Leadership the John Wooden Way: 4 Characteristics of Great Coaches

December 14, 2012 | Lee Gordon

John Wooden
Former UCLA Head Basketball Coach John Wooden, the only collegiate coach to win 10 NCAA National Championships, is considered by many to be the greatest coach in the history of all sports. More than a dozen leadership books are based on his teachings, and his admirers include some of today’s most successful coaches, like two-time Super Bowl Champion Tom Coughlin of the New York Giants.

Coughlin and many others employ the techniques taught in Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, a 15-step process designed to foster attributes of true leadership. But if there were a perfect formula for leadership, everyone would follow it. So what do coaches like Nick Saban, Rick Pitino, and Vince Lombardi do that others don’t? What attributes make them not just good, but great? While it’s impossible to say exactly what works, there are four characteristics that nearly all great leaders share.

1. They Get People to “Buy In”

Athletes have to work at things, and coaches must convince others why they should work—fostering a belief within them that their work matters. Whether coach oversees a 12-man basketball squad or a 65-man football roster, each player is an individual, and each has his or her own agenda. A coach must mold the players together and convince them to do things for the good of the team—and not just the really talented guys. In fact, one of the things that made John Wooden such a successful basketball coach was his ability to reach his bench players and get them to perform. Wooden’s teams weren’t just about the five starters. The other seven guys made important contributions—and everyone knew it.

2. They Believe in Themselves

Great coaches are able to win others over to their way of thinking, a feat that wouldn’t be possible if they didn’t truly believe in themselves and possess the confidence that they can get the job done.

Former Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa is a great example. His players almost never saw him rattled, whether the team was leading by eight runs or losing by ten. In an interview with SUCCESS magazine, LaRussa said simply, “My job was to keep our whole staff at a level 10.” No matter what challenges he or his team ran up against, he remained steadfast and undeterred. “Some days you feel like a six because you are distracted,” LaRussa said. “You need to get to a 10.”

3. They Seek Opposing Ideas

Dictators have “yes men,” but great leaders seek differing opinions. Coaches often have mentors or confidants who are willing to tell them “no” and bring them back down to earth. Nick Saban and New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick both have said that their fathers played this role. Other top coaches, like Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer, credits a former coach for his leadership style.

4. They Visualize Success

Don Yaeger is a 7-time New York Times bestselling author and former Sports Illustrated editor who’s spent his career researching greatness and leadership. What he found is summed up in his 16 Characteristics of Greatness—a road map for those who truly want to be successful. He says a key attribute of winning leaders is that they see themselves as winners, all the time.

"The greatest leaders in sports are able to visualize victory even before the game starts," Yaeger says.

But when it comes to success, “seeing” and “believing” are just part of the equation. What great coaches understand is that visualization must be backed up with real world hard work. Preparation only comes through practice, and men like Coach Wooden were willing to put in the work—and convince his players to do the same.

"I spent a lot of time with Coach Wooden,” Yaeger said. “He was never frazzled, and always seemed two steps ahead of everyone.”

“But more than that, [Wooden] was more prepared than anyone else in the room." Yaeger said.

Become a better leader by checking out STACK's page for Coaches and Trainers.

Photo: http://fieend.com

Featured Videos

Tim Tebow's NFL Off-Season Workout Tim Tebow's NFL Off-Season Workout Views: 152,830
Path to the Pros 2015: Trae Waynes Path to the Pros 2015: Trae Waynes Views: 80,502
Path to the Pros 2015: Marcus Mariota Path to the Pros 2015: Marcus Mariota Views: 1,268,862
Load More

Resources

STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers

Magazine

Latest issues of STACK Magazine

STACK 4W

Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice

Gamer

Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes

News

Find the latest news relevant to athletes

Most Popular Videos

Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds
Views: 43,536,765
Drew Brees Will Not Be Denied Drew Brees Will Not Be Denied
Views: 12,144,153
Colin Kaepernick's Core Workout Colin Kaepernick's Core Workout
Views: 896,437
Robert Griffin III Pocket Presence QB Drill Robert Griffin III Pocket Presence QB Drill
Views: 6,866,256
Ohio State Football Open Field Plyo Drill Ohio State Football Open Field Plyo Drill
Views: 9,501,395

Load More
More Cool Stuff You'll Like
Does Home Field Actually Confer an Advantage?

