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John Wooden: The Difference Between Winning and Succeeding (Transcript)

I think our tendency is to hope things will turn out the way we want them too much of the time, but we don’t do the things that are necessary to make those things become reality. I worked on this for some 14 years, and I think it helped me become a better teacher. But it all revolved around that original definition of success.

You know, a number of years ago, there was a Major League Baseball umpire by the name of George Moriarty. He spelled Moriarty with only one ‘i’. I’d never seen that before, but he did. Big league baseball players — they’re very perceptive about those things, and they noticed he had only one ‘i’ in his name. You’d be surprised how many also told him that that was one more than he had in his head at various times.

But he wrote something where I think he did what I tried to do in this pyramid. He called it “The Road Ahead, or the Road Behind”. He said, sometimes I think the Fates must grin as we denounce them and insist the only reason we can’t win, is the Fates themselves have missed. Yet there lives on the ancient claim: we win or lose within ourselves. The shining trophies on our shelves can never win tomorrow’s game. You and I know deeper down, there’s always a chance to win the crown. But when we fail to give our best, we simply haven’t met the test, of giving all and saving none until the game is really won; of showing what is meant by grit; of playing through when others quit; of playing through, not letting up.

It’s bearing down that wins the cup. Of dreaming there’s a goal ahead; of hoping when our dreams are dead; of praying when our hopes have fled; yet losing, not afraid to fall, if, bravely, we have given all. For who can ask more of a man than giving all within his span. Giving all, it seems to me, is not so far from victory. And so the Fates are seldom wrong, no matter how they twist and wind.

It’s you and I who make our fates — we open up or close the gates on the road ahead or the road behind. Reminds me of another set of threes that my dad tried to get across to us: Don’t whine. Don’t complain. Don’t make excuses. Just get out there, and whatever you’re doing, do it to the best of your ability.

And no one can do more than that. I tried to get across, too, that — my opponents will tell you — you never heard me mention winning. Never mention winning. My idea is that you can lose when you outscore somebody in a game, and you can win when you’re outscored. I’ve felt that way on certain occasions, at various times.

And I just wanted them to be able to hold their head up after a game. I used to say that when a game is over, and you see somebody that didn’t know the outcome, I hope they couldn’t tell by your actions whether you outscored an opponent or the opponent outscored you. That’s what really matters: if you make an effort to do the best you can regularly, the results will be about what they should be. Not necessarily what you’d want them to be but they’ll be about what they should; only you will know whether you can do that. And that’s what I wanted from them more than anything else.

And as time went by, and I learned more about other things, I think it worked a little better, as far as the results. But I wanted the score of a game to be the byproduct of these other things, and not the end itself. I believe it was one great philosopher who said — no, no — Cervantes. Cervantes said, “The journey is better than the end.” And I like that.

I think that it is — it’s getting there. Sometimes when you get there, there’s almost a let down. But it’s the getting there that’s the fun. As a basketball coach at UCLA, I liked our practices to be the journey, and the game would be the end, the end result I liked to go up and sit in the stands and watch the players play, and see whether I’d done a decent job during the week.

There again, it’s getting the players to get that self-satisfaction, in knowing that they’d made the effort to do the best of which they are capable. Sometimes I’m asked who was the best player I had, or the best teams I can never answer that. As far as the individuals are concerned — I was asked one time about that, and they said, “Suppose that you, in some way, could make the perfect player, what would you want?”

And I said, well, I’d want one that knew why he was at UCLA: to get an education, he was a good student, really knew why he was there in the first place. But I’d want one that could play, too. I’d want one to realize that defense usually wins championships, and who would work hard on defense. But I’d want one who would play offense, too. I’d want him to be unselfish, and look for the pass first and not shoot all the time. And I’d want one that could pass and would pass.

I’ve had some that could and wouldn’t, and I’ve had some that would and could. So, yeah, I’d want that. And I wanted them to be able to shoot from the outside. I wanted them to be good inside too. I’d want them to be able to rebound well at both ends, too.

Why not just take someone like Keith Wilkes and let it go at that. He had the qualifications. Not the only one, but he was one that I used in that particular category, because I think he made the effort to become the best. There was a couple I mention in my book, “They Call Me Coach,” two players that gave me great satisfaction, that came as close as I think anyone I ever had to reach their full potential: one was Conrad Burke, and one was Doug McIntosh.

When I saw them as freshmen, on our freshmen team — freshmen couldn’t play varsity when I taught. I thought, “Oh gracious, if these two players, either one of them” — they were different years, but I thought about each one at the time he was there — “Oh, if he ever makes the varsity, our varsity must be pretty miserable, if he’s good enough to make it.” And you know, one of them was a starting player for a season and a half. The other one, his next year, played 32 minutes in a national championship game, did a tremendous job for us. The next year, he was a starting player on the national championship team, and here I thought he’d never play a minute, when he was — so those are the things that give you great joy, and great satisfaction to see.

Neither one of those youngsters could shoot very well. But they had outstanding shooting percentages, because they didn’t force it. And neither one could jump very well, but they kept good position, and so they did well rebounding. They remembered that every shot that’s taken, they assumed would be missed. I’ve had too many stand around and wait to see if it’s missed, then they go and it’s too late, somebody else is in there ahead of them.

They weren’t very quick, but they played good position, kept in good balance. And so they played pretty good defense for us. So they had qualities that — they came close to — as close to reaching possibly their full potential as any players I ever had. So I consider them to be as successful as Lewis Alcindor or Bill Walton, or many of the others that we had; there were some outstanding players. Have I rambled enough? I was told that when he makes his appearance, I was supposed to shut up.


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