Coach Wooden: Timeless Wisdom - Part 2 (Transcript)

Dr. Dobson: Well hello everyone. I'm James Dobson and you're listening to Family Talk, a listener supported ministry. In fact, thank you so much for being part of that support for James Dobson Family Institute.

Roger Marsh: When your life is over, how do you hope people will honor your name? You ever thought about what you want to be remembered for? Well, today on Family Talk we're going to hear from a late sports icon who lived a God honoring life and people are still remembering his life, even today. I'm Roger Marsh and I'm joined in studio once again by our host, Dr. James Dobson. And Doctor, today's guest on the broadcast really did leave a legacy by faithfully serving God every second of his time on earth, didn't he?

Dr. Dobson: Well the man we're going to hear from again today is an individual who finished well to his last breath. We're going to hear the words of Coach John Wooden from UCLA who went on to be with the Lord at the age of 99, and he left a legacy that is as rich and meaningful as any that we could ever aspire to. I got acquainted with him near the end of his life. I had an opportunity to interview him, and what a delightful man he was. Everybody loved John Wooden, who knew him.

It's interesting, we developed quite a friendship and he sent me a basketball that he had signed and he forgot it, and he sent me a second one and then he forgot that, and sent me a third. So I've got three basketballs signed by John Wooden and I'm proud of every single one of them.

At the beginning of the recorded conversation that we're going to hear today, which is part two of our discussion together, he was one of the winningest coaches in basketball history there at UCLA, and he's been honored in so many ways. In 2003, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the nation's highest civilian honor. President George W. Bush remarked that "Coach Wooden remains a part of our lives as a teacher of the game and as an example of what a good man should be." And I echo those words today.

Roger Marsh: Well that's right, Doctor, and I'm really excited to share the second part of this recording with our listeners. Coach Wooden passed along such timeless wisdom that still directly applies to our lives. On today's broadcast, he's going to share some more wonderful stories and also some practical concepts that he used in coaching students under his care. His sensible teaching and wisdom will certainly speak to everyone, even those in our listening audience who don't really follow sports all that much. With that, Doctor, let's rejoin your classic conversation with Coach John Wooden when he was 93 years old.

Dr. Dobson: You have for many years been speaking on an idea that you've wanted to convey to young people throughout a good part of your professional career. Describe it for us.

John Wooden: Well, in my early years of teaching, I became a little bit disappointed at what I thought parents of youngsters in my English classes expected from their youngsters, and if they didn't get an A or B, I found many parents thought that either the youngster had failed or the teacher had failed, and I didn't like that way of judging at all. I didn't think that was fair because the Good Lord in His infinite wisdom didn't create us all equal as intelligence is concerned, any more than we're equal as far as size or appearance, whether or not we come from the same environments, etc., and I wanted to come up with something else. I wanted to coin my own definition, which would be a little different from Mr. Webster's. I thought this could help me become a better teacher and give the youngsters under my supervision something to which to aspire other than just higher marks in the classroom or more points in some athletic endeavor.

I thought about this and several things came to mind. One was my father saying "never try to be better than somebody else and never cease trying to be the best you can be," and then a class discussion of success that I recalled some years before. Then I ran across a simple verse that said 'At God's footstool to confess, a poor soul knelt and bowed his head, "I failed." He cried. The Master said, "Thou didst thy best, that is success."' I like that. I think that is when you individually know you did your best.

So from that, I coined my own definition of success, which is peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction and knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you're capable. Nobody else knows that but you, because you can fool everybody else. But that wasn't serving the purpose for which I had hoped. So I tried to wonder what I could do, and I came to the conclusion after analyzing it a bit that if I could come up with something you could see, and here again, like so many things, popped out from the hidden recesses of the mind something I'd seen years before called a ladder of achievement. Somebody had taken the ladder, five rungs in the ladder, and they had named each rung of the ladder some particular trait or characteristic that this individual felt was necessary to get to the top of the ladder, where we'd all like to get. We might differ in what we consider the top of the ladder to be, but we'd like to get there and there's nothing wrong with ambition, as long as it's kept under control.

And that gave me an idea of a pyramid, and I worked on that for the next 14 years. I placed-

Dr. Dobson: The pyramid of success.

John Wooden: I placed my definition of success at the apex and then started working from the bottom, and the first two blocks I chose for the cornerstones, industriousness and enthusiasm and they are essential.

Dr. Dobson: Now you have a training program for young people that's being used all across the country and has been for a number of years that incorporates that.

John Wooden: Yes sir.

