John Wooden Training Manual
Two Sets of Threes
His father has what he called his “two sets of threes.” They were direct and simple rules aimed at how he felt we should conduct ourselves in life. The first set was about honesty:
• Never lie.
• Never cheat.
• Never steal.
It required no explanation. His brothers and he knew what it meant and that he expected everyone to abide by it. The second set of threes was about dealing with adversity:
• Don’t whine.
• Don’t complain.
• Don’t make excuses.
The gift of a Lifetime
His dad had written out his creed. At the top of the paper, it said “Seven Things to Do.” It reads as follows:
• Be true to yourself.
• Help others.
• Make each day your masterpiece.
• Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
• Make friendship a fine art.
• Build a shelter against a rainy day.
• Pray for guidance and count and give thanks for your blessings every day.
Living Up to Dad’s Creed
I am now in my eighth decade and I would like to be able to tell you that I lived up to Dad’s creed, but I am more like the fellow who said:
• I am not what I ought to be,
• Not what I want to be,
• Not what I am going to be,
• But I am thankful that I am better than I used to be.
Six of Life’s Puzzlers
• Why is it easier to criticize than to compliment?
• Why is it easier to give others blame than to give them credit?
• Why is it that so many who are quick to make suggestions find it difficult to make decisions?
• Why can’t we realize that it only weakens those we want to help when we do things for them that they should do for themselves?
• Why is I so much easier to allow emotions rather than reason to control our decisions.
• Why does the person with the least to say usually take the longest to say it?
People ask if I raised my own family the way I ran the UCLA basketball team. I tell them, “No, I ran the team pretty much like I ran my family.” Only with the family I had the greatest co-coach working alongside me, by the name of Nellie.
A Parent Talks to a Child Before the First Game
This is your first game, my child. I hope you win.
I hope you win for your sake, not mine.
Because winning’s nice.
It’s a good feeling.
Like the whole world is yours.
But, it passes, this feeling.
And what lasts is what you’ve learned.
And what you learn about is life.
That’s what sports is all about. Life.
The whole thing is played out in an afternoon.
The happiness of life.
The heart beaks.
There’s no telling what’ll turn up.
There’s no telling whether they’ll toss you out in the first five minutes or whether you’ll stay for the long haul.
There’s no telling how you’ll do.
You might be a hero or you might be absolutely nothing.
There’s just no telling.
Too much depends on chance.
On how the ball bounces.
I’m not talking about the game, my child.
I’m talking about life.
But, it’s life that the game is all about.
Just as I said.
Because every game is life.
And life is a game.
A serious game.
But, that’s what you do with serious things.
You do your best.
You take what comes.
You take what comes and you run with it.
Winning is fun.
But winning is not the point.
Wanting to win is the point.
Not giving up is the point.
Never being satisfied with what you’ve done is the point.
Never letting up is the point.
Never letting anyone down is the point.
Play to win.
But lose like a champion.
Because it’s not winning that counts.
What counts is trying.
My Favorite Four Letter Words – “KIDS” and “LOVE”
The greatest word in the whole dictionary is love. Love your children. Listen to them. Share with them. Remember that love is the most powerful medicine in the world. Do not force them or drive them too hard. Set the example of what you want them to be. Try always to be a good model.
Children are impatient. They want to do right, but maybe they don’t know how. Maybe you haven’t taught them how. Being a good example is a powerful teaching device. This verse is accurate:
No written word nor spoke plea can teach our youth what they should be.
Nor all the books on all the shelves. It’s what the teachers are themselves.
Are You Looking for the Right Things?
There’s an old story about a fellow who went to a small town in Indiana with the thought of possibly moving his family there. “What kind of people live around here?” he asked the attendant at the local filling station.
“Well,” the attendant replied as he checked the oil, “what kind of people live back where you are from?”
The visitor took a swallow of his cherry soda and replied, “They’re ornery, mean and dishonest!”
