Message for Simone Biles from Coach John Wooden

Women are ascending to power in America and around the world. Like any change, this transition is good and bad. It’s wonderful to see ladies reach new heights. They are competent, talented and qualified. The downside is women do not deal with risk as well as men.

Social research shows men are more risk-taking than women. Women are more risk-adverse. This behavior partially explains why women do not make as much money during their career as men. Men are more willing to risk losing their job by demanding a raise.

Women traditionally have shouldered the burden of caring for children in the home. A woman in such a position doesn’t have the freedom or luxury to risk losing her job. Therefore, many women remain quiet when facing employment or other life challenges.

Athletics offers women an opportunity to take risks, to learn how to manage fear and the unknown, and to deal with the internal struggle all of us face when we are frightened. The recent examples of Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles shows how debilitating the mental health battle can be for those who seek to be a champion.

Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka Challenged by Pressure of World Competition
Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka Challenged by Pressure of World Competition

Tennis legend Novak Djokovic, the sports’ top-ranked player remarked about Simone’s behavior, “Pressure is a privilege, my friend. Without pressure there is no professional sport. If you are aiming to be at the top of the game you better start learning how to deal with pressure and how to cope with those moments — on the court but also off the court.”

“All that buzz and all that noise is the thing that, I can’t say I don’t see it or I don’t hear it, of course it’s there, but I’ve learned, I’ve developed the mechanism how to deal with it in such a way that it will not impose destruction to me. It will not wear me down.”

Novak Djokovic

As a young athlete, I was blessed to be trained by one of the greatest coaches in history. We all call him Coach. John Wooden was an inspirational and revolutionary teacher.

Training with John Wooden. We all called him Coach.
Training with John Wooden. We all called him Coach.

Most coaches at the time used the “military” method to train their athletes — primarily males. The military brought in green recruits, referred to them as maggots or losers, broke them down 100%, and then built them back up in their “toxic masculinity” model.

They removed fear of the unknown and losing from the athlete by replacing our focus with fear of the coach.

Coach Wooden was different. He never shouted, cussed or swore at players. When he truly became angry, he would raise his voice slightly and say for example, “Goodness, gracious sakes alive, Bill (Walton). Maybe you should take the afternoon off.”

Coach never punished players like other coaches did. They would make athletes run laps, do pushups or wind sprints for making errors. Coach would call you over, question why you did what you did. He would quietly, calmly ask for example, “Why didn’t you cut left as we designed the play?”

He allowed the player to analyze his own behavior. If the player actually responded with a better answer, Coach would modify the play. Most times, the player saw the foolishness of his behavior and corrected himself.

Coach taught respect — for ourselves, teammates, the coaching staff and game — but most importantly, how to apply the lessons of sport to life. His methodology helped us reach our highest potential. Fear is a good motivator, but does not lead to greatness.

Simone is AMAZING, but FEAR got the best of her. Nobody knows how her next routine would have gone had she remained in the competition. Of course she was scared. The pressure is mind-blowing. 

I know. I’m a pro athlete. Been to the Olympics. We earned the Silver in Atlanta ’96. Just like soldiers in battle, everyone is scared.

Chinese Women's Olympic Volleyball Team, circa 1996. Silver Medal Winners
Chinese Women’s Olympic Volleyball Team, circa 1996. Silver Medal Winners

Champions put their team on their back. Michael Jordan, Steph Curry, LeBron, Tom Brady … how many watched Jordan Thompson, USA Women’s Volleyball, against China this week? True champion! 

My good friend, Jenny Lang Ping, head coach of China, had an awesome first set. Then Jordan put TeamUSA on her back and carried them to victory. 

Our WOKE generation gets “triggered” and offended by everything it seems. They are NOT mentally tough. This disease affected Simone. Same with Naomi Osaka. These 20-somethings aren’t prepared for the microscope of world competition.

Simone let her team down. They had trained for years. She quit! 

Listen sista, have fun! Sometimes we win; sometimes we fall on our face. Such is life — and in sports, we get to compete another day.

However, the greatest regret any athlete has is the shot they didn’t take. 

If you believe you can or believe you cannot, you’re correct.

John Wooden

Life is short. Take your shot. Ask for the raise. Stand up to the creepy guy who disrespects women in the workplace or behaves inappropriately.

Who knows what will happen or where you will land. Most of all, don’t worry so much about what people, the media or those on Instagram, TikTok or Facebook think of you. Coach constantly reminded us of what truly matters.

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.

John Wooden

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Ko’olau of Kaua’i. I am the Defiant One
“I Believe We Can”

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