Andrei Strizek

Music | Musings

Coach John Wooden

Coach John Wooden passed away yesterday, June 4, 2010, at 99 years of age. The man was a giant of the basketball world, spending decades at UCLA, coaching the team to 10 NCAA championships and leaving with a record unmatched, 885-203. Yet his influence went far beyond the basketball court, thanks to his simple style of living and a number of maxims ("Woodenisms") that have been applied in the business world, the music world, and many other areas. If you've been following my Twitter account you know by now that I've already written a little about Wooden; I hope I can use this space to pay at least a small tribute to a man almost too large for words.

I can't remember exactly when I first learned about Coach Wooden, but I'm fairly certain it was when I was teaching on the summer marching band circuit (MACBDA), with the Sound of Sun Prairie. (I marched 4 years with the band, then taught with them for another 5 after graduating.) Without getting too far off topic, one of the great things about this organization (and the entire MACBDA circuit) was how it taught self-discipline, leadership, and other skills that I still use to this day.

I not only read his works and worked as best as I could to live up to the ideals, I also used them when I was teaching. His Pyramid of Success is perhaps the easiest place to begin.

I'm not a big fan of competition in music. When teaching marching bands I preferred to avoid talking about inter-band competition, and instead work on self-improvement and performing as best as possible. So much of what's in the Pyramid of above can be utilized on the marching band field, in the classroom, in the practice room, in the workplace, etc. The ideas are incredible simply, but also challenging.

While teaching I saw students work to take Wooden's words and try to understand them, try to incorporate them into their lives. Some were more successful than others, but many tried (and in a marching band of 180-190 high schoolers, that's no small task). Even when not quoting Wooden directly, his words and ideals helped create an environment conducive to learning and to growing and maturing. (Even something as simple as keeping practices running on time was important; starting rehearsal late and running rehearsal late shows a lack of organization and disrespect for the ensemble.)

It's a summer tradition to have a reading list. Take some time and work one or two of Wooden's books onto your list. You will not be disappointed.


Quotes can tend to be like statistics: you can twist them around to fit your particular angle. They can be taken out of context and wrapped around ideas that might not necessarily fit with the original intent. That being said, I still look to Wooden's quotes and writings as a source of inspiration. Here are a few of my favorites:

"Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of being."

"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."

"Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do."

"Failure to prepare is preparing to fail."

"Never mistake activity for achievement."


Below is a video featuring Coach Wooden from a TED conference. As much as I tried, I can think of no better tribute to Coach than his own words.

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