“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” –Mahatma Gandhi
This was one of Coach Wooden’s favorite quotes, and it reflected the way he approached life.
In his book Wooden on Leadership with Steve Jamison, Coach explained the first half of the quote like this: Be voracious in your daily desire to acquire knowledge, information and wisdom.
Coach learned every day from listening, observing, experience and reading.
I never heard him interrupt anybody while they were speaking. Many people have said that when you spoke to Coach Wooden, he made you feel like you were the most important person in the room.
This is because when you spoke to Coach Wooden, he was really listening, not thinking about something else or what he was going to say next when you were done talking.
Coach put it this way: “Don’t just act like you’re listening. Really listen. Good leaders are good listeners.”
Part of Coach’s great listening habits were a result of him being polite. I believe the other part was that he recognized that every time he listened, he learned something. He once recited the following verse to me:
A wise old owl sat on an Oak.
The more he heard, the less he spoke.
The less he spoke, the more he heard.
Now wasn’t he a wise old bird.
Coach Wooden learned from his college coach, Ward Lambert, that a coach should be a student of psychology. The title of Chapter 11 in the book Practical Basketball written by Ward Lambert in 1932 is The Coach a Student of Psychology.
Coach Wooden read the book and learned from it, and so he knew the value in learning from observation and experience, something he practiced it on a daily basis. In Wooden on Leadership, he described it this way:
A good teacher is a good student, a lifelong learner. No two people are the same. Each individual under your leadership is unique. There is no formula that applies to all when it comes to teaching and leading. All won’t follow; some need a push. Some you drive, others you lead. Recognizing the difference requires knowledge of human nature. That’s where being a good student helps you in your leadership.
Coach never got in a rut. Every day he was trying to learn better ways to motivate each member of the team. As Coach liked to say: “When you start having all the right answers, you will stop asking all the right questions.”
As for the second half of Mahatma Gandhi’s quote—“live as if you were to die tomorrow”—Coach viewed it simply as: Be joyful and appreciative of the blessing of this day you’ve been given.
Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels