Yesterday one of history’s finest character educators, John R. Wooden, passed away at age 99.
From the time I could hold on to a football shaped pillow in the crib to the moment I took off my headset for the last time, came down out of the coaches’ box, and put away my call sheets after coaching in a Texas high school playoff game, I spent much of my life directly involved with competitive athletics.
In my travels I’ve encountered many coaches who hung The Pyramid of Success on their office wall and sprinkled quotes and anecdotes from Coach Wooden into their speeches to players who had taken a knee around them. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have played for two head coaches, Mike VanDiest of Carroll College (Helena, MT) and Van Troxel of Lake City High School (Coeur d’Alene, ID) who along with their excellent assistant coaches didn’t just reference something like Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, but who lived the character it described day in and day out (they also happen to win more games than most, something I doubt is much of a coincidence).
Youth, high school, and college coaches like VanDiest and Troxel teach young student-athletes just like I once was valuable lessons every day.
The true measure of a coach, however, has less to do with what happens when the scoreboard and lights are on than it does with the days and years that come long after they’ve gone dark. I’ve been a part of many losses and even a few championships too, and I’ve seen coaches be there for their players during births and deaths, marriages and divorces, great successes and even greater times of adversity. Coaches have been there for me in the best and the worst moments of my life, and I was blessed with the opportunity to be there for players as a coach myself for several years.
I remember one moment more than most in my years as an athlete, the moment I removed my shoulder pads and jersey for the last time in Savannah, Tennessee in 2005. There were feelings of relief and fear, sadness and celebration, joy and great uncertainty…and there was also trust…trust that the lessons coaches had taught me for years about hard work, commitment, teamwork, desire, and perseverance were going to matter more than ever now that the lights had gone dark for the last time and my cleats were being put in the back of the closet for good…trust that the same coaches who were there for 6 AM workouts, film sessions, and game days would always be there as mentors, advisors, and friends.
That was just one of many moments in my life where I was consciously thankful for the role coaches have played in my life…this is a moment where we can all be thankful for the influence of one of the greatest of all time. Thank you Coach Wooden.