Friday, March 21, 2014

Williams, Coach Wooden’s Greatest Secret

The subtitle tells all: “the power of a lot of little things done well.” In Coach Wooden’s Greatest Secret (Revell, 2014) Pat Williams develops the theme that John Wooden, famed basketball coach at UCLA, claimed was the formula for success: “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” As Williams rephrases it (in one of many iterations), “If you would focus on the little things that escaped the notice of your opponents and competitors, you would have a slight edge over them—and that would be your winning edge.” (p. 10)

Wooden was a stickler for fundamentals, from such seemingly trivial matters as double tying shoelaces to executing “at high speed and without conscious thought” what we think of as the basics of basketball—“quick, timely, and accurate passing; aggressive receiving; sharp cutting; proper pivoting; skilled dribbling; and quick shooting (with passing and receiving being the two most important fundamentals).” (p. 39) Wooden ran fast-paced, well-disciplined practices with an aim “to transform a learned skill into an instinctive habit.” (p. 41)

Wooden may have paid attention to a lot of little things, but that didn’t mean that he made things complicated for his players. On the contrary, as he said, “Keep things as simple as you can and you have a chance to do them better. I’d always rather do a few things well.” (p. 62)

The author offers up examples of Wooden’s secret from the worlds of sports, business, and the military. For example, Ted Williams focused on the tiniest aspects of his special-order, hand-crafted bats. He sent back any bat that didn’t meet his exact specifications—for example, that it “had to have eight to ten grain lines per inch.” (p. 70) And when the Red Sox toured the Louisville factory where the bats were made, “Williams paused to talk to an older gentleman who was turning bats at the lathe. ‘Anytime you find any little pin knots in wood,’ Williams told him, handing him a twenty-dollar bill, ‘put ’em in my bat.’ Those little pin knots formed hard spots in the wood, giving the bat just a little extra kick, a tiny percentage of added power.” (p. 71)

Success is not just a matter of paying attention to the little details; it’s also a matter of investing a little more effort. The author quotes Sam Parker, who observed: “At 211 degrees, water is hot. At 212 degrees, it boils. And with boiling water, comes steam. And with steam, you can power a city. One degree.” That is, “with just a little bit more effort, a little bit more attentiveness, a little bit more focus on the little things, we can reap exponentially greater rewards.” (p. 89)

Williams’s work may be derivative, but it’s a worthwhile read—and a nudge in the right direction.

No comments:

Post a Comment