A Lesson in Selflessness from Coach John Wooden

I recently read this on the Great Leaders Serve blog about a meeting that took place with John Wooden in his home:

We met at a condo the coach and his wife, Nell, had purchased in the 1970’s. The place was decorated just as you would expect of a modest home in the 70’s. The décor had not been updated. However, there had been some additions over the years. The two-bedroom home was now full of books. Everywhere you looked – books. It was clear Wooden was still a learner!

The other thing you might notice in this unassuming place were the plaques and trophies. Not displayed as you might expect, but randomly placed here and there. Their lack of prominence was indicative of the priority Wooden placed on them. The Presidential Medal of Freedom was not in a frame hanging over the mantle, it was draped across an object on a random piece of furniture the way a 3rd grader would display a 4th place track & field ribbon. No pretense.

This lack of pretense continued as we began our conversation with the coach. He was focused, interested and inquisitive about our organization. We were there to brief him, and we did, but we got in a few questions along the way. One was about his relationship with his players. He told us about the number of players that had chosen to stay in touch. Some called him virtually every day! Forty years after he coached them – they still called.

What was it that created such loyalty, respect and love? Entire books have been written on Coach Wooden; many of them shed light on the answer to that question. But for me, I’m guessing, having spent only a few hours with the man, the answer is rooted in his selflessness.

It’s easy to see the radical affect selflessness in sports will cause. It’s so counter-intuitive to the sporting world that when it’s displayed, it attracts people.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)


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