Coach John Wooden


"The Will To Win Is Not Nearly As Important As The Will To Prepare To Win"

February, 2007

by Coach Ronn Wyckoff, Author/Producer

Basketball On A Triangle

The title above comes from an oft' quoted maxim in sports. It holds special meaning for me, though, because it was often used in presentations by Coach John Wooden, when he was Head Basketball Coach at U.C.L.A.

In the mid-70's, at the beginning of each season, I used to take my high school teams down to U.C.L.A. to observe their practice and to absorb the practice ethic Wooden and his staff elicited from the players. Everything about each practice session was well planned, well choreographed and drilled to perfection. Coach had everything on a 3x5 card, with each minute planned. Not one minute was wasted and not one ounce of energy was expended that was not part of Coach's plan for the practice session and the next game. The influence of taking all this in for each of my players was like an epiphany of sorts for some and nearly so for the rest. I took my managers, stats keepers, the players and my young sons to "sit at the feet" of the guru of Division I basketball--the winningest coach of all time.

What we learned was, in a 'nutshell', that they were champions because they were talented, but even more importantly was that they practiced like they wanted to be champions. They exuded the confidence of champions, but worked like they were on a mission to prove themselves. They practiced the "will to prepare to win".

When Coach Wooden came over to talk with us, whatever he said was no less powerfully received than if Moses himself had brought the word down from the mountain. When he told the players to work hard to be the best they could be, by preparing like winners, and to listen and follow my (Me, Coach Ronn) plan to become the best they could be--well, that cemented my status in the eyes of our team. When my feet came back to the ground and my hat size normalized, I had a lot of work to do to live up to the responsibility and challenge Coach had tossed into my lap. For me, those lessons set the stage for the teaching-coach I was to become. (And, I have used 3x5 cards with my daily practice outlines for the 30+ years since then.)

Nobody knows any more about winning than Coach Wooden. No one coach has amassed the number of NCAA titles than Coach did while at U.C.L.A., nor as many in a row as his teams won.

Few people know that coach wooden spent nearly 2 decades coaching the Bruins before they began winning NCAA titles. So, the adage about 'willing to prepare to win' is underscored by all the years he spent preparing his teams to be winners. The maxim he so often quoted was one he had quoted for many years before his teams hit the big time.

When I came to know him, he was already through most of the winning years, and unbeknownst to all of us, was winding down his tenure with U.C.L.A. basketball. This was when Bill Walton was there finishing his collegiate playing career. In fact, they both finished together--Coach to retire, due to his beloved wife, Nell, being ill, and Bill because he was graduating.

None of my early basketballcoaching “mentors” knew my name or would remember me, but they influenced my early growth in becoming the teacher of the game into which I evolved.

Their influence will be noted on many occasions within my soon to be published book, "Basketball On A Triangle: A Higher Level of Coaching and Playing", but none more than John Wooden, the winningest coach of all time.

Called the Wizard of Westwood, he fashioned U.C.L.A.’s ten NCAA championships over a period of twelve years. His philosophic approach to dealing with the young men he coached, more than anything else, gave me the foundation for later bringing spirituality into my coaching.

In 1974, the summer before Coach Wooden retired from U.C.L.A., I was working at his camp in Southern California and had the opportunity to ask him what other avenues I might pursue to expand my coaching horizon. I told him that good high school coaches were a dime a dozen and I wanted to be more than just a good high school coach. I knew that one pretty much had to have played college ball and/or have very good connections in order to break into the college ranks. Coach Wooden suggested that I look into international coaching opportunities. From that moment, a whole new era began for me.

Now, many years, games, countries and international miles later, I am the coach I always aspired to be. No, I'm not even attempting to be Coach Wooden resurrected; no one probably ever will be. But his example, his teaching, his philosophy gradually seeped into every pore of my coaching body, mind and spirit.

I am a teaching-coach. I strive to bring a spiritual basis to my teaching for each coach and player I work with, to be the best they can be, without having to be better than someone else. I teach that everyone needs to take responsibility for themselves. One has no control over how good another player or coach is, nor how well they prepare. Each individual does, however, have control over how good they are and how well they prepare. Winning is not about beating someone else. It is about preparing well and being the very best you can be, regardless of the score. If that sounds a little like Coach Wooden, well, I took notes from the master.

Coach Wooden was a three-time All-American player at Purdue U. Recently, their alumni magazine conducted an in-depth interview with the living legend. Here is where you can read the entire interview:

There are several sites you can click on, along side the picture of Coach Wooden, which I found to be very interesting, including an enlightening sidebar article written by Bill Walton.

Thanks for sharing this space with me again. See you next month.

Yours in Sport & Spirit,
Coach Ronn