Today as I write this, John Wooden, former coach for the UCLA Bruins basketball is very ill and in the hospital. In my lifetime I have had a few sports heroes. Coach Wooden is at the top of the list.
At thirteen years of age I was given a little paperback book entitled, “They Call Me Coach.” It is the story of his life. I lived on the east coast but became a long distance fan of this growing legend. In his lifetime he is the only person to ever be elected to the College Basketball Hall of Fame both as a player and a coach. His teams won ten national championships, seven in a row. This, however, is only a piece of the man John Wooden.
After reading a few more of his books I came to understand his accomplishments were great but they flowed out of his character. He once said, “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” (HOW TO BE LIKE COACH WOODEN, p. 5). What Coach Wooden was could not adequately be explained in a short blog. Simply put, he was a man of honor, integrity, grace and he invested in youth!
Coach Wooden’s entire career was spent teaching and building the character of young men on his basketball teams. He cared about them as whole persons, let his love for and faith in God shine as he taught them enduring principles for life.
As a youth pastor I have the great opportunity of making an eternal investment in the lives of teenagers. Every year I attend a few graduation ceremonies of our seniors. I hear speakers talk about the teachers who went beyond just teaching facts and truly cared for students. I am inspired and reminded why I love working with youth.
John Wooden is now ninety-nine years old. His longevity has mentored me in my own life. Someone once asked him the secret to his enduring journey. He said, “Moderation in all things. Be concerned for others and stay around young people.” Yes, those words are hanging on my wall.