Coach John Wooden's lesson on shoes and socks

At a June 13, 2008, event honoring John Wooden and famed sportscaster Vin Scully and raising money for pediatric cancer research at UCLA and other local institutions, Coach Wooden had an opportunity to demonstrate his famed socks-and-shoes lesson.

One of Wooden's most famous players, Bill Walton, speaking by remote video to the crowd at the Nokia Theater in downtown Los Angeles, introduced the coach and recalled his first days at UCLA on the basketball team.
 
Walton related the shock that he and other new players felt when the first thing Wooden did was sit them down and teach them how to put on their shoes and socks. Doing this properly, Walton said, was the initial lesson for "everything we would need to know for the rest of our lives."

Following Walton's introduction, Coach Wooden came out on stage holding a box with athletic shoes and socks, bringing with him 12-year-old Robert, who was introduced as having tackled cancer at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA. There was much good-natured laughter as Wooden gave Robert the socks-and-shoes instructions.
 
"You know, basketball is a game that's played on a hardwood floor," Wooden said. "And to be good, you have to ... change your direction, change your pace. That's hard on your feet. Your feet are very important. And if you don't have every wrinkle out of your sock..." 
 
Wooden paused and looked at Robert: "You washed your feet, I see."

The coach then took a black athletic sock and started to put it on Robert's foot, asking the boy to complete the task.

Wooden: "Now pull it up in the back, pull it up real good, real strong. Now run your hand around the little toe area ... make sure there are no wrinkles and then pull it back up. Check the heel area. We don't want any sign of a wrinkle about it ... The wrinkle will be sure you get blisters, and those blisters are going to make you lose playing time, and if you're good enough, your loss of playing time might get the coach fired."
 
To audience laughter, Wooden pulled out an athletic shoe.

"Now put it in wide, now pull it up," he told Robert. "Now don't grab these lines up here, go down, eyelet by eyelet ... each one, that's it. Now pull it in there ... Tie it like this... "
 
The coach teased Robert gently as he explained why this was so important.
 
"There's always a danger of becoming untied when you are playing," he said. "If they become untied, I may have to take you out of the game — practice, I may have to take you out. Miss practice, you're going to miss playing time and not only that, it will irritate me a little too."

The coach talked Robert through double-tying his shoelaces so they wouldn't come undone. Then he talked him through taking the shoes off by untying the strings, eyelet by eyelet.

"You gonna remember that?" Wooden asked Robert. "I hope you never get any blisters."

Media Contacts

Carol Stogsdill,
310-825-4723
cstogsdill@support.ucla.edu
Marc Dellins,
310-206-8194
mdellins@athletics.ucla.edu

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