John Wooden’s UCLA Player Shares Coach’s Lessons And Legacy

In this edition of our Corporate Competitor Podcast, Costco executive Swen Nater sat down with longtime Sports Illustrated Associate Editor Don Yaeger to discuss how basketball shaped his leadership.

When Swen Nater, a Dutch immigrant who didn’t make the starting lineup of a basketball team until junior college, was recruited by UCLA to play basketball, the school’s legendary coach John Wooden promised the seven-foot-tall Nater two things. “First, he promised that if I came to UCLA, I would not play very much because the guy ahead of me was Bill Walton, the best player in the country,” recalled Nater in this episode of Corporate Competitor Podcast. “Second, he promised I would compete against the best player in America every day in practice, and learn the fundamentals that I’d need.”

Nater did what any savvy and hungry young person would do and took Wooden up on his offer. He received a scholarship to an excellent university, where he earned a bachelor’s degree, but more importantly, he got a long-running seminar with the greatest educator college sports has ever produced. It was this latter education that changed his life forever.

In his 25+ year Costco career, Nater has enjoyed many occasions of putting Wooden’s wisdom to work in a business setting. But Nater confesses it always comes back to teaching. “If we’re talking about leadership and being a manager of people, a leader has to be a teacher, somebody who can get information across to somebody else, and it gets implemented, it makes a difference.”

“As Coach used to say, ‘you haven’t taught until they have learned.’”

Teaching is a broad concept, to be sure, but Wooden’s methods were very specific, not to mention successful. Here are some highlights Nater offers in the podcast.


  • 15:00  How Swen’s relationship with Coach John Wooden developed after he left UCLA.
  • 20:00  The “shoes and socks lesson” given to all UCLA players under Coach Wooden.
  • 21:30  How to solve the biggest complaint amongst employees in the workplace.
  • 25:00  How the pursuit of individual glory can hurt a team.
  • 30:00  Why you should use recognition as a motivator within your team.
  • 34:30  How to get serious about continuous improvement.

Check out the full Corporate Competitor Podcast interview archive and subscribe to new episodes.


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