After reading the recent article in Sports Illustrated, Special Report: Not the UCLA Way (at sportsillustrated.cnn.com), along with comments from UCLA Chancellor Gene Block and Athletic Director Dan Guerrero in the UCLA Newsroom (here), I come away with even more conviction in the foundational importance that solid character brings to the competitive table.
It seems obvious, after reading the above pieces, that UCLA’s basketball program did lose track of what Coach Wooden brought to that program. Outcomes (winning) for Wooden were secondary to the process of becoming the best one can be; to Wooden it was all about the process.
And this “Wooden process,” it encompasses building the internal pieces of one’s character.
Reports indicate that coach Howland’s flipping of priorities, winning first/process second, were a big part of the escalating problems that created an environment where team unity is sacrificed, and where character building becomes secondary. This is never a good situation, ever.
That is not to say that there aren’t programs out there, in many sports, which do follow similar poor character building paths and still win. On the contrary, that does happen.
However, I do question whether these programs actually ever reach their full athletic potential, as I am a firm believer that practices which encourage building of one’s character, and integrity, also help to build a foundational discipline equal to none.
Building a program to prominence at the Division I college level in any sport is no easy task; taking it to a position of consistent dominance as Wooden did with UCLA basketball is even harder. For that to happen there has to be something very foundational about one’s approach, something the program helps build within its players, and something that gets passed on to every recruit that enters the program. And when a player, or group of players, can’t get on board of that foundational train, leading to one’s potential, then they simply don’t make it in that program.
College coaches today have to be smarter than ever, recruiting the “right” players is just as much about what a person is on the inside as the skill set they demonstrate on the outside. It is not easy to change an athlete’s ideology, not to say one shouldn’t try or that that is not a part of character building, just that there does come a point when one must move on for the greater good of the team, of the program. Sacrificing this thought process for the short-term goal of “winning” will, eventually and in all likelihood, bring down even the best of programs.