Wooden, Wimbledon, Wrong Calls, and the World Cup

Wondering what all these W’s have in common? They provide cases of excellent role models in sports that we can pass on to our children and grandchildren. After witnessing so many instances of poor sportsmanship over the years, it’s impressive to have examples of positive behavior by athletes.

Legendary U.C.L.A. basketball coach John Wooden was known for his inspiration and motivation, on and off the court. His philosophy of life – as well as his entire persona – exemplified the values we wish to impart to our children. 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. He stressed fundamentals, teamwork and good sportsmanship, using home-grown aphorisms.

Looking back over Wooden’s sayings, it’s clear that they don’t relate only to competitive athletes but rather to all of us who strive for a life of meaning. Some of his quotes come to mind, reviewing recent sporting events that represent more than just games. If you’re looking for words of wisdom to offer your children – for sports and for life – here are some tips that spring from Coach Wooden axioms:

1. Do your best with determination and never give up. A grueling Wimbledon first round match 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. Throughout the match, each player gave his all, putting himself, as well as the tennis ball, on the line. Perhaps they were recalling Wooden’s wisdom, “The man who is afraid to risk failure seldom has to face success.”

Refusing to give in to physical and mental exhaustion, both men continued to serve aces, even into the fifth set, with a record 215 between the two of them. They each stood up 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.” Although neither man advanced at Wimbledon after the next round, both are certainly winners.

2. Treat others with respect, be gracious in victory and in defeat. With his keen sense of moral principles, Coach Wooden would have been proud of Detroit Tiger’s pitcher Armando Galarraga and umpire Jim Joyce, who prevented Galarraga from being credited with a perfect game. When umpire Joyce incorrectly called the runner at first base ‘safe,’ Galarraga accepted the call stoically although, if correctly called an out, it would have earned him a rare perfect game in the record books.

When Joyce realized his mistake, he took responsibility for it and immediately went to apologize to Galarraga, who accepted with dignity and grace. Both men reflected the high ideals expressed by Wooden, “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.” It may not have been an official perfect game, but these two men were perfect role models about what sports figures can teach our children – and us – about civility, honesty and good sportsmanship.

3. Preparation, practice, hard work and collaboration are integral parts of any success, whether in sports or in life. As Coach was fond of saying, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” After years of training, the Spanish national soccer players relied on teamwork to score on their opponents, winning the World Cup for the first time.

What lessons can the millions of children who play soccer across the world take from these championship games? That individual effort as well as teamwork is required to overcome wrong calls and bring about a triumph. Working together over months, even years, creates the energy a team needs to score, providing the counterbalance to Wooden’s caveat, “Goals achieved with little effort are seldom worthwhile or lasting.”

4. You can be a winner without being ruthless. John Wooden encouraged his players to be good citizens – on the court and in the world. He told them, “Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” And he warned them about letting their successes go to their heads, saying, “Talent is God-given; be humble. Fame is man-given; be thankful. Conceit is self-given; be careful.”

Can these sound bites form a solid foundation for some of the lessons you want to impart to your own children? Sports figures can serve as role models and set the tone for your own parenting. Even if you and your kids are not world-class tennis, soccer, baseball or basketball players, you can improve your game and your lives by using these W’s as inspiration. Play on!

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