Thursday, August 12, 2010

What Would John Wooden Do?

I just heard the most amazing story, courtesy of a friend whose son played in a youth-league baseball playoff game last night.

The opposing team's coach disputed a call and went all Paulie Walnuts on the official -- swearing, cussing, spitting, generally carrying on like a escaped mental patient. Understandably, the umpire threatened to eject the dude, which just further infuriated the neanderthal in question, who then amped up his tirade. Finally, the umpire said, "Look, I am going to count to 10. If you haven't settled down by then, I'm calling this game. It's over."

Needless to say, the jack ass never settled down, the ump called the game and awarded it to the other team (which was up on the scoreboard anyway). A freaking near riot occurred. Grown ups, I mean. Parents reacting as though somebody had beaten their children with tire irons. Over a game.

Remember when people started wearing those "WWJD" (What Would Jesus Do) bracelets? I have a saying, a simple rule for coaching. It applies to any sport, at any level.

What would John Wooden Do?

Wooden coached because he loved the sport and he loved competition, but also and probably to a larger extent, he did it because he loved working with people. He loved being a part of the process. There were always new lessons to learn about teamwork, about perseverance, about determination. There were even lessons to be learned from failure.

I've read snippets of things written by a psychologist named Harriet Lerner. (Yeah, I know, self-helpy stuff just isn't usually my thing.) But Lerner wrote a great book called, "Fear and Other Uninvited Guests." In it, she relays a story about a guy she helped to learn how to be rejected. Sounds weird, right, but he was afraid of doing something - for fear of being rejected, - so she set him the task of going out to actively seek rejection in a different way.

He learned that the idea of rejection, the notion of it, was way worse than the actual reality of rejection. Once he learns that on a visceral level, he's able to take risks -- risks that involve possible rejection -- in a way that he hadn't been before. Mission accomplished.

And I think playing sports serves that function, too. Losing can serve a purpose, in terms of personal growth and growth in relation to the team. Losing can teach those same life lessons that Lerner was after - to not be afraid to jump in the deep end, to takes risks, to keep fighting even when it's hopeless sometimes.

Wooden understood that. Ironically, his teams won because of it.

It's youth sports people. It's supposed to be fun. The kids are supposed to learn about team work, about winning with class, and losing with dignity. Just remember: WWJWD?