Dr. Dobson: And the name of the training program is?

John Wooden: I'm doing it with Mr. Garrett and it is the John R. Wooden Course, I guess that's what it's called.

Dr. Dobson: And it consists of materials, videos.

John Wooden: Yes, all from the pyramid.

Dr. Dobson: All from the pyramid.

John Wooden: And different things from it. I spoke to the players one time at the beginning of the year on the pyramid. I took some time and explained each block and talked to them one time. And then I would say [inaudible 00:06:43] want to come in and talk to me about it, fine. Some did and some didn't. Let me give an example, [inaudible 00:06:50] Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on an interview, the interview asked him, "What do you think about Coach Wooden's pyramid?" And he said, "When I came to school, I thought it was the corniest thing I'd ever seen." He said, "Before I got out of school, I saw it as kind of meaningful, but I never realized how much until a number of years after I was out of school."

And that's come from a lot of the players and that sort of pleases me. It's what happens to them afterwards. I like Amos Alonzo Stagg, most of you probably never heard of him, Amos Alonzo Stagg. He was a great football coach when the University of Chicago had outstanding football teams. And after one fine year, a reporter said, "Well coach Stagg, is this your finest year?" And he said, "I won't know for 25 or 30 years." In other words, he was more concerned what's going to happen to all those under his supervision after they're gone than right at the moment. I've always liked that statement.

Dr. Dobson: You have had a lifelong love for the Bible that came from your father, I believe.

John Wooden: Yes, I think so.

Dr. Dobson: You still read it and study it?

John Wooden: Yes, I do.

Dr. Dobson: Is it still meaningful to you? Does it still speak to you?

John Wooden: Indeed.

Dr. Dobson: You carry a cross with you.

John Wooden: I do.

Dr. Dobson: Do you have it with you today?

John Wooden: I do.

Dr. Dobson: Could I see it?

John Wooden: Yes. It was given to me by my minister in South Bend, Indiana when I enlisted in the service and I've got some other little things here too.

Dr. Dobson: Yeah.

John Wooden: Then another cross.

Dr. Dobson: Is that money or is that something else?

John Wooden: That's a little... it came from Rome. This is the one that my minister gave me. It has alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, and it has the heart and the [inaudible 00:08:45].

Dr. Dobson: Why do you carry it? I think I know, but tell us.

John Wooden: It gives me peace. I had that in my hand all the basketball games and I think they didn't know it, but I think officials should have been happy that I had that in my hand.

Dr. Dobson: And you have carried it virtually every day.

John Wooden: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes I've had it all these years.

Dr. Dobson: It's worn down. How long have you been carrying it?

John Wooden: Well, I had it since 1942, is when it was given to me. The heart and the [inaudible 00:09:14] and the alpha and the omega are almost faded out. You can still see them, but they're still there. I've never seen another one like it and I like that. I've got another one in the pocket I carry, but it's not like that and it's not that meaningful.

Dr. Dobson: You have indicated that you're still trying to grow, still trying to learn.

John Wooden: Yes. I think we should be every day. When you're through learning, you're through. I think that's true. I think that was... I think when I was teaching, I hope in 1975 I was a little better than I was in '74, and I know I was a lot better than I was in 1934. But I hope each year I was a little better than I was the year before.

There's always different ways of learning. Maybe not in certain techniques, but there are other things. Most important probably is learning to work and listen to other people.

Dr. Dobson: When you would greet a new team with a lot of freshmen and you had to start from scratch, where'd you begin? What'd you say to them on the first day?

John Wooden: Well, the first day of practice or the first day I met with them?

Dr. Dobson: Either one.

John Wooden: Well, I want to get across to them the first thing that is that defense usually wins championships and it would be an absolute disgrace if any of you are a good offensive player and you're not a good defensive player. That's disgraceful. Now a good defensive player might not be a good offensive player, and I understand that, but offensively, you better be a good defensive player. I want you to remember that. Now offensively, I want you to know that I want most of our baskets to come at the end of a pass, not the end of a dribble. Here we prevent no behind the back passing, no behind the back dribbling, no fancy stuff. If you want that, we'll try to get you a job with the Globe Trotters or you can go someplace else.

Dr. Dobson: No showboating.

John Wooden: No showboating. I wanted them to understand that. But I wanted them to understand that two thirds of our practice throughout the entire year will be individual fundamental drills and a third will be on trying to bring the individuals together in the team concept and we must always think of the team first.

Dr. Dobson: If you had a player whom you suspected was trying to put numbers up for himself, even though he was helping the team, what would you do?

