Outreach Agendas, Topical Curriculum

What Will You Be Remembered For?

Main Point: We all get the opportunity to leave a legacy. Let’s make sure that the one we write with our lives is worth putting on our tombstone.

Discussion Starter: Who Taught Kareem the Hook Shot?

The following is an article that was written by one of sports’ greatest writers, Rick Reilly, and was printed in Sports Illustrated in 2000. (The article can be referenced online by clicking here.) When you’re ready to start, simply say, “I want to read you a short article about one of the greatest figures in sports.” Then proceed to read the article below:

    There’s never been a finer man in American sports than John Wooden, or a finer coach. He won 10 NCAA basketball championships at UCLA, the last in 1975. Nobody has ever come within six of him. He won 88 straight games between Jan. 30, 1971 and Jan. 17, 1974. Nobody has come within 42 since.

    So, sometimes, when the Madness of March gets to be too much- too many players trying to make SportsCenter, too few players trying to make assists, too many coaches trying to be homeys, too few coaches willing to be mentors, too many freshmen with out-of-wedlock kids, too few freshmen who will stay in school long enough to become men- I like to go see Coach Wooden. I visit him in his little condo in Encino, 20 minutes northwest of L.A., and hear him say things like ‘Gracious sakes alive!’ and tell stories about teaching ‘Lewis’ the hook shot. Lewis Alcindor, that is. . . Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

    There has never been another coach like Wooden, quiet as an April snow and square as a game of checkers: loyal to one woman, one school, one way: walking around campus in his sensible shoes and Jimmy Stewart morals. He’d spend a half hour the first day of practice teaching his men how to put on a sock. ‘Wrinkles can lead to blisters,’ he’d warn. These huge players would sneak looks at one another and roll their eyes. Eventually they’d do it right. ‘Good,’ he’d say. ‘And now for the other foot.’

    Of the 180 players who played for him, Wooden knows the whereabouts of 172. Of course, it’s not hard when most of them call, checking on his health, secretly hoping to hear some of his simple life lessons so that they can write them on the lunch bags of their kids, who will roll their eyes. ‘Discipline yourself, and others won’t need to,’ Coach would say. ‘Never lie, never cheat, never steal,’ Coach would say. ‘Earn the right to be proud and confident.’

    You played for him, you played by his rules: Never score with out acknowledging a teammate. One word of profanity, and you’re done for the day. Treat your opponent with respect.

    He believed in hopelessly out-of-date stuff that never did anything but win championships. No dribbling behind the back or through the legs. ‘There’s no need,’ he’d say. No UCLA basketball number was retired under his watch. ‘What about the fellows who wore that number before? Didn’t they contribute to the team?’ he’d say. No long hair, no facial hair. ‘They take too long to dry, and you could catch cold leaving the gym,’ he’d say.

    That one drove his players bonkers. One day, All American center Bill Walton showed up with a full beard. ‘It’s my right,’ he insisted. Wooden asked if he believed that strongly. Walton said he did. ‘That’s good, Bill,’ Coach said. ‘I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them. I really do. We’re going to miss you.’ Walton shaved it right then and there. Now Walton calls once a week to tell Coach he loves him.

    It’s always too soon when you have to leave the condo and go back out into the real world, where the rules are so much grayer and the teams so much worse. As Wooden shows you to the door, you take one last look around. The framed report cards of the great-grandkids. The boxes of jellybeans peeking out from under the favorite wooden chair. The dozens of pictures of his late wife Nellie.

    He’s almost 90 now, you think. A little more hunched over than last time. Steps a little smaller. You hope it’s not the last time you see him. He smiles. ‘I’m not afraid to die,’ he says. ‘Death is my only chance to be with her again.’

    Problem is, we still need him here.

