There are so many outstanding books written on Coach John Wooden but one of my favorites is by one of his former players, Swen Nater titled "You Haven't Taught Until They Have Learned."
Early in his career, he had the opportunity to observe a football practice at the University of Notre Dame when the legendary Frank Leahy was head coach. “I thought my basketball practices were well-organized and efficient. After observing Coach Leahy’s practice, I realized more work was needed. There was not one minute wasted. Even the transitions from drill to drill were done with no wasted second. Players seemed to enjoy the work and everyone worked hard for the entire two hours. I was impressed and after meeting with Frank Leahy for answers to questions I had, I immediately applied what I had learned to my own situation.”
Fundamentals Before Creativity
Webster defines “fundamental” as “being an essential part of, a foundation or basis.” The fundamentals of basketball are the essential skills that make up the game.
Coach wooden believes the teaching of fundamentals, until they are all executed quickly, properly, and without conscious thought, is prerequisite to playing the game.
“Drill” can have a negative connotation among coaches and classroom teachers. It is sometimes associated with mindless, boring repetition in which there is no opportunity for students to learn concepts or exercise initiative or imagination.
“Drilling created a foundation,” he likes to say, “on which individual initiative and imagination can flourish.”
One of the many enjoyable things I remember about UCLA practice sessions was the variety. Although the general skeleton of practice lessons were the same (fundamentals, break-down drills, and then whole-team activities), there were lots of surprises that kept things interesting and fun.
“I must know as the season progressed how they (drills) were going to change,” he said, “and then devise new ones to prevent monotony, although there would be some drills we must do every single day of the year.”
Teaching New Material
When creating the daily lesson plan, Coach Wooden was careful to install new material in the first half of practice, not the second. There were two reasons for this: our minds were fresh and not yet worn down by two hours of high-intensity activities, and he could devise activities, during the second half of practice, for the application of the new material.
During Coach Wooden’s practice sessions, one witnessed lightning-quick transitions from activity to activity. Players sprinted to the next area and took pride in being the first to being the next activity.
For Coach Wooden, there was nothing more important than the fundamentals of the game. For example, initially shooting and dribbling forms were isolated. Then, Coach taught another type of dribbling technique and combined it so that a shot was taken after the dribble.
Coach Wooden’s philosophy is for players and students to improve a little every day and make perfection a goal. His method for improving conditioning included one painful demand-each player, when reaching the point of exhaustion, was to push himself beyond. When this is done every day, top condition will be attained over time.
End on a Positive Note
I remember many enjoyable endings to the UCLA practice sessions. Coach Wooden always has something interesting, challenging or fun planned for the last five minutes. I didn’t realize it at the time, but levity always helped bring me back the next day, filled with anticipation.
Avoid Altering a Plan During the Lesson
Once the practice, or lesson, started, Coach Wooden never changed it, even though he may have noticed an existing drill that needed more time or thought of a new one he should have included. The proper place for new ideas and improvements was on the back of a 3x5 index card, which he made notations on (and expected the assistants to do the same).