Role Models & Heroes: John Wooden (2013)

By April 23, 2013 November 15th, 2018 Bnei Mitzvah, Heroes & Role Models
The following essay on John Wooden was written by Lily Edelman-Gold, a middle schooler, enrolled in City Congregation’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. Students spend a year and a half researching their heritage, values and beliefs, and write on a Jewish subject of their choice, their major project; an example of this can be seen below. The process  improves both the student’s writing and critical thinking skills, as well as his/her self confidence and overall maturity.

Lily Edelman-Gold
April 20, 2013

Some people don’t know the difference between a role model and a hero. Well, this is how I think of them: Role models are people you want to be like when you grow up because they share pretty much the same values as you; heroes are people you think have done many great things, and you admire them, but you don’t necessarily want to be like them.

When I began thinking about my role model, it was during basketball season at school, and my coach recommended a book for me by a guy named John Wooden. I read the book and loved it. It seemed to say all the right things. I wanted Wooden to be my role model, and after a little research, my mentor agreed.

I chose Coach Wooden as my role model not because he won so many college championships–ten–or because he loved basketball and was really good at it; it was because of what he believed, how he acted on his beliefs, and how he encouraged others to live their lives guided by his beliefs. He developed an entire philosophy of how to live your life, the Pyramid of Success, which people around the world have adopted as their own.

John Wooden was born on October 14, 1910, in Indiana. He went to Martinsville High School, and when he was a junior, his basketball team won the state championship. He continued his playing career at Purdue University. In 1932, the year he graduated, he was not only voted the best athlete in college basketball, but he was also in the top half of 1% in his class. After graduating, he played professional basketball for seven years. In 1948, he started coaching basketball at UCLA.

In his career at UCLA, Coach Wooden won 885 games and lost only 203. He is the only person in the Basketball Hall of Fame twice: as both a player and a coach.

The biggest influence on Coach Wooden was his dad, who worked hard for most of his life, which is why one of the coach’s values is Hard Work. Coach Wooden was very committed to his job as a basketball coach, but he believed that hard work in school came before basketball requirements.

When Wooden was younger, his dad had given him a notecard with six points on it. These six things were: Be True to Yourself, Make Each Day Your Masterpiece, Help Others, Drink Deeply from Good Books, Make Friendship a Fine Art, and Build a Shelter Against a Rainy Day. Wooden used this as a foundation for his coaching and teaching philosophy.

John Wooden was always ahead of his time in fighting racism. In the 1940s he recruited the first black player for his team at Indiana State. However, when the NAIA (the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) invited his team to their tournament, he refused because they wouldn’t let the black player come. The same thing happened the next year. The third year, the NAIA finally agreed that the player could compete and the team went to the tournament.

The John Wooden Pyramid of Success is a pyramid with five blocks on the bottom. Each block has a certain value, and when you have mastered all the values together, you have completed that level and you move on to the next one. The bottom five blocks are industriousness, friendship, loyalty, cooperation, and enthusiasm. The next level is self-control, alertness, initiative, and intentness. The middle level is made up of condition, skill and team spirit. The next two are poise and confidence. The idea is that if you master all of these, you get to the top and final one, competitive greatness. Competitive greatness means being your best when your best is needed, and enjoying a difficult challenge. Years later, Coach Wooden added two more blocks at the top, faith and patience.

All of the blocks on the pyramid are important, but these are the ones that I think matter the most: Enthusiasm, Self-Control, Team Spirit, and Confidence.

Without enthusiasm, there is no desire to win. Sometimes practices are boring and workouts are hard, but you need enthusiasm to get through them.

Self-control is very important because otherwise you can lose concentration. It’s important to learn to channel frustration into a determination to win instead of, say, kicking the bleachers or overthrowing a shot.

One of the most important values to me is team spirit. It’s sort of the same as enthusiasm. In sports, or anything that involves teamwork, no one is going to get anywhere without team spirit. In our school, we have a day at the end of the year called Rainbow Games. There is one color for each team, and the whole idea is to use teamwork to win challenges. Teams make up chants, paint their faces, and do everything else imaginable to promote team spirit. Team spirit is fun, but it also means members have to work together and help one another.

I think Confidence is also important because you cannot hide in the corner your whole life. You need some self-confidence to be a successful person. Without confidence, you don’t have anything to rely on while trying to be brave. Confidence and bravery go together. An example of someone who doesn’t have confidence is a person who is on a team and doesn’t try hard because she isn’t confident of her skills.

A very important value that Coach Wooden and I share is teamwork. It might not have been on the pyramid, but Coach Wooden gave handouts to his players about the importance of it. He knew that without teamwork, you couldn’t get anywhere in life, and you need other people to help you along the way. I think the same way. For example, the setup of a soccer field ensures that if the ball gets past the forwards, then you have the midfielders right behind, then the defense, and then still, the goalie. It all has to do with teamwork.

John Wooden won many awards in the course of his career, including the Bellarmine Medal of Excellence (he was the first sports figure to win this; other people it was awarded to include Mother Teresa and the Reverend Jesse Jackson), the Whitney M. Young, Jr., National Urban League Memorial Award for Humanitarianism, and the United States Medal of Freedom. He was also named Father of the Year in 1964, and Grandfather of the Year in 1987.

The John Wooden Award was created in 1976 and is given to the country’s best college basketball player who is on track to graduate with at least a C average. Previous winners include Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Kevin Durant, and Maya Moore. Since the award was created, it has contributed almost a million dollars toward scholarships and has sent more than 1,000 underprivileged children to college basketball camps.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the greatest basketball players ever, played under Coach Wooden. Jabbar says in his autobiography, “He wanted to win, but not more than anything. . . . The coach insisted on unselfishness. . . . His consistent message was that each of us must do his best; the win, and ultimately any championship would take care of itself. No team could beat us, but we could beat ourselves. . . . My relationship with him,” Jabbar adds, “has been one of the most significant of my life. He believed in what he was doing and in what we were doing together. He had faith in us as players and as people. He was about winning basketball and winning as human beings… He taught us that doing the best you are capable of is victory enough.”

John Wooden died on June 4, 2010, at the age of 99.

Here are six of my favorite things that John Wooden said:
1. You may make mistakes, but you are not a failure until you start blaming someone else.
2. Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.
3. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.
4. Happiness begins where selfishness ends.
5. Forget favors given, remember those received.
6. The smallest good deed is better than the greatest intention.

John Wooden was an outstanding coach, a loyal son, and a great father. He was probably the best basketball coach ever. I admire him for all those things, but most of all, I admire him for his values and all that he did in his life.