The attendant looked up and answered, “Mister, you will find them about like that around here, too.”
A few weeks later, another gentleman stopped by the gas station on a muggy July afternoon with the same question. “Excuse me, “ he said as he mopped off his brow.
“I’m thinking of moving to your town with my family. What kind of people live around these parts?”
Again the attendant asked, “Well, what kind of people live back where you are from?”
The stranger thought for a moment and replied, “I find them to be kind, decent and honest folks.”
The gas station attendant looked up and said, “Mister, you will find them about like that around here, too.”
It’s so true. You often find what you are looking for.
The Greatest Joy
Happiness is in many things. It’s in love. It’s in sharing. But most of all, it’s in being at peace with yourself knowing that you are making the effort, the full effort, to do what is right.
True happiness comes from the things that cannot be taken away from you. Making the full effort to do the right thing can never be taken away from you.
I believe the greatest joy one can have is doing something for someone else without any thought of getting something in return.
Five More Puzzlers
• Why is it so hard for so many to realize that winners are usually the ones who work harder, work longer, and as a result, perform better?
• Why are there so many who want to build up the weak by tearing down the strong?
• Why is it that so many nonattainers are quick to criticize, question and belittle the attainers?
• Why is it so hard for us to understand that we cannot antagonize and positively influence at the same time?
• Why is it so much easier to complain about the things we do not have than to make the most of and appreciate the things we do have?
Preparation Is the Prize
Cervantes wrote, “The journey is better than the inn.” He is right and that is why I derived my greatest satisfaction out of the preparation-the “Journey”-day after day, week after week, year after year.
Your journey is the important thing. A score, a trophy, a ribbon is imply the inn.
Thus, there were many, many games that gave me as much pleasure as any of the then national championship games we won, simply because we prepared fully and played near our highest level of ability.
The so called importance of a particular game did not necessarily add to the satisfaction I felt in preparing for the contest. It was the journey I prized above all else.
Tall Versus “Tall”
I told my athletes in basketball, “I don’t care if you are tall, but I do care if you play tall.” It’s just another way of saying that I judged them by the level of effort they gave to the team’s journey.
That’s the standard of measurement I used. I could also have told them, “Show me what you can do, don’t tell me what you can do.”
Too often the big talkers are the little doers.
Winners Make the Most Mistakes
My coach at Purdue, Piggy Lambert, constantly reminded us: “The team that makes the most mistakes will probably win.”
That may sound a bit odd, but there is a great deal of truth in it. The doer makes mistakes. Coach Lambert taught me that mistakes come from doing, but so does success.
The individual who is mistake free is also probably sitting around doing nothing. And that’s a very big mistake.
Nine Promises That Can Bring Happiness
Promise yourself that you will talk health, happiness, and prosperity as often as possible.
Promise yourself to make all your friends know there is something in them that is special and that you value.
Promise to think only of the best, to work only for the best, and to expect only the best in yourself and others.
Promise to be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
Promise yourself to be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
Promise to forget the mistakes of the past and press on to greater achievements in the future.
Promise to wear a cheerful appearance at all times and give every person you meet a smile.
Promise to give so much time to improving yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
Promise to be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit trouble to press on you.
Eight Suggestions for Succeeding
Fear no opponent. Respect every opponent.
Remember, it’s the perfection of the smallest details that make the big things happen.
Keep in mind that hustle makes up for many a mistake.
Be more interested in character than reputation.
Be quick, but don’t hurry.
Understand that the harder you work the more luck you will have.
Know that valid self-analysis is crucial for improvement.
Remember that there is no substitute for hard work and careful planning. Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
Here’s what I found upon becoming well know: you’re not anything different from what you were before; at least, you shouldn’t be.
Fame is just something other people perceive you to be. You’re no different. You’re still you. It’s their illusion. I didn’t want it to become my illusion.
