Saturday, June 5, 2010

Thanks, Coach Wooden: from one who loves sports, yet...

After my hiatus from blogging, I'm jump back with this from the sports world...

The Coach died last night. If you couple the words "basketball" and "The Coach" in the same sentence, for anyone who follows sports in the U.S. most will immediately leap to John Wooden. He died last night at age 99.

If you don't know, he was the legendary coach of UCLA that led to unparalleled success in the 60's and early 70's. Records that will never be broken. Two straight undefeated seasons. 88 wins in a row. Seven straight championships. Get out! I won't list all the stats; check them out for yourself if you're interested.

It wasn't merely that he happened to have some great bb players (Lew Alcindor, aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Walt Hazzard, et. al.) and the talent carried the day. Coaching matters. His wisdom, discipline, and coaching skills was the basis for the championships.

But, it's another dimension that far exceeds the wins, and it put him, dwarfed next to his Walton's and Alcindor's, heads and shoulders above the rest of the field. It's the person, John Wooden. Things like his loyalty to his late wife, who died in 1985 after 53 years of marriage. His devout Christian faith. Character. Integrity.

Things like living in the same, small modest home in L.A. Endeavoring to build character and foster maturity in the young men he coached. Things like his three absolute "rules" for his players: no profanity on the court, no tardiness, and no talking behind any of your teammates' back. Like when, as coach of Indiana Teacher's College (Indiana State), he turned down a tournament invitation because of NAIB's policy of banning African American players; one of his players was an African American.

Things like not throwing chairs onto the court or cursing at the refs when they make a bad call...

I grew up playing sports and loved it. I'm sure, until the day I die, you will find me, early morning, with my nose in the box scores (even if I can catch the scores on my Blackberry last thing at night). I'm looking forward to a Rockies' game at Coors Field Monday night. Every spring, I'll live with endless hope that the Reds and Rockies will make it to the World Series. In the fall, I'll start pulling for new coach Jimbo Fisher and FSU.

But...I've changed over the years. I grew up in the competitive saturated culture of sports in America. It took. But, increasingly, I find some things about the extremely competitive aspects in sports to be inconsistent with my faith as a follower of Jesus. I do not find, anywhere, this win-at-all-costs or winning-is-the-only-thing-that-matters in the person and life of Jesus. So, I'm beginning to reject much of what I see in that world of extreme competition.

I also know that this is not theory or some pious notion: as I am honest with myself, I know this tugs at my own heart and self. I got annoyed at myself on Thursday when I hit some lousy shots from the fairway! Or, I realize how strong the tug is to join a fierce, competitive stance. So, I'm a work in progress.

Interlude: likely, I would not agree with everyone that Wooden would say about this, nor do I believe there is no room for healthy competitiveness. However, that's a much longer discussion.

To come back to Wooden...He stands in sharp contrast to so many players and coaches who, even in the name of "Christian faith," have bought into this extreme competitive culture, with flashes of anger and violence. Screaming, cursing, veins popping out of the neck. You have the feeling they want to destroy the other team/player.

Contrast- The Coach: discipline, hard work, commitment, training, skill development, character development, no yelling, no cursing, no talking behind the back of your teammate, giving your best effort, and...humility. And, even though it wasn't the only thing, i.e. winning, they did win a few games!

There are a ton of coaches I would not want my kids/grand kids/friends in my community to play for. But, you will not hear that from any of Coach Wooden's players. Not one.

Class act.