Coaching The "John Wooden" Way: High School Coach Encouraging "The Right Stuff"

With the recent passing of coaching great John Wooden, and the ever present "winning at all cost attitudes" and entitlement exploits of too many elite athletes (things Coach Wooden would certainly frown on), I find it refreshing to bring something more positive to the table this summer sports season.

School's out and summertime brings with it festivals, summer concerts, cookouts, swimming, vacations, and dozens of other fun and relaxing activities for many a high-schooler, along with that inevitable "summer job." And for high school athletes, well, there is a surplus of summer athletic activities, programs and camps available for those interested in "improving," maybe even helping them reach the next level.

As it is at the high school where I teach, many of our coaches run summer camps for just such a purpose. It was in stopping by school to get a little work-out in (after all, I am a P.E. teacher) that I ran into a colleague of mine, sophomore basketball coach Kris Olson, as he was running his basketball campers through their passes.

Now Kris and I talk a lot about different aspects regarding sports, and the "things" going on in today's sports culture, with many of our discussions centering on articles I publish here at ChicagoNow. He has become an avid reader of my blog as his experience at several levels behooves him to encourage what I have to say and challenge anything that he finds perplexing - a good thing I think.

You see Kris is not your ordinary basketball coach, yes he played the game through high school (as many do, a few even through college), but he also coached for 10 years at the collegiate level, 4 as an assistant and 6 as head coach. Florida Institute of Technology to be precise.

Experience like this is rarely seen in high school as there just aren't that many college level coaches who return to teach and coach at this level. You can bet that Kris (when it comes to high school and college sports - including recruiting) has heard and seen it all.

As I walked through his camp to say hello, he asked if I might take a look at something he handed out to his campers and give him my thoughts. Needless to say, it was impressive.

It is not too often I come across coaches who truly make an effort to encourage athletes on the inside knowing full well that it will benefit them, and the team, on the outside.

Nor do I come across too many who support the idea of "self-improvement" as a means by which a team can reach its potential, something I strongly encourage in Part I & Part II of Baseball, Basketball, Volleyball, Soccer, Etc. - Riding The Wave of Inconsistency on ChicagoNow and in Mastery As The Ultimate Goal: When Real "Winning" Is Set In Motion on WePlay's ParentHOOD: Expert Advice for Sports Parents section.

What struck a definite cord with me was what was written on the introductory page to his summer camp calendar. Here, take a look at it yourself:

Winning the Battle - One Possession at a Time

Summer Philosophy

1.  80% of what we do in camp is geared towards Individual Improvement.
2.  It is your responsibility to take the Lessons and Drills and work on your own outside of camp.
This is the only way to Maximize Individual Improvement.
Camp is 25 Days
Summer Vacation is 79 Days
Try-Outs are 154 Days Away
You do the math.
3.  Summer League Games and Shoot-Outs are in place to transfer what is taught in camp to live
 action.  Games are also used as a teaching tool to teach the game and strategy of basketball.
Although we are competing to win, it is more important to Play the Right Way.

Team Core Values

1.  Be on Time. Honoring or Dishonoring this is 100% a reflection on you.
2.  Be Coachable.  Coaches constantly offer constructive criticism as a means to
help you get better as a player and teach you the game of basketball.  It is important to use
criticism as an opportunity to improve and learn.
3.  Be open to change and new ideas.  We are experienced coaches who are constantly studying
the game of basketball and put a great deal of thought into how we teach the game.  We have
been around the game of basketball longer than you have been alive.
4.  Respect and Pride
5.  Sportsmanship and Humility

Aside from the obvious and strong encouragement for an athlete to take personal responsibility and ownership over their own success, and the time left for that next plateau to be reached, are two very important (at least in my mind) aspects of which I would like to highlight.

First is this, "Although we are competing to win, it is more important to Play the Right Way." If that does not reflect a Coach Wooden type emphasis on making good, sound character choices placing the "right" importance in the "right" places, I don't know what does. And we all know what Coach Wooden achieved.

And second is something I mentioned briefly a little earlier in this piece. It is the idea of coaching the athlete on the inside -  giving him or her tools that are lifelong in benefit, knowing full well that what they learn will have significant impact for the athlete on the outside, thus, increasing their ability to transfer their knowledge into action on the basketball court.

In addition to the "Play the Right Way" statement, every single one of the Team Core Values Kris has listed above centers their focus on aspects within the athlete themselves. Things that build strength of character, of integrity, and of one's commitment; aspects that seem to be in very short supply amongst a good number of high profile athletes these days.

These, to me, are the foundational principles that build toward real "inner" success, not just the outward appearance of success.

You want to know how certain individuals are able to achieve impossible things sometimes, how adversity is merely a bump in the road to them - a challenge simply to be tackled, well, Kris has hit on a good piece of it on this one page.

Great job Coach Olson. Now comes the most important part of all.

The part that many don't give a lot of thought to - the part where the athlete "gets" the significant message you present, adopts it as his own, and fulfills his potential as a player, team member, and as a person.

You are most certainly leading the horses to water, but will they drink?

A decision only they can make.



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  • Not surprising that Kris is doing this kind of stuff. He is a great coach who gets how to promote the winning with out totally focusing on it! There is no doubt that kids who take care of "themselves" can be great contributers to the success of a team. It is also nice to have it all laid out....then there are no surprises when it comes try-out/game time. As adults we can see the big picture with out it being thrown in our face, kids....they need it in black and white.
    Way to go Kris!!!

  • Hey coach,

    Thanks for the response. Yea, I see his type of encouragment as exactly what we need in high school sports, and in sports in general.

    Great point Coach Reagan!!!

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