Coach Mallory's Book Review of 'A Game Plan for Life: The Power of Mentoring' by John Wooden


Many years ago, when I was teaching at Los Angeles Lutheran High, our friend and former Vice Principal had become a family therapist. The psychologists she worked with had developed what they called a "Life Model." One aspect of the life model was a mentoring continuum, having people older than yourself whom you learn from and friends younger than yourself whom you can try to spiritually parent.

I remember thinking that it was a noble ideal, but wasn't sure how I could put it into action. I didn't have a lot of friends above my age range and wasn't sure that I could fit it into my schedule. As a teacher I was sold on trying to disciple young people, but figured I was better off allowing relationships to develop rather than trying to deliberately fabricate them.

Later on this same concept was proposed by the Promise Keeper's movement. I attended a couple of PK conferences with my Principal, who I suspect was seeking to be my mentor- but for whatever reason, we never seemed to "click." PK recommended having older men mentor you and hold you accountable and younger men whom you could challenge and teach as well.

At this time I had a couple of pastors who were older than me and a prestigious painter who'd retired from LALHS before I started teaching there, but I never seemed to manage to become the close confidant with any of them that I imagined being mentored entailed. Meanwhile I felt like I was managing to shepherd and be available for some students, but it seemed like most of them were young women- it didn't seem like I had the same kind of connections with boys. No doubt being a cheerleading coach and Art teacher had some to do with that.

When we moved back to Iowa and left Lutheran High for a public school, I wanted a way to reach the girls I coached and be able to help develop their character since I'd now be in a secular setting. At first I leaned on Norman Vincent Peale's Power of Positive Thinking and eventually discovered Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success.
It didn't occur to me that I hadn't just found material to help me mentor students and athletes, I had myself, found a mentor.

In this book, Coach Wooden explains that mentors can be real people you have meaningful relationships with, like his father, leaders you look up to and who model a great example for you, like his high school coach and principal, people who care for you and try to guide you, like Wooden's college coach at Purdue. But leaders may even be people you don't actually know personally, whom you study and admire, and whom you either try to emulate or who's thinking and ideas shape your own. In Wooden's case, Abraham Lincoln and Mother Theresa. AND, mentors may be peers and loved ones, not just your elders- people who influence you and who you learn from, like a close friend or even a spouse.

The second half of this book was written by seven people for whom Wooden was a mentor. They each write about how he influenced their character, philosophy and lives. Sure there are famous athletes he coached, like Careem Abdul Jabaar, but there are also other coaches he worked with and a teacher who had never really met Wooden- but who had read everything by the Wizard of Westwood until he was asked to contribute to this book.

Last week I attended a conference for college and high school teachers where the key note speaker challenged us to do something positive that would help us build community. He asked us to contact at least 3 people who had contributed positively to our lives and let them know how much we appreciated it.
At first I was stumped. My old Psych Professor had passed away. My old newspaper publisher had passed away. I didn't have an address for my old Education Prof. who was starting a school in Vietnam of something like that. What could I do?

I looked behind me instead of looking ahead of me. I wrote some of my former students who had meant a lot to me. Then, coincidentally, I stumbled across another Ed. Prof. on a professional networking site. Then I found the email address of the first Ed. Prof. Then a google search turned up the new church where one of those old pastors was now serving.

They all replied to my emails by telling me that I'd made their day. One of the students wrote back to tell me how much I had meant to them.
What I realized by reading this book is that mentoring is both simpler/easier/less forced than I had assumed, and at the same time even more profound and important than I realized. It is definitely something we should all be doing, for ourselves, and for others.