My all-time favorite poem by legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden is about character:
“No written word/nor spoken plea/Can teach our youth/what they should be./Nor all the books/on all the shelves./It’s what the teachers/are themselves.”
Let’s dig a little deeper into what Coach Wooden is really getting at, shall we?
1. No written word. I have to admit, I am a big fan of quotes and mantras, especially the hundreds coined by Coach Wooden himself. But words and quotes and catchy phrases have a short-term impact and do not teach our youth what they should be.
2. Nor spoken plea. John Wooden always thought of himself as a teacher rather than a coach, and the basketball court was his classroom. It is here where he imparted life lessons to his players as his teams became one of sports greatest dynasties. But as a teacher, he understood that instructing and talking alone does not teach our youth what they should be.
3. Nor all the books on all the shelves. I have over 200 books in my leadership library; 15 of them by or about John Wooden. They have had a tremendous influence on my life and leadership, but books alone cannot teach our youth what they should be.
4. It’s what the teachers are themselves. This is the essence of John Wooden’s philosophy. It is the character of those teachers that will ultimately teach our youth what they should be. It is our example, our ethics, and what kind of people we are that truly matters. Words, talk, and books are important and wonderful, but in the end, cannot hold a candle to who we truly are.