Many athletes have tremendous God-given gifts, but they don’t focus on the development of those gifts. Who are these individuals? You’ve never heard of them-and you never will. It’s true in sports and it’s true everywhere in life.
Hard work is the difference. Very hard work.
It is my observation that the primary cause of unhappiness for most people is simply wanting too much: expecting too much materially, chasing the dollar, overemphasizing the material things.
When they don’t arrive, unhappiness does.
Make the Most of What You’ve Got
When I came out to UCLA from Indiana State Teachers College in 1948,
I had been led to believe we’d soon have an adequate place to practice and play our games. However, that did not occur for almost seventeen years.
During that time I conducted UCLA basketball practice in a crowded, poorly lit, and badly ventilated gym on the third floor of the Men’s Gymnastic building. Much of the time there was wrestling practice at one end, a trampoline on the side with athletes bouncing up and down, and gymnastics practice on the other side. The gym was known as the ‘B.O. Barn” because of the odor when it was busy.
In addition to all of this commotion, cheerleaders in leotards often practiced along side the court. Of course, that brought on some additional distractions.
We had no private locker rooms and no private showers. Players climbed three flights of stairs to a gym that just had two baskets amidst all of the hubbub.
For sixteen years, I helped our manager’s sweep and mop the floor every day before practice because of the dust stirred up from the other activities. These were hardships conditions, not only for the basketball team, but for the wrestling and gymnastics team members and coaches as well. You could have written a long list of excuses why UCLA shouldn’t have been able to develop a good basketball team there.
Nevertheless, the B.O.Barn was where we built teams that won national championships in 1974 and 1965.
You must take what is available and make the very most of it.
Is My Ford Better than Your Cadillac?
Preparing UCLA for a basketball game with Louisville or Arizona or Duke or Michigan, I would tell my players, “We can’t control what those other fellows do to get ready. We can only control what we do to get ready. So let’s do our very best in that regard and hope that will be good enough, yes, to outscore them. But let’s not worry about it.
Let’s say I want to build a car-maybe a Ford or a Chevy. I want to build it the best I can possibly build it. Will it be better than Cadillac or Mercedes? That’s irrelevant.
If I’m building a Ford, I simply want to build the very best Ford I can build. That’s all I can do: to come close to my level of competency, not someone else’s. I have nothing to do with theirs, only mine.
To worry about whether what I’m building is going to be better than what somebody else is building elsewhere is to worry needlessly. I believe that if I’m worried about what’s going on outside, it will detract from my preparation inside.
My concern, my focus, my total effort should be on building the very best Ford I can build. I did that in coaching high school teams and in coaching college teams. My focus was on making that team, that group of individuals, the best they were capable of becoming, whether it was a Ford or a Cadillac.
Some years later I understood we were building a Ford. Other years I felt like we were building a Cadillac. The effort put forth in all years was the same: total.
And I was just as proud of our well built Fords as of our well built Cadillac’s.
Recognizing a Champion
You are in the presence of a true competitor when you observe that he or she is indeed getting the most joy out of the most difficult circumstances. The real competitors love a tough situation. That’s when they focus better and function better. At moments of maximum pressure, they want the ball.
You will begin to see it as time goes by. Not immediately, but gradually you see that real competitors relish the challenge, the bigger the better. The more difficult the game, the more they improve.
True competitors derive their greatest pleasure out of playing against the very best opponents, even though they may be outscored. The difficult challenge provides the rare opportunity to be their best.
Often great competitors don’t quite have the physical skills of more gifted players, but they get more out of what they have at moments of great pleasure.
Thus, I base my judgment on not just what they had but how they used it. To what extent did they attempt to bring forth their abilities? To what extent did they accomplish that under maximum pressure?
This is how I identify competitors who had greatness within.
Being Too Competitive
Competitiveness must be focused exclusively on the process of what you are doing rather than the result of what effort (the so called winning or losing). Otherwise you may lose self-control and become tight emotionally, mentally and physically. I think someone who is too competitive as an individual is overly worried about the final score.
