The Chaplain's Notebook


John Wooden is a name I suspect most of you know and respect. Former head coach at UCLA, the “Wizard of Westwood” brought home 10 national championships in 12 years, including a record-breaking seven in a row. A big part of his formula for success? Ironically, a willingness to make mistakes! “If you’re not making mistakes,” coach said, “then you’re not doing anything.I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.” (emphasis added.)

In fact, coach was concerned if his guys did not make enough of them: “I wanted my players to be active, I wanted them doing things and initiating. I did not want them worrying about mistakes. Mistakes made while expanding boundaries are what I wanted. If we were not making mistakes, we were not far enough out on the edge. If we were not pushing against the walls of our capabilities, we were not practicing properly.”

In his book, Wooden on Leadership, coach described how this attitude applies to life off the hardwood as well: “Fouls, errors and mistakes are part of the competitive process. In sports, action often must be taken instantaneously to capitalize on an opportunity. In every organization, time is of the essence when opportunity knocks.”

Sounds like patrol, right? As the U.S. Supreme Court once said, “Police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments —in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving” (Graham v. Connor). “Hesitancy, indecisiveness, vacillation and fear of failure are not characteristics I associate with good leadership,” Wooden goes on. “A leader must take initiative —the courage to make decisions, to act, and the willingness and strength to risk failure and take a stand, even when it goes against the opinion of others.”

In fact, coach believed that the only real failure is the failure to act when action is required. “I told our team many times: ‘Be quick, but don’t hurry.’ By that, I meant to make a decision, take action, decide what you are going to do and do it. Failure to act is often the biggest failure of all. Initiate quickly but not carelessly or in a hurried manner.” Or, as Wyatt Earp once advised on good shooting technique, “You must learn to be slow in a hurry.”

If you are prepared and have done your “training,” both at work and in life skills (rest, eat well, take time to relax with those you love and who love you, exercise, feed your spirit), trust yourself. You will survive your errors and learn from them. It is not easy, but practice makes “perfect,” right? I would also suggest that you beware of those who cannot admit they make mistakes or do not have a sense of humor, especially about themselves.

Worrying about the future or complaining about the past? Take it from Coach Wooden; it “just wastes your time.” “You can always look back and see where you might have done something differently, changed this or that. If you can learn something, fine, but never second-guess yourself.” Praying for the best in all your endeavors. (Hat tip to Craig Impelman of Success Magazine)

How can I contact a chaplain?
Chaplains are available at their unit of assignment, or by calling the Psychological Services Bureau (PSB) at (213) 738-3500.