Does Home Field Actually Confer an Advantage?

Do teams win more at home than on the road? Could it depend on the sport? Or the geographical location of the home team? The answer is yes and no. The...

Overcome Your Fear of Failure

Overcome Your Fear of Failure

Build Mental Toughness in the Weight Room

Build Mental Toughness in the Weight Room

Unlock Your Full Athletic Potential

Unlock Your Full Athletic Potential

Positive Affirmations for Athletes

Positive Affirmations for Athletes

4 Tips for Building Confidence

4 Tips for Building Confidence

The Athletic Brain: How to Learn to Anticipate

The Athletic Brain: How to Learn to Anticipate

What's Your Backup Plan When 'Plan A' Fails?

What's Your Backup Plan When 'Plan A' Fails?

How to Improve Mental Focus on the Baseball Diamond

How to Improve Mental Focus on the Baseball Diamond

The Art of Strength and Conditioning Coaching

The Art of Strength and Conditioning Coaching

How Mentally Tough Are You?

How Mentally Tough Are You?

5 Tips for Playing Mentally Tough Tennis

5 Tips for Playing Mentally Tough Tennis

Overcome the 5 Most Common Mental Mistakes in Sports

Overcome the 5 Most Common Mental Mistakes in Sports

Stress Exposure Training for Basketball

Stress Exposure Training for Basketball

Mental Warm-Up: How to Build Confidence Before a Game

Mental Warm-Up: How to Build Confidence Before a Game

5 Steps to Becoming a Better Coach

5 Steps to Becoming a Better Coach

5 Tips to Becoming a Successful Athlete

5 Tips to Becoming a Successful Athlete

Why You Should Be Training Instead of Exercising

Why You Should Be Training Instead of Exercising

Can a Faster Brain Increase Sports Performance?

Can a Faster Brain Increase Sports Performance?

3 Strategies to Reduce Stress and Increase Athletic Performance

3 Strategies to Reduce Stress and Increase Athletic Performance

Using Sports Imagery as Pre-Performance Routine

Using Sports Imagery as Pre-Performance Routine

The Holistic Approach to Impactful Sports Coaching

The Holistic Approach to Impactful Sports Coaching

How Mental Flexibility Boosts Your Game

How Mental Flexibility Boosts Your Game

Q&A: How to Deal With a Tough Coach

Q&A: How to Deal With a Tough Coach

Regain Your Confidence by Getting BIG

Regain Your Confidence by Getting BIG

Growth Mindset: How to Think Like a Champion

Growth Mindset: How to Think Like a Champion

Use Sports Psychology Against Your Opponents

Use Sports Psychology Against Your Opponents

Why Athletes Must Focus on Developing Their Own Identity

Why Athletes Must Focus on Developing Their Own Identity

Get Tough on Your Goals to Get Fit

Get Tough on Your Goals to Get Fit

Tips for Keeping a Tennis Journal

Tips for Keeping a Tennis Journal

How to 'Keep Your Cool' on the Football Field

How to 'Keep Your Cool' on the Football Field

The One Word You Should Never Say to Yourself

The One Word You Should Never Say to Yourself

How Mental Performance Affects Your Workouts

How Mental Performance Affects Your Workouts

Home Field Advantage Is Real, Says Science

Home Field Advantage Is Real, Says Science

How Clayton Kershaw Gets in the Zone

How Clayton Kershaw Gets in the Zone

Study: Athletes Think Faster, More Accurately Than Non-Athletes

Study: Athletes Think Faster, More Accurately Than Non-Athletes

6 Ways Sport Parents Are Doing It Wrong

6 Ways Sport Parents Are Doing It Wrong

A Coach Describes What It’s Like to Cut Players

A Coach Describes What It's Like to Cut Players

4 Reasons Your Team Is Losing

4 Reasons Your Team Is Losing

YardBarker