Legendary coach John Wooden (1910-2010) has passed on, but I will never forget my 2006 interview with him. He was all but done granting interviews by then, but because I wanted to speak to him about his children’s book, Inch and Miles, I was given the rare opportunity. May he rest in peace.
I find people of principle compelling. In my experience people who deeply understand their own values and live by them are rare. Coach John Wooden stands out as someone who not only knows and lives by a deep and honorable set of principles, but also knows how to inspire others to do the same.
Coach Wooden is a towering figure in 20th century American sports. His UCLA basketball teams virtually created “March Madness” by amassing 10 national championships (7 in a row) along with 4 perfect seasons, an 88-game winning streak and 38 straight victories in tournament play. Sports Illustrated says, “There has never been a finer man in American sports, or a finer coach.” Coach Wooden also has 2 children, 7 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.
Recently my kids and I were reading his children’s book called Inch and Miles. I wondered if I might get a word with him to learn more about this book and his philosophy on raising kids. It was a true honor to speak to this great man and is a pleasure to share with you some of our conversation.
Mike Bundrant: I really enjoyed Inch and Miles. I think it’s an important book…
Coach Wooden: I’ve been very pleased by the way it’s been accepted. I’ve spoken at a number of elementary schools. I’ve been very pleased with the feedback I get from teachers and parents.
Mike Bundrant: I was curious why you decided to write a book for children…
Coach Wooden: Well, the book is a result of the efforts of a number of people. It started when one of my granddaughters, who teaches elementary school, said to me, “Papa, youngsters don’t understand your pyramid of success very well. For example they don’t understand your definition of success.” My definition of success is “peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction, knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.” So she suggested I do something for children.
We changed some of the definitions of things on the pyramid and added colorful characters – such as “Rhonda the Robin” and “Albert the Alligator” – with colorful illustrations to make it more interesting and understandable for kids.
We also changed the definition of success to “happiness in your heart in knowing you tried 100% to do your best.” I’m just happy that it seems to be worthwhile for others, particularly children. That’s what pleases me very much.
Mike Bundrant: I like your definition of success because it speaks indirectly to the fact that we do have limitations and there is nothing wrong with that….
Coach Wooden: Absolutely! We’re not equal in many respects: size, appearance, intelligence, background…we’re all different! Success is judged from within. It needs to be judged honestly. Only the individual knows whether or not they are being honest. Our reputation is only what you are perceived to be by others, but I believe only the individual knows whether he or she has truly done their best under the existence of the conditions they find themselves in.
Mike Bundrant: So it’s really a self-judgment.
Coach Wooden: That’s my feeling. That’s what I always tried to teach my players when coaching basketball. You never heard me mention “winning.” I taught that you had to judge yourself. If you’ve made the effort and preparation, the score doesn’t matter! Actually if you are good enough it will be in your favor, but the score really doesn’t matter if you’ve made that effort.
Mike Bundrant: Maybe you’re playing against a more talented team…
Coach Wooden: That’s right.
Mike Bundrant: What do you think is missing from the way we educate our kids, or what do we need to do more of?
Coach Wooden: We need better parenting at home. Parenting is the most important profession in the world and it’s overlooked. I think too many parents are “letting them go their own way” and not teaching them the things they should be at the age they need it more than anything else. Parents aren’t setting the foundation for their children’s lives.
I think the tendency is for parents to blame the schools or someone else, but they aren’t preparing their children initially to understand what’s really important and learn to accept discipline and responsibility when they’re young. That’s what really counts.
It means taking time with your kids and making sacrifices. A living needs to be made, that is true. But you know the old statement that rings true for me – don’t be so concerned about making a living that you forget to make a life!
Mike Bundrant: And teaching principles seems like such a respectful way to go. You’re not telling people specifically what they should do. That’s up to them. But you are teaching principles that are correct and effective. Productive behaviors flow from that.
Coach Wooden: Absolutely. And we must listen to the children more. Too often people say, “Do it this way because I said so!” That’s not very good. Listen to them more. Explain things to them. Take the time.
I also believe parents should expose their children to various activities and not force activities on their kids. Let them make their selection as to what they want to do and then support them. Your kids don’t have to do what you did as a child. Don’t make your kids do activities just because you want them to. Direct them, but give them various opportunities in sports or music or drama, for example, so they can discover what they like and can succeed at. And when they find something they really like, support them in every way you can.
Inch and Miles is used by families and school systems nationwide to teach children principles of success. Find this book at your favorite retailer and see Coach John Wooden on the web at www.coachjohnwooden.com
Mike Bundrant wishes to thank best-selling author Steve Jamison, who co-wrote Inch and Miles, for his support in creating this opportunity.