Coach: A Coach’s Family Influenced By John Wooden


By Ronn Wyckoff

It was one of those momentous events that transformed my life – a defining moment, for sure, that set the stage for the remainder of my basketball coaching years – and for the rest of my life.

It was the summer of 1974, the summer before Coach Wooden retired from U.C.L.A.  I was one of several high school basketball coaches working at the John Wooden Basketball Camp in Southern California.  

I had brought my older son, Sean, to participate in the 9-10 year-old group (he was 8 1/2 but allowed in because he was a coach’s son).  While I worked with high school players throughout the days and evenings, Sean was busy learning skills and playing games well enough to be named Most Improved Player. Sean had his lifetime memory from this summer’s events, culminating in his receiving his award from Coach Wooden himself.

My own “ah ha” moment came the next-to-last evening at camp, after one of the “fireside” chats we coaches relished as learning time at the feet of the greatest coach in basketball history.  (All of us acolytes gathered ‘round Coach every evening that week for the most valuable coaching tidbits we could glean that we knew somehow could be the key to our coaching success.)

I was able to catch Coach all to myself for a couple of minutes.  I explained to him that since I hadn’t played in college, I didn’t see my chances as very good to go beyond coaching high school and that good high school coaches were a dime-a-dozen. I wanted to be more than just a good high school coach. I knew that one pretty much had to have played college ball and/or have very good connections in order to break into the college ranks. Coach Wooden’s suggesting that I look into international coaching opportunities changed my life in a second.  That was pretty much the end of my one-on-one time with Coach Wooden, but the direction my life and coaching took as a result of that moment changed my life forever.  A whole new era had opened up for me

I began to search out opportunities, and that led to The People-To-People Sports Committee in New York contacting me about helping a national program in Africa. In the summer of 1975 I found myself coaching the national program for Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).  What a dream come true for a high school coach.

With that experience, I began to speak at coaching clinics and conventions back home and during Spring Break of ‘76 went to several Caribbean countries to work with their national programs.

By summer of ’76 I was in Europe and landed a coaching job in Sweden that lasted until ’79.  I spent a lot of time visiting in neighboring Norway and working with basketball programs there - even had a stint working with their national teams to teach defense.  

From that Scandinavian experience I wrote my first book and later included that into my complete coaching guide for novice coaches, “Basketball On A Triangle:  A Higher Level of Coaching and Playing”, published in 2005.  I used that book to create my 4-hour teaching DVD, with the same title as the book.  These two teaching tools are now marketed around the world.

And this all began with Coach Wooden.  

Actually, I had begun my fascination with Coach Wooden’s teaching back in 1973.

At the start of basketball season 1973,  I had arranged for my varsity boys basketball team to drive a couple of hours south to watch a UCLA basketball practice.  We were all enthralled to be

so close in presence to the aura of UCLA’s basketball greatness – a little more than a dozen people that included my players, managers, JV coach, our team towel boy my older son, then 7, and myself.

We sat in the huge Pauley Pavillion, that must have had twelve baskets, and watched the players come out on the floor to warmup and work on individual skills. Some players worked one-on-one with assistant coaches whose names would emerge over the ensuing years as talented head coaches in their own right.

When Coach John Wooden walked out on the floor, there was an audible collective intake of breath from our section of the stands.  We recognized that we were in the presence of coaching greatness and the moment would remain indelibly impressed in our memories, perhaps for all of our lifetimes.  After all, wasn’t this the team that won last year’s NCAA championship and wasn’t this the coach that already had collected more NCAA titles than any other coach, in any sport, in history?

I am sure that we would have been very satisfied to have done nothing more than watch these great players go through the next three hours of practice.  However, the greater treat came when Coach Wooden strolled over to where we were seated, introduced himself to me and the group and welcomed us.  I don’t know what he said – I am sure we were all star struck.  I know that Coach didn’t see himself in that light at all.  He was humble and businesslike at the same time.  This was the greatest practice organizer in the game speaking to us.  

He spoke briefly to us, but as he was departing he made a statement that really created our season, at least for me. He told my players to listen to me and do everything that I told them, because if they did they would be winners.

We did win that season – we beat bigger teams than ourselves, we won our league and we ended up in the Southern California playoffs for small schools.  My players came back from the UCLA visit, excited and fired up and they did what I told them to do – just like Coach said they should.

We had met “the Man, the winningest Coach of all time, the Wizard of Westwood”, and the person I would come to pattern my coaching life after.  Unbeknownst to Coach Wooden, he had become my mentor.

For the next two years I took my teams back to UCLA to repeat the experience we had with my first team.  Each time was no less life-changing for my players than the first time.  

My younger son, Todd, now was introduced to the power of Coach Wooden as he became towel boy and my traveling companion.  He heard, along with Wooden, some of the greatest coaches of the era when we went with me to UCLA coaching clinics.

Both my boys are parents themselves now, in their forties, and hold their own memories of the great John Wooden.  In their own brief coaching stints and in their lives, Coach still holds influence in the way they conduct their lives.

Coach Wooden was the greatest mentor I had in my 56 years of playing and coaching, though he wouldn’t have known my name or even recognized me, had he run into me on the street. He was for me, as he undoubtedly was for many other coaches, a never ending influence and role model.  His passing leaves a void and the Coach will be missed by many on so many levels.

His philosophic approach to dealing with the young men he coached, more than anything else, gave me the foundation for later bringing spirituality into my coaching.  

His wisdoms are epic and oft-quoted, but none more used by me than the ones below.  I used these with every team since the power of Coach Wooden began to influence my life, in my writings and in my public speaking.  Over time, I probably have even changed the words some, but the wisdom is obvious and his.

“We don’t have control over how good or well prepared the other team is, nor the skill level of their players.  What we do control is how well we prepare.”  
“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”  
and, “Pay attention to the details and the larger things will take care of themselves.”

See more quotes from Coach Wooden at the bottom of this page and at:

Today, I am retired from active coaching, though I still remain active in helping coaches learn how to coach.  And, I still bring a spiritual approach to everything I do in my life.

In addition to my website, , and the 28 products I have created from my original book and DVD my activities include:

     Commissioner of Basketball, State Games of Oregon;
     National Basketball Shooters Association, secretary and founding member;
     Editor, Spiritual Hoops, a monthly basketball subscription newsletter;
     Universal Life Church Minister


Upon Coach Wooden's graduation from junior high school, his father gave him a list -- a recipe for success. Coach Wooden never forget and lived his life around this formula.

1. Be true to yourself.

2. Make each day your masterpiece.

3. Help others.

4. Drink deeply from good books.

5. Make friendship a fine art.

6. Build a shelter against a rainy day.

7. Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.