College basketball grabs the nation’s attention with the NCAA Basketball Tournament, March Madness. While you may rely on your favorite color or mascot to determine who wins the NCAA Championship, back in the ’60s and ’70s, you would pick the Bruins. That is when the greatest coach in history, John Wooden, was leading the UCLA Bruins program. In 1948, he took over a little known program as the head basketball coach at UCLA. By the time he retired in 1975, he had created a powerhouse, some of his records may never be broken, and is one of the most revered people, not just coaches. Between Indiana State and UCLA, he was a head coach for 30 years and never posted a losing season.
Some of his accomplishments:
- Won ten national championships including 7 in a row
- His team won eighty-eight consecutive games
- Won the Henry Iba Award as national coach of the year seven times
- Won the A.P. Coach of the year award five times
- Part of the founding class of the national collegiate basketball hall of fame
- Wooden said the honor he was most proud of was “Outstanding Basketball Coach of the U.S.” by his denomination, the Christian Church.
- In 2009, Wooden was named The Sporting News “Greatest Coach of All Time.”
- He recruited and became lifelong friends with Kareen Abul Jabbar. Kareen has written books about his relationship and admiration for John Wooden.
- My personal favorite, they named a post office after him.
He was married to his wife Nellie for 52 years before her passing in 1985. Every month for 25 years after she passed, the coach would visit her crypt in the mausoleum on the 21st. He would write a love letter to her, place it in an envelope and add it to a stack of similar letters that accumulated over the years on the pillow she slept on during their life together.
Learning from Wooden:
After reading his books, one part of his coaching career sticks with me and helps me with my sales career. It is not his seven-point creeds or maxims, although those are great. Coach Wooden was lured from Indiana State to UCLA under the promise that UCLA was going to build a state of the art facility. For the first 17 years at UCLA, his team practiced in a gym nicknamed the B.O. Barn. It was on the third floor of the old men’s gymnasium, where both the gymnastics and wrestling teams practice, at times, simultaneously. For those 17 years, John swept the floor before and after basketball practice. He could have made his players, assistant coaches, or others do it for him, but he just did it. By today’s standards, Coach could have blamed the administration for not delivering on their promise or blame the poor conditions, demanded they hire someone to sweep the floors, and found a new school to coach. Instead, he built a powerhouse; he found what he needed to do instead of finding excuses.
How does this pertain to sales? Every job has obstacles. When I see salespeople act as if they are past prospecting, creating organizational issues, complaining about their product, or when an organization overlooks a harmful code of conduct, I often remember this part of John Wooden’s life. For seventeen years, he swept the floors. Can you imagine the CEO of a significant organization or your top salesperson staying after a large meeting to clean the room? Sometimes our egos are the obstacles to our success. We often think of ourselves being above the mundane parts of our job. By sweeping floors, Coach Wooden showed he did what was needed to win.
When I think of being prepared and focused on winning, it does come down to showing up early and taking care of the small things that position you for the best outcome. John Wooden did not speak it; he did it. He was the example of how nothing is beneath you if it means it will lead to success. Instead of looking at all the ways you can fail, find the one path that leads to success.