The best competition I have is against myself to become better

The title of this article is a quote from John Wooden, one of the only people to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player (1960) and a coach (1972). The men’s basketball coach for the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) went on to win ten National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) titles in twelve years, including an incredible seven in a row. His inspirational quotes and player-driven values have been harnessed not only in the sporting world but in boardrooms and classrooms the world over.

John Wooden espoused four underpinning principles for success; Execution, attention to detail, maximising time and post-event feedback to enable improvement. In his book Practical Modern Basketball he outlines the importance of these core values.

1. Execution

A daily practice plan should be prepared and followed. If you fail to follow the program on one thing, it may affect others. If you planned poorly, make the corrections for the following day, but never alter your program on a specific day once practice has started. Running overtime can be distasteful for both you and your players and should be avoided.” His focus on always having a plan and executing it as such is something that we as educators constantly deliver to our students. The foundations for success are not usually found through luck and good fortune but through planning, execution and repetition.

2. Attention to Detail

The coach should be on the floor early to make certain that everything is ready for practice. I like to have a checklist for the managers to go by, but the coach must make sure. Some of the points on the checklist: See that the floor is clean. See that the desired number of balls are available and that they are clean and properly inflated. Make sure the scrimmage shirts are on hand and that extra shoelaces and other emergency equipment items are near at hand. Have statistical charts ready for use. Make sure that towels, tape and everything else that might be necessary to ensure a smooth practice are available. Anticipate from past experience and be prepared.”

This principle goes hand in hand with the adage ‘failing to prepare is preparing to fail’ and one that Coach Wooden found easily avoidable. Attention to detail on the sporting field can be as simple as ensuring the players’ boots are properly laced or as complex as tuning a piano prior to a rehearsal. However, what is important is that the coach or instructor facilitates the transfer of the ownership of this ‘detail checking’ to the student or player. This does not mean a student must tune the piano but merely suggests that they enquire with the instructor as to whether this has been done or not.

3. Maximise use of time

“Even though a particular drill may be emphasizing one specific fundamental, other fundamentals in use should not be overlooked. Sometimes players get careless about their passing during shooting drills, which may lead to breaking down one fundamental while building another.”

As teachers we are cognisant of how pedagogy informs practice and vice versa but as co-curricular coaches and managers are we conscious that the development of one skill or focus on one drill is at the detriment to the mastery of others or the development of the whole student? Coach Wooden always ensured his players were acquiring one skill whilst enabling many others.

4. Analysis

“The coach should make a careful analysis of each practice while it is still fresh in his mind, in order that he may plan intelligently for the next day. I like to sit down with my assistants immediately after practice and briefly analyze and discuss the practice of that day. I make notes at that time to serve as a reference to help me the next morning when I plan practice for that day.”

I am a keen proponent of analysis in everything we do and in particular asking the students to ‘self-reflect’ after a training session, rehearsal or classroom activity. This ensures that a successful analysis from a variety of perspectives occurs, not just the coach or teacher telling the team or athletes what they did well or what needs improvement. Coach Wooden’s years of experience and success on the court is a telling sign that analysis is the final cog in the machine that without it, would hinder a team or athlete’s continued development.

The above principles are most relevant in our School as we continue to develop our young Tudorians across the School’s three key distinctives of Academic Excellence, Character Development and Christian Community. When we look at results following a weekend of sport or NAPLAN data, we look to praise those students who have scored a try or goal, attained a high NAPLAN band level or when we applaud the lead of the School musical or performance, we are seeing the fruits of their labour in measurable ways. However, what is sometimes dissipated amongst these tangible dimensions are those students who have embraced Coach Wooden’s fundamental principles. The casual swimmer who planned her training sessions so she could complete four laps non-stop, a musician who has mastered a new instrument, or an orator who has successfully incorporated the use of evidence in their public speaking competition, are all examples of how our students consistently strive for success in the shadow of those who are outwardly more visible.

This is particularly pertinent in our community as we look to celebrate success inside and outside of the classroom. Although COVID has hampered our ability to celebrate student success, the achievements of our students in engaging in online-learning and being resilient in the face of adversity shows us that even without the formal pathways aligned to achievement, success can still be acknowledged. Students reflecting on their experiences throughout this period of time will allow them to become better the next time they face adversity.

I encourage our students and wider community to keep Coach Wooden’s philosophy in mind as they continue their journey at Tudor House for 2022.

Mr Wes Dunne
Acting Head of Tudor House

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