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Just what can you learn from a basketball coach?

Inside Business

Posted: April 9, 2008 2:03 a.m.
Updated: June 10, 2008 5:02 a.m.

It's finally over. Sixty-five teams playing 64 games and scoring 8,853 points between them. It's official, the University of Kansas is the NCAA basketball champion, coming from behind in regulation play to force the game with Memphis State into overtime.

Each year without fail the announcers of the championship game make some mention during the broadcast of John Wooden, the former UCLA basketball coach. Wooden may be celebrated for his success as a coach, but his impact goes much further, beyond his players, fans, opponents and those that worked with him while he was coaching.

Wooden developed his "Pyramid of Success" over a period of 14 years.

His goal was to develop a new definition of success. It was while teaching high school English that the idea came to him. He witnessed parents criticizing their children for receiving less than an A or B on papers or on their report cards. His goal was to find a way to communicate his message that success is not always about "winning" but about how people live their lives.

He describes the term success as "peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable."

The Pyramid of Success consists of four levels of building blocks. On the bottom tier are five blocks, each a foundation to build upon.

At the cornerstones are Industriousness and Enthusiasm. Wooden states that "Success travels in the company of very hard work. There is no trick; no easy way" and he is right; no one who has ever been successful in their life has done it without working hard. Likewise, nothing great can happen without enthusiasm. The bottom tier also includes the building blocks of Friendship, Loyalty and Cooperation.

The second tier consists of Self-Control, Alertness, Initiative and Intentness. Wooden says that "Failure to act is often the biggest failure of all" and that "Control of your organization begins with control of yourself; be disciplined."

The third tier includes Condition, Skill and Team Spirit. Relating back to the NCAA tournament, Wooden comments that "The star of the team is the team. We supersedes 'me'."

The next tier holds the blocks of Confidence and Poise. The final block on the very top of the Pyramid of Success is that of Competitive Greatness. Of that, Wooden says that individuals need to "Perform at your best when your best is required. Your best is required each day."

From the start of his long career as a teacher, Wooden saw his mission as much more than winning basketball games. He was a life long educator of people and that scope has extended far beyond the classroom as we know it.

His former players don't recall their coach ever stressing the importance of winning a game. For Wooden, it was about sticking to the fundamentals. John Vallely stated that "On the first day of practice, I remember him saying, 'I'm not going to be talking to you about winning or losing because I think that's a by-product of our preparation. I would much rather be focused on the process of becoming the best team we're capable of becoming." Vallely played for Wooden on the 1969 and 1970 UCLA national championship basketball teams.

One of the reasons Wooden was successful as a coach is that he understood that "good values attract good people." Maybe that was why Wooden was able to win a record 10 NCAA basketball championships: His values attracted the kind of players that subscribed to the values Wooden espoused.

If you reflect back on the just concluded NCAA tournament, you will not recall seeing taunting between the players, bench clearing brawls or players being ejected. What you will remember seeing are players of opposing teams helping each other off the floor, shaking hands at the end of each game, wishing each other success as one team moved to the next round and the other was eliminated from the tournament.

There is more than a little bit of Wooden's philosophy that has made the transition through the decades.

Wooden is frail and not in the best of health. But his message of inspiration through example setting is an excellent teacher. And it certainly extends to the NCAA tournament each year. It should make it to your office, warehouse, factory and employees, too.

Kenneth W. Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, bringing business owners together in facilitated peer advisory boards. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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