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Excellence in Performance

From an interview with basketball coach John Wooden.

John Wooden is the only man ever enshrined in the basketball Hall of Fame as both player and coach. He retired after 40 years of coaching, leaving a record unparalleled in American sport.

During his 27 years as coach of UCLA, his teams never had a losing season. In his last 12 years there, they won ten national championships, seven of those in succession, and still holds the world's record for longest winning streak in any major sport - 88 games bridging four seasons.

Like most coaches, my program revolved around fundamentals, conditioning, and teamwork. But I differed radically in several respects. I never tried to get my team "up" for a game emotionally, I never worried about how our opponents would play us, and I never talked about winning.

Peaks Create Valleys

I believe that for every artificial peak you create, you also create valley's. When you get too high for anything, emotion takes over and consistency of performance is lost and you will be unduly affected when adversity comes. I emphasized constant improvement and steady performance.

I have often said, "The mark of a true champion is to always perform near your own level of competency." We were able to do that by never being satisfied with the past and always planning for what was to come. I believe that failure to prepare is preparing to fail. This constant focus on the future is one reason we continued staying near the top once we got there.

Develop yourself, don't worry about opponents

I probably scouted opponents less than any coach in the country. Less than most high school coaches. I don't need to know that this forward likes to drive from the outside. You're not supposed to give the outside to any forward whenever he tries it. Sound offensive and defensive principles apply to any style of play.

Rather than having my teams prepare to play a certain team each week, I prepared to play anybody. I didn't want my players worrying about the other fellows. I wanted them executing the sound offensive and defensive principles we taught in practice.

There's no pillow as soft as clear conscience

To me, success isn't outscoring someone, it's the peace of mind that comes from self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best. That's something each individual must determine for himself. You can fool others, but you can't fool yourself.

Many people are surprised to learn that in 27 years at UCLA, I never once talked about winning. Instead I would tell my players before games, "When it's over, I want your head up. And there's only one way your head can be up, that's for you to know, not me, that you gave the best effort of which you're capable. If you do that, then the score doesn't really matter, although I have a feeling that if you do do that, the score will be to your liking." I honestly, deeply believe that in not stressing winning as such, we won more than we would have if I'd stressed outscoring opponents.

Why do so many people dread adversity, when it is only through adversity that we grow stronger?

There's no great fun, satisfaction or joy derived from doing something that's easy. Failure is never fatal, but failure to change might be.

Your strength as an individual depends on, and will be in direct proportion to, how you react to both praise and criticism. If you become too concerned about either, the effect on you is certain to be adverse.

The main ingredient of stardom

I always taught players that the main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team. It's amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit. That's why I was as concerned with a player's character as I was with his ability.

While it may be possible to reach the top on one's profession on sheer ability, it is impossible to stay there without hard work and character. One's character may be quite different form one's reputation.

Your character is what you really are. Your reputation is only what others think you are. I made a determined effort to evaluate character. I looked for young men who would play the game hard, but clean, and who would always be trying to improve themselves to help the team. Then, if their ability warranted it, the championships would take care of themselves.

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