Wooden on Mentors

Most of us know by now that John Wooden was one of the world’s greatest teachers, leaders and coaches. Have you ever wondered what he had to say about those who coached him in his youth? Here is Coach Wooden describing three individuals who shaped and guided him as a youngster.

Mentors, adults who provide direction and a good example are very important to youngsters. I know this because I had three who were so important in my life.

Mr. Earl Wariner was my country grade-school principal, teacher and coach back in Centerton, Indiana. From Mr. Wariner I learned that there are no “stars” or privileged individuals.

He would not compromise his principles for the sake of convenience, although he recognized the right of individuals to differ in their opinions on issues. And when he was wrong, he demonstrated that he was man enough t admit it without rationalization or alibi.

My Martinsville high-school coach, Mr. Glenn Curtis, had tremendous talent for getting individuals and teams to rise to great heights, to near their uppermost level of competency. He was also a fine teacher of fundamentals whom I tried to emulate in my own teaching later on.

And Mr. Ward (“Piggy”) Lambert, my coach at Purdue University, demonstrated extraordinary devotion to his principles and was willing to suffer whatever consequences that entailed.

For example, Coach Lambert believed that all intercollegiate games should be played on or near the campus of one of the participating schools. This, of course, ran counter to what was required in the playoffs, where games were often played on distant courts.

Coach felt this deprived the students of the colleges involved and imposed an unfair travel burden on them. He also believed it was inappropriate to hold intercollegiate competitions in commercial venues.

In 1940 Purdue University won the Big Ten title and along with it a trip to the playoffs in Madison Square Garden. Coach Lambert subsequently withdrew Purdue’s basketball team from the national tournament. Indiana, the team that had finished just behind Purdue in the standings, was the replacement team and won the national championship that year. Coach Lambert held to his principles. He was true to his beliefs.

My goodness, how fortunate I was as a youngster to have been positively influenced by these adults. I believe that we have an obligation as adults to help youngsters in a similar manner. Mr. Lambert, Mr. Curtis and Mr. Wariner: great teachers, leaders, coaches.

Want more wisdom from Wooden? Pick up Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court.