I could write a book about all I learned from former UCLA coach John Wooden. Although he died 6 years ago at the age of 99, his example continues to positively influence people from all walks of life. Most recently, Coach Wooden was featured in a cover story in Success Magazine.
I consider the time I spent with him and our correspondence as one of the highlights of my life. His example, the interest he took in me and his philosophy of life contributed to my success as a husband, father, surgeon, business owner, teammate, and friend. And although we all called him Coach, he wasn’t even really my coach.
A Phone Call
As a 17-year-old high school student, I was recruited to play college basketball. By my senior year, I had narrowed the list to 4 schools and finally selected the University of Kentucky. On a Friday afternoon in the spring of 1971, I called Coach Adolph Rupp and let him know that I had decided to attend Kentucky. The very next morning, Coach Wooden called for the first time and said that he had heard I had not yet signed and invited me to visit UCLA. The week before that call he had won the 6th of his record 10 NCAA championships.
I told Coach Wooden that although I would have loved to visit UCLA, I had committed to Kentucky and couldn’t change my mind. He said that he understood and congratulated me on my decision and had great things to say about the Kentucky program and Coach Rupp. But, instead of ending the conversation right then, he proceeded to spend an hour and a half talking about what to expect in college, what to be wary of and what to seek out. He also spent a lot of time talking about how to be successful both in basketball and in life.
The next time I saw Coach Wooden was 4 years later, the day before our Kentucky team played UCLA for the national championship. Although closely contested, his UCLA team beat us 92-85 in the 1975 NCAA national championship game, the last game he would coach.
Some of the many maxims (Woodenism’s) that I have incorporated into my life include the following:
“Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”
When my basketball career ended, I attended dental school. In order to enhance and expand my knowledge base even more, I decided to also get a medical degree. Training in both dentistry and medicine opened many doors and allowed me to expand the scope of my practice and make an impact upon the Facial and Oral Surgery world that I am blessed to call home. I am constantly learning and encouraging others on our team and myself to continuously strive to be the best that we can be. This philosophy has greatly contributed to our success, professionally and personally, as well as individually and as a team.
“Be quick but not in a hurry.”
Although this was one of Coach Wooden’s favorite sayings when coaching his teams, I often use this quote with my surgery team. When I speak of “quick”, I usually exchange the word “focused”. Performing surgery requires 100% focus from all team members. Complete focus promotes excellence while being in a hurry promotes mistakes.
“It is the little details that are vital. Little things performed correctly make big things happen.”
I remind myself and my team of this every day. By focusing on continually examining and improving our systems, we are able to accomplish big things for our patients every day. We rely on each other in every way to ensure that our patients’ experience is world class. Empowering our people to impact patient service, patient communication and systems has resulted in consistent superior service.
“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation because your character is what you really are and your reputation is what others think you are.”
At the end of the day, your character is what you face in the mirror. The path of great character is not always the most financially rewarding or easiest but it makes us who we really are. Surrounding myself with people of high character who are not afraid to make the unpopular decision for the right reasons contribute to our long-term success.
The list goes on and on. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to formally thank Coach Wooden for sharing his wisdom with me. 25 years later, my oldest son was invited to play at a high school basketball camp at UCLA. Coach Wooden invited me and my 2 oldest sons to spend the afternoon with him at his home. He got to know my sons and imparted much of the same wisdom that he shared with me so many years before. His stories engaged us all.
Coach Wooden was truly a man of great character both on and off the basketball court. Although he never coached me in basketball, his life mentorship affected me more than he ever knew. I can only guess at the number of people who he affected in the same way. You don’t have to go any further than Coach Wooden to find a true example of how to live a good and successful life.
Robert Guyette, MD, DMD