Wooden a Lifetime of Observations and Reflections on and Off the Court Book Report

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The legacy of John Wooden extends well beyond any of his games, because the philosophy that guided his actions as both player and coach includes insights into success above and beyond the game of basketball. In his 1997 book Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections on and Off the Court, written with Steve Jamison, Wooden offers insights from his life, demonstrating how the same ideals that helped him to become the only person to enter the College Basketball Hall of Fame as both player and coach also helped him through his personal life (Forck, 2010, p. 20). By comparing the advice and insight Wooden offers in his book with contemporary sports psychology, it is possible to identify a few relatively simple ideas that can enhance real-life coaching situations.

Although not the central focus of this study, it is necessary to begin with a brief recounting of Wooden's impressive biography, if only to preemptively include some evidence in support of Wooden's coaching philosophy. Wooden began his ultimately legendary basketball career in high school, where "he led his high-school team to the state final 3 years in a row, winning the championship in 1927," demonstrating the kind of repeated successes that would come to characterize his tenure as the UCLA basketball coach (Forck, 2010, p. 20). Wooden went on to play basketball in college, winning the 1932 national title before graduating and working as a teacher (Forck, 2010, p. 20). After a stint in the Navy and some time spent coaching basketball at Indiana State University, Wooden eventually took the job at UCLA and set the stage for an unprecedented string of successes (Forck, 2010, p. 20).Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Upon taking over UCLA's basketball program, Wooden practically transformed college basketball by shattering records and making up new ones: "From 1948 to 1974, the Bruins won 620 games and 10 national titles. [Wooden's] teams had four perfect 30-0 seasons, won 38 straight NCAA tournament games, held an 88-game winning streak and won 98 consecutive home games" (Forck, 2010, p. 20). As mentioned above, Wooden's successes were enough to gain him entry into the College Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach, making him one of only three people to do so. Beyond his own achievements, Wooden also helped to coach some of the best professional players the world has ever seen, such as Bill Walton and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Wooden & Jamison, 1997, p. x, xiii). However, contrary to what one might expect, Wooden does not view these success as a the result of any special secret or unique perspective; rather, he attempts to account for his own remarkable life by drawing general, simple maxims out of relative experiences, and combining them to form a coherent philosophical approach.

To best explain Wooden's approach, it will actually be easiest to skip to the latter sections of Wooden's book, because it is here that he unifies his observations into a relatively straightforward "pyramid of success" (Wooden & Jamison, 1997, p. 165). For anyone with a passing knowledge of Wooden's coaching philosophy, his Pyramids of Success" will be familiar, or at least not surprising. Wooden's "pyramid of success" is a visual representation of his overall philosophy, developed "after hundreds of hours of reflection over a period of fourteen years" (Wooden & Jamison, 1997, p. 175). The pyramid is made up of fifteen blocks, each with its own attribute and maxim born out of Wooden's observations on life and coaching (Wooden & Jamison, 1997, p. 173).

While it is not necessary to discuss each block of the pyramid in detail here, one may examine a few blocks in particular in order to get an idea of virtues and attitudes that Wooden sees as crucial for success. Perhaps the most obvious but nevertheless crucial virtue is a sense of teamwork and cooperation, which Wooden emphasizes by including four different blocks pertaining to these virtues ("friendship," "loyalty," "cooperation," and "team spirit") (Wooden & Jamison, 1997, p. 188). He emphasizes the need for this camaraderie and cooperation on both the level of the players and the coach, and argues that they are central precisely because "they bring together and amplify the qualities at the cornerstones [of the pyramid]: industriousness and enthusiasm" (Wooden & Jamison, 1997, p. 180). For Wooden, the basis of success both on the court and off is personal industriousness and enthusiasm wedded to a strong "team" or community, because only then can the group function as something larger and better than the sum of its parts.

Although team spirit and cooperation are a central foundation of Wooden's philosophy, he also puts a special emphasis on personal responsibility and control, dedicating numerous blocks of the pyramid to related topics. For example, the entire second tier of Wooden's pyramid concerns itself with self-control, alertness, initiative, and intentness, all virtues that are necessary in order for the individual to ensure that he or she is bringing their entire attention and ability to bear on the task at hand (Wooden & Jamison, 1997, p. 183). As Wooden notes, "complaining, whining, making excuses" and other examples of self-sabotage keep "you out of the present," and thus prevent one from effectively applying oneself, regardless of the situation (Wooden & Jamison, 1997, p. 184).

Although Wooden relates his philosophy through relatively simple maxims and sometimes folksy anecdotes (as befits his Midwestern roots), his approach to coaching and life actually aligns with more in-depth research into sports psychology (Miller, 2004, p. 111). To begin, even before one considers the details of Wooden's statements regarding successful coaching, playing, and living, one may note that even his approach to writing and teaching is buttressed from more recent research into the subject. For example, a 2009 study examining the coaching and non-coaching experiences and knowledge of successful coaches found that, in addition to previous "elite-level athletic experiences," experiences in fields other than coaching helped coaches to more effectively communicate due to their broader range of experience (Adam & Gordon, 2009, p. 420-421). Although much of Wooden's book draws on his career as a basketball coach for anecdotal inspiration and demonstration, his time spent living on a farm was no less crucial to the development of his coaching philosophy; in fact, the realization that "even a stubborn mule responds to gentleness" can be seen as the root of Wooden's belief in encouragement and motivation over punishment and coercion (Wooden & Jamison, 1997, p. 4). Thus, even Wooden's simple, generalized maxims drawn out of his myriad experiences seems to conform with research into effective coaching, because his ability to draw these generalized statements out of his specific, varied experiences demonstrates the kind of mutability coupled with resolution that is necessary for effective leadership.

However, it is also worth pointing out that Wooden's favoring of encouragement, gentleness, and the "carrot" over the "stick" does not correspond to any kind of undue softness or effusive praise for those being led. Instead, Wooden suggests that the most effective forms of encouragement are those that seem to stem from within the individual, rather than being imposed from without, because it is these internal motivators and controls that will continue to operate well after any external motivation has ceased to be effective (Wooden & Jamison, 1997, p. 185). With this in mind, it makes sense that Wooden was relatively notorious for his "negligible use of praise," because in a context where the team members' motivation comes from within rather than without, " praise becomes virtually unnecessary" (Tharp & Gallimore, 1976, qtd. In Hansen, Wade, & Hamel, 2003, p. 46). This is not to suggest that Wooden is unaware of the need for proper recognition and validation, but rather that for him success in part comes from the fact that self-confidence must be "earned and deserved" rather than unrealistically inflated through overzealous and ultimately unhelpful praise (Wooden & Jamison, 1997, p. 115).

Allowing motivation and confidence to spring from within rather than attempting to apply them from without is core to Wooden's philosophy, and, based on contemporary research, successful sports psychology in general, because allowing (and in some respects forcing) individuals to take responsibility for their own motivation and inclusion generates more robust players, both physically, mentally, and emotionally. The goal is not so much to push players towards achievement, but rather challenging them to push themselves, because a self-motivated individual will always be able to wring more out of his or herself than any coach (Hansen, Wade, & Hamel, 2003, p. 47). Encouraging self-motivation and challenging players helps them to develop more effective coping strategies, both in terms of responding to the emotions brought on by competition and the various responses to success and defeat. The kind of self-motivation encouraged by Wooden results in more robust, resilient players that are simultaneously more able to effectively operate as a whole.

Wooden's focus on self-control, alertness, initiative, and intentness is also validated by recent research. In particular, one study regarding the effectiveness of different rhetorical and stylistic approaches to sports psychology practice highlighted how… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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