John Wooden is easily the greatest basketball coach in NCAA history. He won a record 10 championships over 12 years, including a stretch of 7 in a row. By comparison, no other team has been able to win more than two.
Known as the Wizard of Westwood at UCLA, his teams won 88 consecutive games and he was named coach of the year 6 times.
So what was the secret to John Wooden the coach? It started with socks and shoes. Yep, you read that right.
He didn’t start with drills or conditioning or strategy, he started with socks and shoes. Why? His thought process is best explained by an exchange between himself and one of his players.
Coach then took a black athletic sock and started to put it on Robert’s foot, asking the boy to complete the task.
Wooden: “Now pull it up in the back, pull it up real good, real strong. Now run your hand around the little toe area … make sure there are no wrinkles and then pull it back up. Check the heel area. We don’t want any sign of a wrinkle about it … The wrinkle will be sure you get blisters, and those blisters are going to make you lose playing time, and if you’re good enough, your loss of playing time might get the coach fired.”
To audience laughter, Wooden pulled out an athletic shoe.
“Now put it in wide, now pull it up,” he told Robert. “Now don’t grab these lines up here, go down, eyelet by eyelet … each one, that’s it. Now pull it in there … Tie it like this…”
The coach teased Robert gently as he explained why this was so important.
“There’s always a danger of becoming untied when you are playing,” he said. “If they become untied, I may have to take you out of the game — practice, I may have to take you out. Miss practice, you’re going to miss playing time and not only that, it will irritate me a little too.”
To summarize, if you don’t take care of your socks and shoes and laces, you’ll get blisters and miss practice and get hurt and lose games and cost the team a championship.
That escalated quickly, but you get the idea. As old fashioned and menial as starting with socks and shoes may sound, there is great wisdom in this idea.
We all need to focus on getting the details right, the little things that we may take for granted, because it is those things that form the foundation of our success.
If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over? John Wooden
No matter what the endeavor, you have to do it right and start from the beginning. If you master each step in the process, there will be nothing to hold you back.
If you want to be a great writer, you better master the foundations of story.
If you want to be a great designer, you need to fully understand design principles.
If you want to be a great athlete, you better know how to tie you damn shoes.
Fundamentals are essential and it all starts with the little things.