Notable Speech – John Wooden


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Tuesday, March 9th. You’re listening to WORLD Radio and we thank you for that. 

Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: Notable Speeches Past and Present.

Well, it is March. And that means basketball! March Madness begins in a little more than a week. 

Fifty years ago, the UCLA Bruins faced-off with New York’s Villanova for the final game of the men’s tournament. The Bruins’ victory earned them their fifth consecutive national title. They went on to win the next two national titles and a record breaking 88 games in a row. 

The Bruins’ head coach was the very mild-mannered John Wooden.

EICHER: In November 1971, Wooden spoke to UCLA students and alumni about his simple philosophy for how to win basketball games and if you listen close enough, you’ll learn a few things about life as well. Here’s a bit of that talk, which we’ve edited for time.

JOHN WOODEN: Well, I’ll give you perhaps an idea of my philosophy about the game, and what we try to do each and every year. First of all, I think that’s there’s three things that a coach must have in mind. 

I feel that, first of all, you have to get them into condition. And the players must realize that there are many ways to attain and maintain condition. Now what we do on the floor is very important. But actually what they do off the floor is equally as important. And some don’t do between practices what I would like for him to do. And as a result, it makes the practices a little harder for them. And they suffer a little more during the practices. They’re never in as good a condition as they should be, or could be. You don’t expect perfection, but you reach for it. I think it’s a goal that we all try for.

It’s important to be in good condition and maintain a good condition because I think it’s a proven fact that the ability to properly and quickly execute the fundamentals leads you in direct proportion to your condition. And games are won or lost in the closing minutes, generally speaking of each half, and the team that is in better condition, assuming that other things are equal, will be performing a little more efficiently in those critical periods because they won’t be quite as tired and will just be able to shoot a little better, pass a little better, defend a little better jump a little higher, and do the things that will be necessary toward scoring more points than the opponent is what it really amounts to. 

The second thing that I think that is a coach’s very responsibility is to see that they learn to properly and quickly execute the fundamentals. And I mean all of the fundamentals. Now there are some that work hard to be able to execute the offensive fundamentals, they like to shoot. Some work much harder on their shooting than they do on their passing. Most of them work harder on offense than they do on defense and that’s natural and I’m not critical of a person who has that feeling. I’m just critical of them when they go out and don’t work hard on defense.

It takes both. They must be able to shoot and to be able to get the shot away. So if they can shoot but can’t get shots that doesn’t help you much. If they can get shots but can’t make shots that doesn’t help you much if they can pass but won’t pass that doesn’t help you much. I’ve said that I like players who not only can pass but will pass. And I’ve had some that can and will, and I’ve had some that could but wouldn’t. I like them that can and will.

So the ability to quickly and properly execute the fundamentals is most important in my philosophy of teaching any type of athletics. And while at UCLA, it’s been only basketball, prior to that I had some experience quite a few years as a matter of fact, of coaching baseball, tennis, track and field and one year of football. And, and I consider myself to be one of the smarter football coaches, because I coached one year and didn’t coach anymore. And I completed the year on a long winning streak. So that’s real good. And I’m just smart enough to get out of it. 

So the fundamentals are the second thing. And the third thing is you must, you must get across the idea that it is a team game, and they must play together. You can call it anything you want: team spirit, teamwork, self sacrifice, whatever you want, it all amounts to the same thing. And I think in the final analysis, that you have to have all three of these things. 

No matter how team oriented you are, if you’re not in condition, and you can’t execute the fundamentals, it doesn’t help you much. No matter how well you can execute the fundamentals if you’re not in condition, and you’re a selfish individual, that doesn’t help the team much. So it takes all three. If you’re in condition, but you are not team oriented, and you don’t know the fundamentals, you’re not much good to the team as a whole. 

So it takes all three of these things. And it’s been my deep and abiding philosophy for many, many years that the three things are most important. Sometimes I think if the ability is equal, the most difficult to get is the true team spirit. And I don’t think that should be because I think that’s what we need in everything, whether it be in the home, as a student here at UCLA, whether it be in our city, or country or state or in the world. I think that’s all we need. 

And my definition of success is peace of mind through self satisfaction and knowing that you’ve done the best that you’re capable of doing. Now, the good Lord didn’t see fit to create us all equal in any, in any respect: physically, environmentally, as far as appearance is concerned, as far as height or weight or our looks, we’re all different. But we all have an opportunity to make the most of what we have under the conditions that exist for us. 

And if we’re a whiner, and a complainer, and we’re always comparing ourselves with the other fella, we never make the most of what we have. And we’re just abject failures. That’s all there is to it. And my idea is to try to make the most with what you have. And then regardless of the scores, if you’re a coach, you always win. Now you won’t win in the eyes of the alumni, I know that. But I still feel at peace with yourself is far more important. And if you have that, eventually, I think the scores will be to your liking more often than not. 


EICHER: College basketball hall of fame coach John Wooden, speaking at UCLA in 1971.


(AP Photo/File) In this Jan. 19, 1974, file photo, UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, center, is shown with his team during the last time out in an NCAA college basketball game against Notre Dame, in South Bend, Ind. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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