Back to Fundamentals by Terry Schroeder

A Lesson from Coach John Wooden

Terry Schroeder
US National Men's Team Coach
US Team Won the Silver Medal in the 2008 Olympics

Volume 2 Number 10March 15, 2010
The Keyword in Real Estate is Location and the Keyword in the sport of Water Polo is Fundamentals!

A few years ago I had the honor and privilege to sit and talk with Coach Wooden one on one.  I was actually scared to death as I approached his apartment in the San Fernando Valley and knocked on his door.  I just felt somehow inadequate at that moment.  Here I was knocking on the door of perhaps the greatest coach that ever lived.  What an opportunity!  I was determined to learn as much as I could from this great man.  Coach Wooden sat with me for about two hours and it was amazing.  I learned so much that day. I left feeling like I had just spent time with an angel.  This was a man that had accomplished so much in his life and yet he was so humble.  He spoke softly and although he was over 90 years old he answered many of my questions with poems that he had memorized.  It was a great experience.  As I sit and reflect o the lessons that I learned from Coach Wooden, as a coach there is one that stands above the rest. 

The lesson that sticks with me more that any other  - primarily because it was something that I needed to change – was that before you can be a successful coach you must create a positive learning environment.  So how did Coach Wooden go about creating this positive learning environment?   He implemented one simple strategy.  He used 4-5 positive praises for every one criticism.  Wow!  This sounds so simple and yet as I tried to implement it in my workouts I found out just how difficult it really is.

As a coach I have always thought that the way you teach is to point out what one of your athletes is doing wrong and then show them or tell them how to correct it.  This seemed to work pretty well for some of my athletes at least some of the time.  Over and over again, I found myself correcting and criticizing my athletes.  Stepping back from the pool deck and analyzing my methodology I realized that there were many flaws.  I have learned over the past couple of years that this method of coaching does not really create a positive learning environment. 

I have learned above all else that kids need to know that you love them and care about them.  Praise helps them realize this faster than anything else.  If you tell them what they are doing right over and over again then once in a while you tell them to what they are doing wrong  they tend to listen better. And learn better.

Use praise… this creates a learning environment. There is a time to correct and teach but they will not be as receptive to learn if you have not created a positive learning environment. 

To be honest with you I still struggle with this ratio of 4-5 praises to every correction.  It seems impossible at times. I challenge each coach reading this to reflect on this idea.  What is your ratio of praise to correction?  Can you do better?  I believe that if you create this learning environment your team will begin to flourish and become more successful.  In my opinion, this is even more important than the x’s and o’s.  What I have found is that if the athletes are not receptive to learn you will not be very successful as a coach.

Once again, if you have any questions or feedback regarding this article feel free to email me at [email protected]

See you at the pool.

Coach Schroeder

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