Wooden, Wimbledon, and World Cup

Wondering what these three W’s – Wooden, Wimbledon, World Cup Soccer – have in common? All three of them can serve as impressive role models for success, especially this week.

Former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden waves before the start of the NCAA national championship game in Seattle, in this April 3, 1995 file photo. Wooden, the peerless U.S. college basketball coach who became known as the Wizard of Westwood while winning a record 10 national championships at UCLA, died on June 4, 2010, at age 99, a spokesman for the UCLA Medical Center said. REUTERS/Jeff Vinnick/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL OBITUARY)

John Wooden was known for his inspiration and motivation on and off the basketball court. His style was gracious, even as he focused on creating Competitive Greatness in his players and in the rest of us, through his Pyramid of Success. Some of his favorite sayings come to mind this week, reviewing two sporting events that represent more than just games.

It was a grueling Wimbledon first round match that lasted over 11 hours, spread over three days. The match finally ended at the 980th point, after John Isner hit a winning shot in game 183, beating Nicholas Mahut in the third set, 70 games to 68.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 23: John Isner of USA (L) and Nicolas Mahut of France prepare to leave court 18 as light stops play at 59-59 in the last set on Day Three of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 23, 2010 in London, England. The game has become the longest in Grand Slam history (Photo by Hamish Blair/Getty Images)

Records were broken all over the place – so, even if we never strive to play at Wimbledon,what lessons can we learn from this match? What can it teach our kids about good behavior, determination and never giving up?

Each young man was gracious – in victory and in defeat. They each reflected one of John Wooden’s aphorisms, “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”

Each player resolved to give his all, putting himself on the line, as well as the tennis ball. Perhaps they were recalling Coach Wooden’s wisdom, “The man who is afraid to risk failure seldom has to face success.” Mahut reflected after his loss, “I just want them to remember that we were just two big fighters and one of them just won.” Isner said in an interview just after his record-breaking win, “I told myself to just go for it. I didn’t want to lose that point playing the wrong way. If I go for my shot and miss, that’s fine.”

Refusing to give in to exhaustion – both physical and mental – both Isner and Mahut continued to serve aces, even into the fifth set, with a record 215 between the two of them. They each rose to the challenge and, in the process, set an example of determination for us all, reflecting Wooden’s advice: “Make the effort. Do your best. The score cannot make you a loser when you do that; it cannot make you a winner if you do less.”

The USA Soccer team’s second round win at the World Cup was a reason for cheering around America. When Landon Donovan scored an extra-time goal – in the 91st minute of play – Team USA advanced to the round of 16.

June 23, 2010 - Tshwane/Pretoria, Guateng, South Africa - 23 JUN 2010: Teammates Stuart Holden (USA) (11) and Brad Guzan (USA) (behind) react to Landon Donovan's (USA) (10) goal on the replay scoreboard in the stadium. The United States National Team defeated the Algeria National Team 1-0 to win group C at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Tshwane/Pretoria, South Africa in a 2010 FIFA World Cup Group C match.

What lessons can the 3 million-plus kids who play soccer in the U.S. take from this World Cup win? Again, let’s turn to John Wooden for direction.

Hard work is an integral part of any success, be it in sports or in life. As Coach was fond of saying, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail” and “Big things are accomplished only through the perfection of minor details.” Their years of training allowed the U.S. soccer team to take advantage of the opportunity to score, after over 90 minutes of strenuous play, when the Algerian goalie blocked the ball but let it roll free.

That play, as well as others during the game, highlighted the teamwork required to bring about the win. Working together over months and years created the energy Donovan and the rest of the team needed to score, providing the counterbalance to Wooden’s caveat, “Goals achieved with little effort are seldom worthwhile or lasting.”

So, even if you and your kids are not world-class tennis, soccer or basketball players, you can improve your game – and your lives – by using these 3 W’s as role models. Play on!

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