OPTIONAL: John Wooden Video
If time and resources allow, here is a great video clip that sums up John Wooden, the man, the player, the coach: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yH68FuKeN8

Transition Statement:
That’s a powerful testament to one man! Coach Wooden lived such a life that others knew they’d miss him even before he died! Like Coach Wooden, we all get the opportunity to leave behind a tremendous legacy. Sadly, some of us will not do like he did. Let’s spend the next few moments talking about our legacies and the lives we’ll have to live to leave them.

Divide into Small Groups:
Let’s go ahead and split up into our discussion groups, and then afterward we’ll come back together for a final word.

CLICK HERE for a quick training article on how to maximize your small groups using our small group format—a great resource to equip your small group leaders.

Discussion Questions:

  1. AROUND THE CIRCLE: As we get started, let’s all take a moment to share our names and our favorite sport.

  2. ASK A FEW: What, if anything, stuck out to you in the article we just read about Coach Wooden?

  3. ASK A FEW: What did his players think of him? How had he impacted their lives?

  4. AROUND THE CIRCLE: What do you want people to say about you when you die?

  5. ASK A FEW: What will you have to do to ensure that people say those things? In other words, how will you have to live your life?

  6. Read the following passage:

      Philippians 3:10-21 (NIV)
      I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 15 All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained. 17 Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the pattern we gave you. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

  7. ASK SOMEONE: What did the Apostle Paul want his life’s legacy to be? (Hint: It’s found in verse 10-11.)

  8. ASK A FEW: This passage tells us several ways to live. Can you list a few of them?

  9. ASK A FEW: Paul says that the legacy his life will leave will result in a “glorious body.” But before that, what does he say will be the legacy of the “enemies of the cross”?

  10. ASK A FEW: According to THIS passage, what are some of the differences between those who live their life for Jesus and those who do not?

  11. ASK A FEW: Coach Wooden died in 2010, just a few months short of his 100th birthday. He is known for saying this: “I have always tried to make it clear that basketball is not the ultimate. It is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. There is only one kind of life that truly wins, and that is the one that places faith in the hands of the Savior.” Do you agree, or not, and why?

  12. ASK A FEW: Is the life you’re living right now pointing towards the legacy you want to leave behind? Why or why not?

  13. AROUND THE CIRCLE: What needs to change about your life so that you can leave a legacy that you’re proud of?

Wrap Up:
In our time spent together, we heard about the awesome life of Coach John Wooden. What an incredible coach and player he was! But he was an even better person. Coach Wooden’s faith was similar to that of the Apostle Paul’s that we read about in Philippians. They both grounded themselves in Jesus, and are both shooting hoops with Jesus right now.

OK, I don’t know if that’s actually true, but the reality is, they both lived lives of faith, they both left behind incredible legacies that impacted others, and most importantly, they are both in the presence of Jesus Christ as I speak to you.

I want to give you a moment to do something fairly powerful. I’m going to give you a moment to write your own epitaph…the line that’s printed on your tombstone that sums up your life. You can write whatever you want; I mean it. But take this seriously, because I have a question for you after you’re done.

Provide students with pens and paper, and give them a chance to write out their own epitaph. After a few moments, say…

I told you I had just one question for you after you were done. Look at the epitaph you wrote about yourself. Think about all that it means. Think about how great it would be for that to actually be true about you 60 years from now. Here’s my question, “If that were your epitaph tomorrow, would it be true…or a lie?”

In other words, are you living toward that epitaph right now? If not, why not?

You only get one chance to leave behind a legacy. Make it count. If you’d like to discuss this further, talk with one of our adult leaders before you leave. We’d be very happy to discuss this important truth with you.

Close in Prayer


Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Guy's Guide to FOUR BATTLES Every Young Man Must Face; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on TheSource4YM.com. Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.


  1. amanda bruce
    December 29, 2012 at 12:00 am

    Thank you so much for all your work. The lesson plans will be a tremendous tool to use for my middle school youth group. God bless

  2. Trevion
    September 22, 2013 at 12:00 am

    I’ve been looknig for a post like this for an age

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