Friday, June 4, 2010

What Coaches Teach: The Three Greatest Coaches of All Time: Wooden, Holtz, Richardson (Ed)

I've had the pleasure of meeting, speaking with and working with some of the greatest coaches and teachers. Coaches need to be great teachers. Not only teaching a sport, but teaching life and mentality.

My three favorite are John Wooden (basketball), Lou Holtz (football) and Ed Richardson (swimming).

I met Coach Wooden when he was a speaker at an industry conference when I was a lot younger. True to some of my brushes with greatness, it was in the men's toilet where Coach was giving the keynote speech. While washing our hands I spoke to the older man at the sink next to me and said hello. We talked briefly about sport and at the time, I was rediscovering my athletic ability (which is really just showing up and trying everyday). Coach Wooden appreciated what I said in our conversation. He smiled wryly. He looked at me and said, "All I ever asked of some of the best players I ever had was to try hard every day. Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do. Good luck to you son." I shook his hand and thanked him for our brief conversation. I was literally shaking with excitement. As he left he said, "One more thing. You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will NEVER be able to repay you." Hence the name "Kokua" to my coaching business. Kokua in Hawaiian means, "extending help, sacrificial help, to other for their benefit or consideration".

When I got certified by USAT, an "experienced" coach from Minnesota questioned some of the knowledge from Coach Wooden that was being discussed after Bobby McGee spoke of "1%-ers"; the 1% of athletes who EXCEED their ability and preparation in the biggest competitions. Coach Wooden said to his athletes, "Don't measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you SHOULD have accomplished with your ability." John had very good teams at UCLA. The reason they did so well is they PLAYED to their ability and greater. When his teams began to "thin out" toward the end of his career, his teams won games where the scoreboard said they lost and lost games when the board said they won. I use this in my coaching. I want my athletes to compete at their ability and fitness (or greater).

Two years ago, I had a female athlete "lose" a sprint to the finish line. She PR'd for the distance and EVERY split - swim, bike and run. She was really down after the race. I was very happy. She didn't understand why. I explained her performance on a hot, sticky day and when she thought about it for a minute or two her face lifted and her posture changed. Same athlete a year later, TORCHED the race she was in. Course record and won by a couple of "touchdowns". She smiled across the line, but when she came to see me she said her race was, "Disappointing". I asked her why. She then told me that her power numbers, heart rate and all factors were NOT where her training indicated she should be. It was an "average" day. We talked about being happy for the win and the record and filed away her disappointment in her performance to use another day during the hard training days ahead.

Currently, Coach Wooden is in a Los Angeles hospital. At age 99, I can't help but hope for easy passage to whatever God has planned for him here or elsewhere.

Coach Lou Holtz literally ran into me in airport. Nobody's fault and nobody hurt. "Are you OK?" he asked me. (Lou is a small guy.) I smiled and said, "I should be asking you that." We shared a laugh. "True! True!" I wished him luck and we went in our own directions.

Later that year I got a tape of him speaking at the Million Dollar Round Table. A life insurance industry conference for top sales folks. His title was "Love, Trust and Commitment". The speech was about connecting to people on the most basic level; as a coach or sales person, the only way you'll get results is by proving you love the other person, they trust you and you are BOTH committed to each other and the results you strive for. In that speech he has a really funny quote which I've heard repeated many times since. When asked about Notre Dame's very tough football schedule Lou said, "I sleep like a baby. I wake up every two hours and cry."

He also talked about "luck". When answering questions about his championship team, a reporter said, "Isn't your team lucky?" Lou bristled at the thought. He responded with, "These young men are lucky. They were lucky in July running extra sprints on an empty field on a 95 degree day. Spending time watching film after studying for exams when they could have been with their friends or girlfriends. They were lucky they worked so hard when none of you were around." Exceptional response!

The last name many of you outside of Illinois may not recognize. Ed Richardson, retires this year as the Palatine High School swimming coach and science teacher. I am a HUGE fan of Ed as he is of all of his swimmers who worked so hard for him over they years. Last fall, people LITERALLY flew across the country to attend a surprise "retirement" party for Ed which was well put together by his wife Joyce. When have you EVER had 30+ years of swimmers in ONE ROOM coming back to visit their coach? Ed greeted everyone of us with a bear hug and a smile. Ed taught us what Coach Wooden and Coach Holtz taught their players. He demanded attention to detail, promptness and teamwork. Regardless of your ability - give Ed your best and he will treat you like the team superstar. Don't "put out" and find yourself watching. The year we won the first IL Senior State Swimming Championship - Ed and the team voted to kick THREE individual event state champions OFF the team. The parents and boosters FREAKED OUT. The athletes stood with our coach. The team rules apply to everyone regardless of ability.

My only regret is that I only got to swim with Ed for five years. Three in college and two as an Ironman athlete. What other Ironman athletes swam for Ed? Oh, just Lars Jorgensen... Ironman Hawaii swim course record holder in 46:41 - a record still standing from the 1998 - WITHOUT a speed suit.

I'd swim through broken glass for Ed. He's that kind of coach. Something you should all know about Ed is he would wear shorts and a polo or jacket and was on deck every second of every workout. Rain? Ed stood there with a stop watch and a golf umbrella. If we were "out in it" he was with us.

Coaches have a great opportunity to teach athletes much more than an athletic skill; we can teach athletes to exceed their wildest dreams about their results. One of the reasons I left a "successful" coach (who may be an "official" coach of something or another) - is because when I said I believe I have the ability to compete at an elite level if I trained appropriately he laughed. How's that for earning love, trust and commitment? Anyone with some basic training can build you a program to get you fit to race. A coach will help you EXCEED those possibilities that even you may doubt.

Dream big. Dream fast. Be great.

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