves. Just little things like that. They may seem inconsequential, but I think they're important. I think teaching your youngsters to be courteous to airline stewardesses, courteous to waitresses, courteous to all people in hotels, I think makes you a better team. I think that helps your basketball. I think that makes you a better basketball player. I think it brings you together more. I think it makes you more considerate of others. Team spirit is just being considerate of others, in my opinion.
How many coaches today are teaching their players how to put their socks on?
John Wooden: I can't answer that. I don't know if any are. But I learned that as a high school coach. You're more susceptible to blisters. I also noticed that most college players, high school players too, wear shoes that are too large. Basketball is game of quick movement: stop, start, turn, change of direction, change of pace. If there's that much sliding to the end of the toe, you're going to get some blisters. So I decided what size shoe you're going to wear. I want your toe right at the end of the shoe so that when you stop, there's not going to be any sliding back and forth. I think that's important. When we have our youngsters, you know, we buy shoes for them. You used to say, "We'll get them a thumbnail longer." Kids never get to wear shoes that fit. By the time their foot grows into that shoe, it's worn out, so you get them new shoes a thumbnail too long. I think that's the custom of always wearing them a size too large. Almost every player I had, I'd put at least one size smaller than they were accustomed to wearing.
John Wooden: Never criticize your teammate. Never. That's unpardonable. That's my job. I'm paid for it. Pitifully poorly, I would tell them, but I'm paid for it. Don't you do it. And no word of profanity or you're off the floor for the day. No excuse for that. No excuse for that. Now that, in turn to me, will help them maintain self control. The maintaining of self control is going to make them a better basketball player. It's more than just the use of profanity, although I don't want it at all. So I think those are little things that I think help bring big things about.
Do you think there's such a thing as destiny? I mean, do you think you were destined for achieving the success that you achieved in your chosen profession?
What about the role of chance, of luck, in a person's life? For example, you had an appendectomy in World War II which prevented an assignment that could have cost your life.
John Wooden: That's right.
There was a snowstorm and Minnesota couldn't call you and UCLA did.
John Wooden: That's right.
What about chance? What about luck?
If you could say one thing to America's young people today, what would you say?
John Wooden: If they would buy it, what would be most helpful is what Dad said, "Don't compare. Don't try to be better than someone else. But whatever you're doing, try to be the best you can be. Take advantage of every day. Make each day your masterpiece." That would be one of the things that I could say. There are other things that are extremely important. They must have faith. They must believe. They must not complain. Individually, don't compare, just try to make the most of what you have under the conditions that exist for you and try to improve those conditions. No one can do more than that.
If you were to read one book to your grandchildren, what would that book be?
This is not an easy question, but what does the American Dream mean to you?
John Wooden: I get a lot of requests from parents who are having their first child and would like for me to send them a pyramid and make some inscription on it, maybe some verse from the scriptures. Almost invariably, I will say, "Best wishes, and I hope you'll grow up into a world where there will be enduring peace between all nations and true brotherly love among all people." First Corinthians, 13.
You were recognized as a player with great inner drive, great desire. Where do you think that came from?
In my coaching, I probably scouted other teams less than any other college coach in the country. Why? I want to concentrate on my own and try to prepare them for each eventuality. Be more concerned about your own team than the other team. I say, "Go get the ball." I want to get the ball. Now, that doesn't mean I'm not going to try to get in the path of somebody else. Go get it. That will keep him from getting it.
What is the importance of character to one's success in life, the idea that you don't quit?
John Wooden: One of the points in my pyramid is intentness. Now, intentness could be determination. It could be persistence. It could be perseverance. It's carrying on.
John Wooden: I've been asked, "Do athletics build character?" And my answer has been consistent. "It can, and it can tear it down. It can do either one. It depends on the leadership." I believe that to be true. I say that, in athletics, (given) equal ability, the one with the better character will emerge on top. By having better character, you accept things better. You work harder. You don't worry so much about the other fellow. You do your best. I say, "Let's have character, not be a character." I think character gives you more peace. And if you have more peace with yourself, you're going to function better. In a way, not probably connected exactly with this but some other things, when Socrates was falsely imprisoned, facing imminent and unjust death, he was at ease. There was such tranquility about him that his jailers who were mean, mean, maybe the meanest people of the day. They couldn't understand. They said, "Why aren't you preparing for death?" Socrates answer was, simply, "I've been preparing for death all my life by the life I've led." If you have character, you're at peace, at ease with yourself. Therefore, you're going to have poise and you're going to function near your particular level of competency.
What is the one bit of advice you wish you had been given when you started your career?
