My good friend Alice, who is a Celtics fan (at least when they are in the play-offs) is also, I am learning, a John Wooden fan, and shared with me this wonderful article from The Poetry Foundation titled The Great Scorer … by John Wooden himself.
It brought back, for me, the poem we recited before every basketball game in high school …
If you think you’re beaten, you are.
If you think you dare not, you don’t.
If you’d like to win but think you can’t
It is almost a cinch you won’t.
Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man;
But sooner or later the man who wins
Is the man who thinks he can.
Even at the time, I remember finding it weird (but of course our coaches were oblivious) to have young women chanting about the “stronger or faster man.” Feminist consciousness was still a few years away from touching the mainstream … and likely didn’t ever much touch these very athletic, competitive, and homophobic women.
And truth be told, I didn’t find the poem inspiring … it just made me feel worse about not performing to capacity or promise. What was wrong with me? Well … there’s a story there … and in many ways, much as Shaggy sang, I’d like to say …”It wasn’t me.” However, as I get older I also recognize that personal responsibility is an awfully potent antidote to the disempowerment and true victimization that many of us experienced as kids. Soooo, while “It wasn’t me” probably applies to behaviors up to the age of 4 or so … falling back on it as an explanation for high school shortcomings may be a bit much.
** Sigh **
Anyway … poetry in the hands of John Wooden is very different from poetry in the hands of Miss (yes, Miss) Reynolds and Miss Walchak. (And CB, I’m wondering if teaching has changed/softened your perspective in any way …. on some of these folks who can still prompt anxiety dreams in me!?)
Funny to think back on it all. Back in the day I found my own poems for inspiration … Whitman and Aiken and others. Unfortunately, they contributed little to my performance on high school basketball courts … but they did keep me (relatively) sane! So that’s something.
I leave you with one of Wooden’s maxims … something for Stephen Strasburg to keep in mind as he embarks on his highly-touted career!
Talent is God-given; be humble.
Fame is man-given; be thankful.
Conceit is self-given; be careful.
Oh, and GO FLYERS! (With apologies to Alice …)