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June 10, 2010

A Man of Accomplishment

Derek Shackelford

Life is filled with transition. No one stays on top forever. What comes up must come down. No matter how long someone is at their best, our hope is that they will always stay there.


Such is life. All good things must come to an end.


I must admit I like sports. There is so much to sports from which one can learn that cannot be taught in the classroom. Sports can teach one how to handle adversity, boost confidence, and develop poise and the importance of teamwork. This is just a starter list.


Some of the most admired people are those who play or have participated in the sporting arena. In a culture where it seems that the athlete who displays the bad attitude, sulks about their contract, participates in a moral failing, or has a brush with the law, garners all the attention. The entire sporting circle gets painted with a broad brush because of the actions of a few.


There are some reasons to still cheer and some good people to cheer for. It just so often appears that it is hard to distinguish who deserves our applause.


Well, I can think of two who have taught us, entertained us, and wowed us beyond measure. John Wooden and baseball’s Ken Griffey, Jr., have made their respective transitions from one phase to the next. Both did it with a class and dignity that can be used as a model for years.


Coach Wooden was more than just a basketball coach. He was a life coach. To hear his former players discuss the life lessons he taught was immeasurable and invaluable. Former and current coaches discuss how Coach Wooden has always taken the time to offer advice when solicited and was a willing helper in how to deal with players, even coaching strategy. It should be noted that he was the first to be enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach and player. While Coach Wooden is most notably known for his coaching of the UCLA Bruins to multiple national championships, his coaching start actually began in high school.


It would be interesting to see in this win-first culture of collegiate athletics how long Coach Wooden would have fared in the present coaching climate.


It took him 16 years to win his first national championship. How many current athletic directors would give a coach 16 years to reach the top? It was not so much that Coach Wooden won, but it was in the how he did it. He taught his teams that there is such a concept as winning the right way. The team comes first and each player contributes to the success of the team.


While many say it, Coach Wooden lived it. While his accomplishments on the court are commendable, and maybe second to none, it was not these accolades that he is too been remembered.


Coach Wooden wrote a letter to his beloved wife at least once a week after her passing. He visited the same restaurant every morning for 20 years never asking or expecting any special treatment for what he accomplished. He obliged every autograph seeker while never saying no to anyone who wanted to engage in conversation.


Success to Coach Wooden was not accidental. While many talk about success and wanting to achieve it hoping that it would one day show up on the doorstep of life, Coach Wooden’s success philosophy was intentional. His pyramid of success is something that any leader, father, mother, athlete, or young person can apply. The principles are simple to apply for anyone serious about impacting the lives of others. For Coach Wooden success was not merely individualistic, it was an all encompassing of the greater whole.


His quotes are infamous. One of my favorites is: “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” It is not so much that failure does not happen, it is how we learn in the moments. That was Coach Wooden – always teaching us something that goes beyond 94-foot long and 50-feet wide.


I must acknowledge that I did not know Coach Wooden and never met him. I know some who have had the pleasure of talking with him and when I ask them “Is he really like that?”, their response was “Yes he was, plus more.”


So last Friday when I heard of his passing, it was like a Broadway show coming to an end, the curtain closing and everyone  standing, clapping uproariously, demanding an encore.


Next time – Ken Griffey, Jr.


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