I was driving home from Fargo earlier this summer listening to ESPN radio. The topic of the day was the recent passing of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden. Guest after guest called in to share a story about Coach Wooden. Funny thing was, most calls weren’t about basketball.
Rather most calls had to do with Wooden’s famed Pyramid of Success and how its ideals helped in one way or another to develop each caller into a better person. Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is a series of blocks that build up to success in the shape of a pyramid with success being the capstone. Things like friendship, loyalty, self control form the basis of a successful team and life. Success in this case, is not possible without the peace of mind that comes from the self satisfaction of knowing that one makes the effort to become the best one is capable of becoming.
In the era of 24/7 news cycle where much of the talk revolves around what athletes do wrong, it was so refreshing to hear people talk about what a man did right, but as I continued to listen, I couldn’t shake the feeling that his iconic ideals don’t form the basis for what sports are about today. I thought about high school and college sports today and wondered if those ideals still stood true or if they had been blurred by the desire to win first and foremost.
See the big problem is that too many of today’s coaches may preach Coach Wooden’s principles, but they practice the values set forth by a different pyramid, the destination sports pyramid. The destination sports pyramid takes Coach Wooden’s pyramid and flips it upside down with winning replacing success as the capstone and doubling as its base. The destination sports pyramid asserts that those core blocks of friendship, loyalty, and self control are derivatives of winning. Just win, and all the rest will take care of itself. It seems so simple that it has to work.
But the inherent problem of the destination sports pyramid is that winning must support and balance everything above it. Failure to win means the sport is incapable of providing the athlete with any redeeming values or long term skills. Losing means that the competition, the work, and the preparation were all in vain. Success, in this case, is not possible without winning.
Gophers head football coach Tim Brewster inspired me to finally write this column. Listen to Tim Brewster and he wants to win. Look at Tim Brewster and he dresses like a champion. Talk to Tim Brewster and he exudes victory. Problem is Tim Brewster loses, a lot.
He is the poster child for the destination sports pyramid.
He came to Minnesota almost four years ago preaching victories and promising Rose Bowls. Four years later the Gophers are still in disarray and Brewster is reeling after his charges suffered another embarrassing loss, this time a 41-38 defeat at the hands of a South Dakota team in their first year moving up from Division II.
What fans and the Gopher brass fail to realize is that Brewster came from the NFL. In the NFL, where players and coaches are PAID to win and the destination sports pyramid is the norm, as it should be.
In professional sports winning is a cure all, not so in high school and college. In Brewster’s mind if the Gophers would just win, then recruiting would get easier, the players would behave better, and public apathy would disappear. He macro-manages looking only at the end game, instead of the little intricacies that build a program for sustained success.
He, like too many coaches today, cares solely about the destination. Maybe the next Gophers coach will remember not to neglect building the road. Maybe the next Gophers coach will ignore the allure of the destination sports pyramid.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!