John Wooden: Oh, I had the greatest ally in the world, the bench.

Dr. Tim Clinton: Thanks for spending some time with us. You're listening to Family Talk, a radio broadcast of the James Dobson Family Institute. I'm Dr. Tim Clinton, executive director of the Institute and we've come to the midpoint of today's broadcast. On behalf of Dr. Dobson and all of us here at JDFI, I want to thank you for listening today, and by the way, for your continued support. We're completely supported by you, our faithful listeners. We would not be able to bring programs to you like the one you're listening to today without your generous contributions. Learn how you can stand with us by visiting Let's get back to today's broadcast right now here on Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk.

John Wooden: Well, I've often said that the two most important words in the language are love and balance, and two of my bookcases at home, one is love and the other one is balance, and the third one is drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible. There are three, three of the bookcases that I have. And I do believe that love, love, I mean true love, lasting, not passionate love, love. Passion is temporary, love is enduring and that is the most important way and it can be shown in many ways.

What is it in my book, Inch and Miles, for children, Charlie the Chimp is on friendship and it ends something like, "To be a friend it's plain to see that you yourself a friend must be." Love is indicated in that. Let's see, there's another one. "A bell isn't a bell until you ring it. A song isn't a song until you sing it. And the love that is in us wasn't put there to stay, love isn't love until you give it away." True love.

And then the next one is balance. You have to keep things in proper perspective. Don't let things get out of perspective and that is done too much. Keep things in proper perspective regarding… in your profession. I use at times I say family, faith and friends, and I say that's wrong, but I think He'll understand. It should be faith, family, and friends, that are the three important things. The three important things. If you have those, I'd like to know what else you need.

Dr. Dobson: Freedom.

John Wooden: Pretty good. But with faith, family, and friends. With faith, I kind of think you have freedom.

Dr. Dobson: When your life is over, how do you want to be remembered? What we've talked about today are the things that we remember about you and admire you for. What do you want to be remembered for? As the coach that won 10 national championships?

John Wooden: I'd like to be remembered as just someone who was considerate of other people. That'd be enough.

Dr. Dobson: That's it.

John Wooden: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Well, I don't know if they've heard about this fellow who was going through the cemetery reading all the inscriptions, you know that's where you find the perfect people, just read the inscriptions. You'll find they're all perfect. One fellow came to one that said, "As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, you are sure to be. So may I say as here I lie, prepare yourself to follow me." And somebody had scratched under that, "To follow you I'm not content until I know which way you went."

Dr. Dobson: Yeah. You know where I read that? It was a little earlier than what you just read and talked about. Shirley and I last summer were in Rome and there is the Capuchin monk's house of bones, and this is a monastery which is filled with the skeletons of the monks, and when you come out, I mean it's all over the ceiling and the walls and everywhere. The clock is made out of finger bones. Skulls are on the roofs. Really kind of a spooky place, and as you're coming out of it there's that little note that says, "Where you are, we once were and where we are, you will be." And it was that same... and that was from the 1500s. So we scooped you a little bit there.

John Wooden: Well did they have the one in there that said, "When you get to heaven, you will likely view many persons whose presence there will be a shock to you. But don't look surprised, don't you even stare. Doubtless there'll be many folks surprised to see you there." Did they have that one?

Dr. Dobson: You look forward to seeing the Lord someday?

John Wooden: Of course I do.

Dr. Dobson: Yeah, we're going to be together through eternity. That's kind of exciting. Would you take a little time when we get there to teach me to shoot? I have the perfect poem here on which to end our conversation. This was written by you, Coach Wooden, and the title of it is "Do Not Look Back." I'm going to read it.

Dr. Dobson: The years have left their imprint on my hands and on my face. Erect no longer is my walk and slower is my pace. But there is no fear within my heart because I'm growing old, I only wish I had more time to further serve my Lord. When I've gone to Him in prayer, He has brought me inner peace, and soon my cares and worries and all other troubles cease. He has blessed me in so many ways. He has never let me down. Why should I fear the future when I soon may touch His crown? Though I know down here my time is short, there's endless time up there, and He will forgive and keep me forever in His loving care. May I not waste an hour that's left to glorify His name of the One who died that we may live, and for our sins took all the blame.

Isn't that beautiful?

Roger Marsh: Well, what a meaningful poem penned by the late John Wooden. His words are much more meaningful now that he's gone to be with the Lord, of course. He truly was a phenomenal leader, coaching some of the greatest players in basketball history, but as we've heard over these past couple of programs here on Family Talk, Coach John Wooden was also a man of tremendous character, and noble character is at the center of every good leader.

