I received an email recently from a Coach Todd James, Dublin, Ireland, outlining a personal encounter with John Wooden a few years ago.
Coach James produced a tract entitled, “Meet My Head Coach,” after finishing his high school basketball coaching career, and after feeling called to go to the mission field to tell people about what Christ had done in his life. Today this small tract is in 10 languages and used by ministries around the world.
One of the ministries is Athletes in Action. They took Meet My Head Coach and made some adaptations and used James Naismith as a model of a coach who had a plan.
Coach James was reading Jay Carty’s devotional, “Coach Wooden One-on-One”, and noticed a comment that he made about his own reason for writing the devotional was so that others would know more about John Wooden’s spiritual side. Influenced by the life and impact of John Wooden, Coach James sought to have Coach Wooden endorse his tract.
Contact with Coach Wooden was made. First, a phone call. No answer and a message was left. Second option, a letter was written (Still amazed he got his phone number and address) and a AIA version tract and Coach James’ original was sent with the details of asking if he would consider having his own version of the tract.
A month later a return letter was received.
Coach Wooden appreciated him writing and asking, but felt that it would be inappropriate to replace James Naismith on the tract. Coach James was disappointed and actually thought that maybe he didn’t understand what he was asking him to do. Coach James felt that most people didn’t know who James Naismith was and that Coach Wooden was a much better example of a coach with a plan for this particular tract.
Plan B was to contact AIA because they often worked with Coach Wooden, especially during basketball season and at the Final Four with the Wooden Award. AIA thought the new version was a good idea and made an attempt to make a pitch to Coach Wooden. This time, however, Coach Wooden signed off on the project.
Coach James was so excited to hear the news, but it wasn’t necessarily because he said yes. It was because he has had so much of an impact on so many lives over the years and now his story will continue to impact others with Christ long after he is with his Head Coach.
Coach James was amazed how God could use a missionary in Ireland, who used to be a basketball coach, to write something that has come back to the person who had an impact on him as a young coach, and now impact others.
The new version is personalized for Coach Wooden and gives a very clear statement of his own faith in Christ.
As Coach James was reading though the new version, he kept thinking about all the things that Coach Wooden taught his players and what he would feel was the most important. He thinks the tract makes it clear.
You can have all the victories in the world of basketball and lose in the game of life. You can have all the money in the world and not be happy or find meaning in life. Only God has a plan for helping us to know Him and enjoy Him forever. Coach Wooden knew that and lived his life with that in mind. He has expressed it clearly in his own version of Meet My Head Coach. He wants those who he has loved to know that to. He wants them to meet his Head Coach and enjoy eternity with Him.
The following is a poem that Coach Wooden wrote that expresses his story well.
Do Not Look Back
The years have left their imprint on my hands and on my face
Erect no long is my walk and slower is my pace;
But there is no fear within my heart because I’m growing old,
I only wish I had more time to further serve my Lord.
When I’ve gone to Him in prayer, He has brought me inner peace,
And soon my cares and worries and all others troubles cease,
He has blessed me in so many ways; He has never let me down,
Why should I fear the future when I soon may touch His crown?
Though I know down here my time is short, there is endless time up there,
And He will forgive and keep me forever in His loving care,
May I not waste an hour that’s left to glorify the name,
Of the one who died, that we might live, and for our sins took all the blame.
Coach James ended the email with the statement that John Wooden’s greatest victory was not on a basketball court. His greatest victory came the day that he chose to accept Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior and to live for Him. Christ died to give him victory over life’s greatest enemy, death, and gave him a better life in the present.
Thank you to Coach Todd James for sharing your story of the late Coach John Wooden.
He will be missed!