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Following Our Own Rules

Following Our Own Rules

John Wooden was the head basketball coach at UCLA from 1948-1975 and he had lots of rules.


Following Our Own Rules

For 27 years, Coach Wooden began the first practice of every new season the same way. He’d spend the first 30 minutes teaching some of the most elite athletes in the country how to put on socks.


The upperclassmen would smile subtly and look sideways at one another. Some freshmen would roll their eyes. Coach Wooden would point out, “Wrinkles can lead to blisters.” Eventually, they’d do it right. 


He had other rules too. No facial hair. No profanity. No showboating. Never score without acknowledging a teammate. Never disrespect an opposing player.


And the players followed them, for two reasons.

  1. He won a lot of games.

  2. He led by example.

Coach Wooden won 10 NCAA men’s basketball championships. The most of any coach, ever. The next closest coach has five. And he won seven in a row, from 1967-1973.


He also didn’t just feign morality and humility. His whole life was an example. He followed his own rules. Wooden once turned down an offer to coach the Los Angeles Lakers that would have paid 10x what he was earning at UCLA. He said he preferred working with kids.


After he retired from coaching, UCLA wanted to name their basketball court after him. He declined. They asked again a few years later. He declined again. 28 years after his retirement, he gave in, but he wouldn’t let UCLA call it the John Wooden Court. He insisted they call it The Nell and John Wooden Court, after his late wife of 53 years.


Coach Wooden explained he couldn’t have done any of it without Nell.


If we’re in a position of authority, we should have rules. But we should remember the people we’re leading will more easily trust our rules and more readily follow them if they lead to wins.


And if we’re going to expect others to follow our rules, we should lead by example. We must follow the rules ourselves.

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