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Six things you should know about John Wooden

Legendary basketball coach and leadership guru John Wooden died last Friday night at the age of 99, leaving a giant void, not only in the sport world, but in the world of leadership. [See our John Wooden photo gallery.]

Wooden made his mark on the basketball hardwood, first as a player and later as a coach. His UCLA Bruins won a total of 10 national championships. While Wooden was known primarily as a coach, his accomplishments on the hardwood gave him a platform to teach lessons that transcended sport and have been meaningful to those involved in all types of work.

In fact, even President Obama issued a statement about his passing. So if you're not familiar with Wooden - or if you are intrigued by the recent coverage and simply want to learn more - to follow are resources that can provide further perspective on his life and his teachings.

1. His life

From his birth in Indiana to his coaching career at UCLA, ESPN put together a brief biography that touches on some of the key themes throughout his life. Famous sportscaster Dick Enberg begins the clip by saying that Wooden was "a sport's Abraham Lincoln, a Winston Churchill." High praise, indeed.

2. A teacher first

Wooden spent his first 11 years after college as a high school English teacher. He took the lessons that he learned as a teacher and applied them to his coaching career. He was so effective that researchers Tharpe and Gallimore studied Wooden during the 1974-75 season, watching countless hours of his practices to learn how to effectively provide feedback and instruction to individuals.

They found that Wooden provided a great deal of brief instruction, and rarely praised players for what they were supposed to do. There were also no extended speeches; in fact, he rarely spoke longer than 20 seconds. If you want a complete copy of the study, you'll have to go to your local library and track down the 1976 copy of the journal, Psychology Today (volume 9).

3. The pyramid

As it was mentioned is his biography, Wooden was unhappy with traditional definitions of success that included concepts such as winning, or getting an "A." He felt that those definitions were actually counterproductive and misleading. As he said many times, "You can lose when you outscore somebody in a game, and you can win when you're outscored."

He developed his own definition of success and coined the Pyramid of Success, which largely focused on character and the process of being successful. Concepts such as loyalty, cooperation, skill and confidence are all required before an individual can reach "competitive greatness." And, after much thought, Wooden settled on the following definition of success: "Success is the 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."

4. A simple communicator

While this clip was filmed in 2001 when Wooden was 90, his mental acuity is still apparent. Even more telling is how clear of a communicator he is. Wooden has a knack for breaking concepts down into their simplest forms and relaying them in an unassuming manner. In doing so, he forms a genuine connection with the audience.

5. Most important accomplishments

It can be both powerful and surprising to hear a man who has reached the pinnacle of his career speak about what was most important to him along the way.  Once again, Wooden focuses on something that has nothing to do with traditional definitions of success. Instead, he focuses on the growth and lifetime achievements of the young men he was charged with shaping during his time at UCLA.

6. 99 (more) things about Wooden

While a short column can in no way comprehensively cover 99 years of accomplishments, here is an article written at the time of Wooden's 99th birthday that has much more information on the man. Especially powerful are some of the many quotes that have been attributed to Wooden, such as #31 ("The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team,") #91 ("Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are,"), and #99 ("Don't give up on your dreams, or your dreams will give up on you.")

While Wooden the man may be gone, his website will live on. Even more importantly, Wooden captured his own thoughts and beliefs in the many books he penned or co-authored over the past 30 years. Especially good are Wooden on Leadership, and They Call Me Coach. Wooden's contributions to the leadership field are fundamental and lasting, and they will be a major part of his legacy.

By Joe Frontiera  |  June 7, 2010; 1:10 AM ET  | Category:  Leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Thank you for writing this article about John Wooden. I listened to him speak and he is inspiring. Sad to see him depart and it is great that he has left so much for us to treasure.

Posted by: IBCoaching | June 16, 2010 3:43 AM

Feel free to mention Sam Gilbert, the man whose largesse paved the way for Wooden to become more than just another coach.

Posted by: tracymohr | June 8, 2010 2:35 PM

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