To Be Skilled at Anything, Commit to Being a Lifelong Learner
Skill is defined on Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success as “A knowledge of and the ability to properly and quickly execute the fundamentals. Be prepared and cover every little detail.”
The result of knowledge and preparation, skill is an essential part of achieving goals. Coach Wooden described the Skill block this way:
“At the center of this structure is skill, the knowledge of and the ability to not only properly, but quickly execute the fundamentals. This is necessary in any profession. A surgeon must have it. He must not only be able to perform delicate surgery, he must be able to do it quickly because he may lose the patient. An attorney must not only have the skills. He must be able to react quickly in certain situations that come up in the courtroom or he may lose the case. In every profession, the ability to execute and execute quickly are essential to success. This requires careful preparation of all details, as failure to prepare is preparing to fail.”
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Coach Wooden’s knowledge in the area of coaching basketball is legendary. It is reflected not only in his coaching achievements but also in Practical Modern Basketball, the 452-page textbook he wrote. The book covers every area of coaching basketball, from the requirements of leadership to which statistics you should track in practice.
Whether it was attending Frank Leahy’s Notre Dame football practices to learn time management, sending out surveys to the top coaches in the country after every season to increase his knowledge in a particular area, taking psychology classes or attending basketball clinics, Coach Wooden’s knowledge was a result of his commitment to be a lifelong learner.
His life reflected two of his favorite quotes: “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts,” and “If you are through learning, you are through.”
A good leader creates an environment of lifelong learning not only for himself, but also for everyone within the organization. Coach Wooden did this not only by the example he set, but also by being open-minded and encouraging suggestions. Coach Wooden’s assistants were excited about learning new ideas because they knew that when they presented them, Coach would listen and consider implementing those suggestions.
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Coach Wooden’s two-hour practices were the ultimate presentation of a skillful coach. They ran with the precision of a Swiss watch: five- and 10-minute drills were perfectly orchestrated. Coaches and players moved quickly from basket to basket. The correct number of basketballs needed for particular drills were always properly positioned and waiting. When the scrimmage was ready to start, the stat keepers were seated, pencils sharpened and charts ready.
There was no wasted time. There was no wasted motion.
The amazing practices were not just a result of Coach Wooden’s knowledge. The other component was the two hours of careful preparation every day for the two-hour practice, with every detail covered and everyone knowing exactly how it would all come together.
Whether you’re a concert pianist, an orthopedic surgeon or a manager conducting a meeting, a skillful performance must be preceded by knowledge and preparation. Only then can we perform “properly and quickly” in such a way that will allow us to use our skill to its maximum potential.
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