"I've shut the door on yesterday, thrown the key away.
Tomorrow holds no fears for me, for I have found today."
I always liked that.
Is it possible to describe the emotion you are feeling the night of a championship game when you walk out onto that floor and it's all on the line and you feel you've done everything you can do, and here it is?
John Wooden: It's the road to getting there is the very important part. The end in some ways, it's exhilarating in some ways, it's a let-down. It's the getting there. I think Robert Louis Stevenson said, "It's better to travel hopefully than to arrive." Once you arrive, the journey is over in a sense. It's the journey that's the important thing. Yes. The fact that it is an accomplishment for which you've been working gives you a feeling, maybe the best feeling from a coaching point of view, when you just see the thrill it is giving the youngsters under your supervision. My teams got to the National Championship ten times, the National Championship game, and we happened to win every one of those that we got there. Before the end of each game... none of them were determined in the last seconds. We had them won within the last minute or so. And there would be a time-out. There was in every one. Each time, I told my players, "Now I'm very proud of you. You've had a great achievement. But now, when this is over, don't make a fool out of yourself. Let our alumni do that. Feel good. Cut the nets down if you want to, but don't get carried away. This is something for us to enjoy for the moment, and let's not get carried away. But it's been a great accomplishment and I'm very proud of you."
Did you ever go into a game feeling you had to win it?
John Wooden: I can't really say that I can single out any games that gave me the greatest satisfaction. There are a lot that did, and not all of them were National Championship games. People feel that when we lost at Notre Dame after we'd won 88 consecutive games, that must have been a tremendous let-down, and it wasn't at all. We broke the record. The old record was 60 in a row. We broke the record of 61 at Notre Dame. Had we lost that game that would have broken the record, that would have been a let-down. People say, "How about losing that game in the Astro Dome? For the largest crowd to ever see a game and for the largest televised audience, they say, to ever see a sporting event at that time. That must have been devastating." And I say, "No. It was a non-conference game." We had to win the conference to get in the tournament in those years. We were playing with Alcindor definitely, definitely not himself at all. So that was disappointing, just like any other game would be disappointing to lose. Every game you lose is disappointing, but nothing like losing a conference game that would keep you out of getting into the tournament. Now how about the North Carolina State game in '74? Yes, that was a devastating loss. Part of it because we twice had the lead and we lost it. We had an 11-point lead in the middle of the second half and got tied. We had a seven-point lead in the first overtime and lost. Yes. That's devastating, because we let it get away from us. I don't want to take anything away from North Carolina State. They took advantage, and that's to their credit, but we let it get away.
John Wooden: I should have called a time-out before I did. We used the same thing we'd been using for years and it seemed to work pretty well. It didn't work in that game. How about the loss at Notre Dame? That wasn't devastating at all, but Notre Dame scored the last twelve points against us. No one ever scored twelve consecutive points against us, and they did, the last twelve points of the game. That's bad when that happens, but not devastating because it's a non-conference game. We had already broken the record by 27 games. A lot of our alumni weren't happy. They wanted 100 in a row, not 80. They weren't happy with 88. They were extremely happy at 61 when we broke the old record. Then, if we had got 100, they'd want more.
What about the pressures that come to bear on someone in your position: recruiting, the alumni, filling the arena, winning?
John Wooden: Just do the best you can. Don't worry. I think the pressure -- you'd better put pressure on yourself and do a good job. And if you put pressure on yourself to do a good job, you'll do a good job. Nobody can do more than that. If you're affected by those alumni and those outside pressures or what not, if you're worried about your job for any other reason, you have reason to. But I can say honestly, and I'm very sincere about it, the pressure didn't bother me. The pressure didn't bother me. It gets to be like Richard Washington, who hit that shot to win the Louisville game. Someone said, "How in the world did you have what you set up to get Washington that shot?" And I said, "He's the wonder shooter." I said, "First of all, he's a pretty good shooter." I said, "Second, Richard's loose as a goose. And if he misses? To him, you can't make them all." But he didn't expect to miss, because he's a good shooter. He expected to make that shot. Now if I had let somebody else shoot that shot, they'd feel they have to make it. If you feel you have to do it, that, I think, hurts your chances of doing it. It's kind of like character and reputation. Your character is what you are, and you're the only one that truly knows that. Your reputation is what others perceive it to be, and they can be wrong. So which is the most important? What you really are. It doesn't make any difference what others might think. You'd like for them to think well of you, but it really doesn't make any difference. You'd just like for them to. But boy, it's very important what you think about yourself. That's very important. That's probably the most important thing there is.
Thank you for speaking with us today. It's been a privilege.