March Madness Coaching Life Lessons Part 1 of 3

The Latest Word from John Ed Mathison

It’s March Madness!  The greatest men’s college basketball coach that ever lived was Coach John Wooden.  He won ten NCAA basketball championships – that’s five more than anyone else.  He won 88 straight games between 1971-1974.  That’s 46 more than anyone else.

When I finished college I played basketball with the Venture for Victory basketball team, which was a fore-runner to Athletes in Action.  We played about 75 games in Japan, Korea, Philippians, Taiwan, and Hong Kong – about 15 of them against Olympic teams, losing only about six games.  We played to draw a crowd, then present a Christian witness.

One of our players was Gary Cunningham.  He was a star for Coach John Wooden at UCLA.  He actually coached briefly at UCLA following Wooden’s retirement.  He talked a lot about Wooden. I’ve enjoyed reading about Coach Wooden and studying the life lessons he taught.  Gary verified the importance of his lessons.  Here are five good lessons to learn and apply from “The Coach” during this March Madness:

  1. Don’t ever pray for a win. That makes prayer selfish.  If your pray for a win, your opponent is probably also praying for a win.  That must be amusing to God.  Wooden always prayed that his boys would honor God by doing their best, controlling their emotions and asking for protection.  Coach takes prayer to a different dimension.  Read Daniel 10:12
  1. Everybody will play by the rules. Coach Wooden had a rule that there would be no long hair and no facial hair.  He said it would take too long to dry and players would catch a cold leaving the gym.  One day one of the greatest players of all-time, Bill Walton, showed up with a full beard.  He insisted, “It’s my right.”  Coach Wooden asked if he believed that strongly.  Walton said he did.  Coach Wooden said, “Bill, I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them, I really do, but we’re going to miss you.”  Walton shaved.  Until Wooden’s death Walton called Coach every week to tell him how much he loved him.  Leaders who keep the rules develop other leaders.

Bill Walton

  1. Have a healthy view towards discipline. Coach Wooden never used physical punishment to discipline his players.  He disciplined by denying practice time or playing time in the games.  He learned that the best teacher knows how to discipline.  He never yelled at his players.  He said that was just a brief, artificial stimulation.  He did say, “Some of my players needed a pat on the back, but others the pat needed to be a little lower and a little firmer.”  He knew how to discipline.  Read I Cor. 9:25
  1. He always focused on the fundamentals. When he was winning those national championships he would always begin the first day of practice by teaching his players how to put on their socks.  Players couldn’t believe it.  Coach said, “Wrinkles can lead to blisters.”  Those huge players would look at each other and roll their eyes, but then they would put the sock on.  Coach would then say, “Now let’s try the other foot!”  He would then teach them how to lace and tie their shoes.  He told them that they couldn’t perform well unless they had taken care of the fundamentals – a good life lesson.  Read Joshua 1:8
  1. He always believed in team spirit. He defined team spirit as an eagerness to lose one’s self in the group for the good of the whole team.  He developed the idea of pointing to the person who made the pass to you when you shot the ball, or who made a great defensive play.  He reminded each player that he wouldn’t get the ball to shoot it unless somebody passed it to him.  Thank everybody.  The person who makes the basket usually gets the accolades and their name in the paper.  The person who assists can be easily forgotten.  Coach Wooden coached a team – he wanted everybody to thank each other.  What if all churches, teams and businesses developed that kind of team spirit.  Read Eccl. 4:9-12

How coachable are you?

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