Wooden Wednesdays: Skill

Note: this is the eleventh of a series of posts investigating the leadership style of John Wooden and its applicability to choral music education.

John Wooden’s central block in the third tier of his Pyramid of Success is SKILL.

Wooden says, “At the very center of the Pyramid of Success is Skill. You have to know your stuff and that includes a mastery of details.” He also says, “Mastery of the skills you need in your job requires learning and it is why leaders and those who are high achievers are lifelong learners.”

We can all agree that comprehensive skills are an essential part of quality music-making. I don’t think I need to spend any time convincing anyone of that. Wooden rightly put it at the center of the pyramid, along with alertness and initiative.

What I want us to consider here is Wooden hasn’t made skill a larger or more important building block in his pyramid. He could have made an bottom row labeled skill, implying it’s that important, but he didn’t.

There are fifteen traits Wooden considers vital to success, and skill is one of them.

What I’m saying is, you and I are guilty of focusing too much time on skill, neglecting the importance of the other fourteen traits.

It’s easy to focus on skill building, because teaching skills is straightforward and productive. We have spent our careers learning strategies for skill building, and when we attend conferences, it’s often with the goal of obtaining new skill-building techniques.

But I do not think that Wooden was the most successful college basketball coach ever because he prioritized skill formation. I believe his students succeeded because he nestled the learning of skills among the other fourteen traits of his pyramid.

It is his intentional approach to all fifteen of them that makes him a phenomenal success. Other coaches might have been better at teaching free throws, but his comprehensive teaching addressed so many more factors integral in success.

If you spend a few minutes every day on a lesson to your choir class, vocal technique should come up regularly – but so should loyalty, self-control, grit, and all the other traits your singers need to develop.

It’s not that skill isn’t important. It’s that it’s only one block of the pyramid.