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Mar 4, 2011

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The Wisdom of Wooden: Talent and Character

The Wisdom of Wooden: Talent and Character

I first came across the wisdom of Coach Wooden on the Professional Skaters Association website. PSA president Jimmie Santee maintains a blog on the PSA site (Over the Edge) and this post, as well as future Coach Wooden posts are inspired from Santees Wisdom of Wooden post.

For those of you who dont know, Coach John Wooden, who passed away last year, wasnt a figure skating coach. He was a college basketball coach at UCLA. For more information on Coach Wooden, you can visit his site. Ill be taking on one of the ten Wooden-isms that Santee identified as his favorites and picking them apart, Ice-Mom-style.

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” Coach Wooden

Character. Character is the reason that Ice Girl is in figure skating to begin with. Sure, a double-twisty-thing is cool, but thats not why Im sending her to the rink. Nope. Im sending her because I like the lessons she learns about herself that have little to do with jumping or spinning.

Woman giving the thumbs-up signPerseverance.  When the Axel gets tough, many figure skaters turn to soccer or volleyball. However, a kid who sticks with a jump for over eight months has learned something deep about herself. Shes learned that perseverance pays off.

Grace. Sure, shes taken ballet to learn how to hold her arms and hands a certain way. Thats not the kind of grace Im talking about. Im talking about the grace of a winner who sincerely congratulates other competitors in a flight and complements them on their great spins or amazing jumps. Im also talking about the grace of someone who has finished last or near the bottom. It takes just as much grace to sincerely congratulate the winner, even when youre cringing inside because you fell on cross-overs. Cross-overs!

Work ethic. You want an Axel? You cant go to your favorite store and buy one. Youd better be prepared to work for it. And listen, Ice Girl, ice time aint cheap. Youd better use it wisely because Im cutting back on it if you slack off.

Courage. It takes courage for a skater to go out on the ice and fall, fall, fall. It takes courage to turn your flying chicken into a flying camel, especially when most of your friends cant figure out why youre struggling with it. It takes courage to come back from an injury and attempt the same jump that earned you eight stitches just last week.

Acceptance. Sometimes a skater competes and does his best program ever. Hes proud of himself, the coach is proud of him, and youre sure that all the hard work he put in during practice will result in a medal. But it doesnt. The skater doesnt even make the medal stand. Were the judges watching the same skaters you were? It doesnt really matter, does it? Sometimes the marks just arent in the skaters favor. But he learns to accept those marks. Thats not an easy thing to do and it builds character, not just in the skater, but in the parent.

Goal setting. Before skating, Ice Girl, an only child, didnt really have goals. She drifted through life and was happy enough, but she didnt have ambition. There was nothing that she really, really wanted. Until skating. I put that kid on the ice and all of a sudden she had goals. She had drive. She found she had a competitive nature. These are great things to a parent who thought her daughters only ambition was to watch as much television as possible.

Man giving two thumbs down in front of a no thumbs-up signThere are many more character-building reasons for skating, and Im sure youll help me add to the list in the comments.

Reputation. Im not as quick to dismiss reputation as Coach Wooden is. My favorite guidance counselor, Curt, often said: perception is reality. Thats short, but pretty deep. Heres what it means: despite your best efforts, what other people think is whats real, what you have to deal with. Even if what they think is the opposite of what youve been trying to accomplish, it doesnt matter.

Heres an example: Lets say a skater goes to the rink and doesnt talk to anyone. She is the best skater at the rink, but she sits away from the other kids when shes putting on her skates and doesnt engage anyone in conversation beyond a nod. Other skaters have tried to talk to her, but she gives one-word answers and avoids everyone.

The perception might be that the skater is a snob. After all, shes the best skater at the rink. Who is she to be so dismissive of the other kids? However, the skater might just be painfully shy. She might not have many friends and she might not know how to talk to kids beyond a one-word answer. Maybe she has a speech impediment and doesnt want to talk in front of the other skaters.

Whatever the case might be, the perception that the skater is a snob is the reality. In other words, its the problem the skater must deal with at the rink. The fact that the perception is based on speculation or false premises doesnt matter. She still must deal with other skaters, coaches, and parents thinking that shes stuck-up.

Baby giving a thumbs down sign and frowningReputation is your brand and, especially at skating rinks where gossip can make the rounds faster than a level-four spin, its pretty important. Granted, its not the most important thing, but it still plays an important role. What others think of you influences how comfortable a skater is at the rink. It influences how much time a coach might want to spend with a skater. Others might disagree,  but it might even influence the judging process. Judges are only human, after all.

I agree with Coach Wooden: character is what sports are all about, at least from the athlete and parent point of view. Well, character, fun, and fitness. As an athlete, you can control character. Reputation is harder to control because its out of the athletes hands. However, I dont think its a merely thing. I think reputation is an important part of getting along together at the rink. A skaters reputation, her brand, is important. Having the reputation as the rinks troll isnt good. Having the reputation as the rinks gossip isnt good, either. Both will make life much more difficult at the rink and, ultimately, the skaters training will suffer.

What do you think? Are there character lessons that Ive left out? Im sure there are. Please add them in the comments. Do you think that reputation is merely what others think you are or is it more powerful than that?

Do you have a question for Ice Mom? Do you have a suggestion for a post youd like to read? Well, Im back and going through my InBox s l o w l y. It is happening though, so you can send me an e-mail. Ill try to respond soon.

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