Now before we wrap up this program, I want you to hear a small clip that demonstrates his profound integrity. Here is Coach John Wooden addressing how he handled various racial issues on a team he coached.

John Wooden: You may have heard something. When I was teaching at Indiana State University, I was there two years. In my first year, we were invited to the national NAIA tournament. I had one black player on my team. He didn't get to play very much, he was perhaps... I had a 12-man squad, he probably played the least of any of the 12 players. But he was a member of the squad and I refused to go because they wouldn't let him go.

Well the next year, we had a better year. I think we finished 29-4 or something like that, and were invited again and I refused, and then his parents and I think it was the NAACP, they talked to the people up at the university, the president and so on, and they thought it would be nice if he'd go. They agreed to let him play. But he couldn't stay in the hotel. We can have meals in the hotel as long as we had a private dining room. I said no. But eventually I was persuaded and he stayed with the minister and his wife while we were there and no problems. Anyway, he didn't get to play very much, but that was a breakthrough.

Dr. Dobson: What year would that have been?

John Wooden: That would be 1948.

Dr. Dobson: How disgraceful when you think about it.

John Wooden: Mm-hmm (affirmative). A few years later an all-black team happened to win that NAIA tournament. I never had any problem with racial relationships in anyway. I'm very proud of after one championship game, one of my black players and a reporter in my presence said, "Tell me about your racial problems." And he straightened up, "You don't know our coach? He doesn't see racial prejudices. He sees ball players." And he turned and walked away from the reporter, and that pleased me. That pleased me. It pleased me about as much as anything could have pleased me.

Dr. Dobson: You were known then for being colorblind and you were.

John Wooden: Well, I'd like to think I was without prejudice, but I can't say that I... I'm not sure anyone is completely without prejudice, but I like to feel I was.

Dr. Dobson: You said you had some of the greatest black players in the history of the game.

John Wooden: I did.

Dr. Dobson: I remember Sidney Wicks and that team won one year. See, I was following you. You didn't know that, but I was on the other side of town watching you.

Roger Marsh: Well, we hope you enjoyed this classic two day broadcast here on Family Talk featuring the life and times of Coach John Wooden. It's our prayer that this program caused you to take a moment and think about your own legacy as well. You know, we all make some sort of mark on the people around us, either for the better or for the worse. It's important for us to be conscious and take a moment every now and again just to pause and consider not only the influence that we have on the lives of others, but also the importance of finishing well.

Visit our broadcast page at and learn more about the life of Coach John Wooden. Once you're there, you can also request an audio CD of this broadcast to revisit this conversation or perhaps even share it with a friend who might need a word of encouragement, especially about legacy. You'll find all this and more by going to and then tapping onto today's broadcast page. Well, that's all the time we have for today. Be sure to tune in again next time for another edition of Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk. I'm Roger Marsh. Thanks for listening.

Announcer: This has been a presentation of the Dr. James Dobson Family Institute.

Dr. Dobson: I've always loved the game of basketball, even though I've never been particularly skilled at it. My friends and I had gone to a conference in Laguna, California, which is a beach town populated mostly by surfers and sun worshipers. During an afternoon break, someone suggested that four of us old guys go down to the outdoor basketball court on the beach and challenge the young hot shots that play there. It was a stupid thing to do, but off we went.

Dr. Dobson: When we arrived, about 300 spectators surrounded the court where four man teams waited to take their turn at the reigning champs. Well, we got in line and rumors began to spread immediately about who these old dudes really were. Some thought we were NBA scouts checking out the talent, others thought we were coaches from USC or UCLA. As for me, I've never been so nervous in my life as I waited to play the champs, but we finally stepped on the court and the impossible happened. We got hot and we hit everything we shot. Within two minutes we were up eight to nothing. The crowd went crazy as people began to come from everywhere on the beach. Only three more buckets and we would have pulled off the upset of the century, but then reality set in and we lost 11 to eight. Alas, athletic immortality often hangs by the slenderest thread. I missed it by three lousy buckets. How close have you come?

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Roger Marsh: Hello everyone. Roger Marsh here for Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk. The news comes in all shapes, sizes, and formats these days, but how do you cut through all the noise and get to the heart of the matters that affect your family? Well, come to Dr. James Dobson's Family Talk and sign up for Dr. Dobson's monthly newsletter. You'll find clarity on tough issues, encouragement for daily life, and trusted principles to help you build strong, healthy, and connected families. Go to and sign up today. That's
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