John Wooden’s Socks

DiAnn Mills @DiAnnMills

Today’s Guest Blog Written by Curt Iles @CurtIles

“It isn’t what you do, but how you do it.” – John Wooden

I was a college senior the year I met John Wooden in 1979. I was preparing to embark on my journey as a high school basketball coach. I traveled to Monroe, Louisiana to hear John Wooden speak at a coaching clinic.

Wooden, who’d retired five years earlier from UCLA, was the most famous basketball coach in America. His teams had won 10 national championships, including seven years in a row.

I arrived with my notebook and a desire to learn. The first thing Coach Wooden did surprised me. He sat down on the stage, took off his tennis shoes and held up a pair of new socks.

He said, “The first thing we did at the year’s first practice was to learn how to put socks on.” He then proceeded to go over in detail how to fit and wear socks where a player wouldn’t get a blister.

Coach Wooden tied his shoes and then launched into a wonderful time of telling stories about his years at UCLA, how he ran practices, and the setup of his famous zone press.

I’ve forgotten the rest of that coaching clinic, but I’ve never forgotten the socks. Here was a successful coach who paid attention to the details.

There are numerous theories how he put together his championship runs, but anyone who knew Wooden agreed that his attention to detail was a key to his success.

I learned a great lesson that day: doing the small things right separates the best from others. Thanks, Coach Wooden for that simple example how little things matter in the big picture.

In the forty-two years since that clinic, I’ve thought often about those socks. They are a reminder that attention to detail is a factor in success in anything.

“Great leaders are ordinary people with extraordinary determination.” – John Wooden

John Wooden is the gold standard whereby college basketball coaches are still judged. During his tenure as coach at UCLA, his teams won ten national championships in twelve years, had three undefeated seasons, and had an unmatched 88 game winning streak. In the midst of this success, he maintained his humility and integrity.

My favorite Wooden book is They Call Me Coach.

Curt Iles

Curt Iles is a native of Louisiana’s Pineywoods region.  He is the author of thirteen books and over 1200 blog posts at His writing celebrates the history, culture, and people of western Louisiana. Before becoming a full-time author, Iles worked as a teacher/coach, school administrator, youth camp manager, and missionary. His life statement is to be a man God can use, be an encourager, and be respected by those who know me best (my family). He and his wife DeDe live in Alexandria, Louisiana.
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Thank you, Curt, for showing us through your experiences with John Wooden that leadership begins with detail.