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Coach: "Only You Know If You Succeed"

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The following are excerpts from Wooden On Leadership, a present I picked up for X-mas.  I was reading it yesterday while flying home from snow covered DC. For some reason the following grafs from Coach about his team from 50 years ago (pp. 11-13) really struck me and wanted to share it with rest of you. I highlighted the parts, I also marked up in the hard copy while I was reading it. Oh if you don’t have a copy of Coach's book, you can pick it up by going here. Anyway, here is Coach talking about his 1959-60 UCLA basketball team. GO BRUINS. -N

In 1959-60, UCLA struggled to stay above .500, and, in fact, we had to win our last game of the season to finish with a record of 14-12. From a win-loss point of view, it was the worst year I’d ever had as head coach at UCLA.  Some fans began to grumble about our "poor" results": "The program is mired down," some said, "Wooden can’t win in the postseason"; "UCLA doesn’t have a post-season." And there were other things said along that line. I had a different opinion.

The 1959-1960 season had been a success and pleased me a great deal, especially when I recalled a prediction made by Sam Balter, a well-known broadcaster and sports writer. In assessing UCLA’s chances at the start of the year, he said, "I’ll push a peanut with my nose down The Miracle Mile in Beverly Hills if UCLA isn’t below .500 this year." I received no calls from anyone who disagree with Sam’s prediction – and for good reason.

The preceding year – 1958-1959 – UCLA had been third in our conference. Four of our five starters on that squad wouldn’t be returning, including future Olympic gold medalist Rafer Johnson, Denny Crum (later to coach Louisville to two NCAA national championships), and Walt Torrance, perhaps the best player on the team.

I’ve often said that as a leader I’d rather have a lot of talent and little experience than a lot of experience and little talent. In 1959-1960 we didn’t have much of either. And there was an additional handicap beyond our control.

A few years earlier, the football programs at UCLA and some other schools in the conference had been hit by scandal: Payments to athletes had exceeded the conference’s strict limits the football programs at the schools involved in infractions had been placed on probation, and part of the penalty included a strict restriction on postseason play such as the Rose Bowl.

The penalty against UCLA applied not only to football but to all sports including basketball, even though we had played by the rules. Thus, for a time, UCLA basketball had been ineligible for any postseason tournament play. Some athletes with considerable basketball talent who might have attended our school no doubt had stayed away. All this – lack of experience, limited outstanding talent, ineligibility, and more – impacted on our ability to outscore opponents.

Therefore when I reflected on the 1959-1960 season with its 14-12 record and the sizable obstacles we faced, I was of the opinion that our team might have gotten my best coaching up to that point in my career. And nobody knew it but me. That was fine.

I also believe those student-athletes under my leadership came as close to reaching 100 percent of their potential as some of the later UCLA teams with perfect 30-0 seasons. The 1959-1960 group just didn’t have the extreme level of talent that championship teams possessed. However, I do not judge success based on championships; rather, I judge it on how close we came to realizing our potential.

Consequently, in looking back at all 27 years I coached the Bruins, I wouldn’t put another season ahead of 1959-1960 for what we achieved in that regard. I have great pride in what we accomplished that season.

The team had come very close to achieving the formidable task of maximizing their abilities individually and as a unit. We stuck together, worked hard, ignored what was beyond our control, and perfected – or tried to – those things that were under our control. Our team achieved success.

And yet the critics were complaining. (Sam never got around to rolling that peanut down the street with his nose). We were a success, but nobody understood it except up. But us is what mattered.

-    Coach John R. Wooden