John Wooden is a paradox in the sports world! In many ways, more dominant and legendary than Michael Jordan and still he maintained a level of sincerity and humility unlike any coach/athlete I know of. He stands alone in the record books atop a mountain of wins which culminated with ten National Championships in twelve years. His list of accomplishments, including being the only man elected to the College Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach, is a mile long. Yet, in the midst of all the accolades and success he has remained true to himself. John is first as a teacher of men, a builder of character and the most powerful lesson he offers is example.
Author Steven Jamison described Coach Wooden as “pure of heart, modest, trusting, humble, understated, serene, without pretense or hidden agenda, sincere, straightforward, intelligent, quick, confident, and filled with such a profound decency and tremendous inner strength that it is humbling.” Jamison wrote books with Wooden and was in absolute awe of the man. In their book, Wooden, A Life Time of Observations and Reflections on and Off the Court, Jamison penned the following poem.
Our Ships are tossed
Across the night,
Our Compass cracked,
For Wrong or right.
True North is there,
Or over here?
Our sea is fear.
Then suddenly a beacon bright
Is shining through
This stormy night.
It’s pure and straight
To his true course.
The coach is seen.
He is True North.
In the sea of turmoil we call life, Jamison was deeply affected by this man he came to know. Wooden always turned away from this kind of direct attention, but Jamison just wrote what he observed and what others felt. Coach Wooden first desired to teach his players how to live right and second how to play basketball. So just how did Wooden represent true north for so many? It came about as a decision to valiantly follow the lifetime creed his father passed on to him on a hand written card at John’s graduation from grade school.
On one side of the card was a verse by Henry Van Dyke:
Four things a man must learn to do
If he would make his life more true:
To think without confusion clearly,
To love his fellow-man sincerely,
To act from honest motives purely,
To trust in God and Heaven securely.
On the other side it read “Seven Things to Do.”
- Be true to yourself.
- Help others.
- Make each day your masterpiece.
- Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
- Make friendship a fine art.
- Build a shelter against a rainy day.
- Pray for guidance and count and give thanks for your blessings every day.
His father’s simple sermon that day was, “Son, try to live up to these things.” John Wooden carried that actual card with him throughout his life and he endeavored to do exactly that. His life offers evidence that the sermon is true. Can you imagine a world where politicians, business leaders, coaches and parents followed this model of the man they call, “Coach.” That’s a world I get excited about!
So allow me to keep the final thought as simple as the original, “try to live up to these things.”