Therefore, I never mentioned winning or victory to my players. I never referred to “beating” an opponent. Instead, I constantly urged them to strive for the self satisfaction that always comes from knowing you did the best you could to become the best of which you are capable. That’s what I wanted, the total effort. That was the measure I used, never the final score.
Is Winning the Only Thing?
Mr. Vince Lombardi is supposed to have said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Well, if he said that, I disagree. I believe making the total effort is everything. And that’s all I ever wanted and all I ever asked from myself or my players.
It’s all you should ever ask for or expect. Understand that you won’t actually ever become the best of which you are capable. That’s perfection. We can’t obtain perfection as I understand it. But we can work, and work hard, toward obtaining it. If you do that, you will never lose, in sports or in life.
Ego and Arrogance
Sometime when you’re feeling important,
Sometime when your ego’s in bloom,
Sometime when you take it for granted,
You’re the best qualified in the room.
Sometime when you feel that you’re going
Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow this simple instruction
And see how it humbles your soul.
Take a bucket and fill it with water;
Put your hand in it up to the wrist.
Pull it out, and the hole that’s remaining
Is the measure of how you’ll be missed?
You may splash all you please when you enter;
You can stir up the water galore;
But stop and you’ll find in a minute,
That it looks quite the same as before.
The moral is this quaint example
Is to do just the best that you can.
Be proud of yourself, but remember,
There is no indispensable man!
Tricks of the Trade
If you spend too much time learning the tricks of the trade, you may not learn the trade. There are not shortcuts. If you’re working on finding a short cut, the easy way, you’re not working hard enough on the fundamentals. You may get away with it for a spell, but there is no substitute for the basis. And the first basic is good, old fashioned hard work.
Act Quickly (But Don’t Hurry)
When you hurry, you tend to make mistakes. On the other hand, if you can’t execute quickly, you may be too late to accomplish your task. It’s a delicate but crucial balance.
Adversity Makes You Stronger
Most all good things come through adversity. There’s a poem that says:
Looking back it seems to me,
All the grief that had to be
Left me when the pain was over
Stronger than I was before.
I believe that. We get stronger when we test ourselves. Adversity can make us better. We must be challenged to improve, and adversity is the challenger.
Character Creates Longevity
I believe ability can get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there. A big part of character is the self discipline needed to avoid complacency, resist temptation, and understand that past success doesn’t guarantee future success.
It’s so easy to relax, to cut corners, to let down after you’ve reached your goal, and begin thinking you can just “turn it on” automatically, without proper preparation. It takes real character to keep working as hard or even harder once you’re there.
When you read about an athlete or team that wins over and over and over, remind yourself, “More than ability, they have character.”
Remember this your lifetime through-
Tomorrow, there will be more to do.
And failure waits for all who stay
With some success made yesterday.
Tomorrow, you must try once more
And even harder than before.
Persistence Is Stronger than Failure
Abraham Lincoln is acknowledged as one of America’s greatest presidents. Here is a brief summary of his career:
Failed in business 1831
Defeated for legislature 1832
Failed in business again 1833
Elected to legislature 1834
Sweetheart died 1835
Had nervous breakdown 1836
Defeated for speaker 1838
Defeated for elector 1840
Defeated for congressional 1843
Elected to Congress 1846
Defeated for Congress 1848
Defeated for Senate 1855
Defeated for Vice President 1856
Defeated for Senate 1859
Elected President of the US 1860
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.
The Final Score
The “final score” is not the final score. My final score is how prepared you were to execute near your own particular level of competence, both individually and as a team.
There is nothing wrong with that other fellow being better than you are, as long as you did everything you possibly could to prepare yourself for the competition. That is all you have control over. That is all you should concern yourself with. It may be that the other fellow’s level of competency is simply higher than yours. That doesn’t make you a loser.
In 1962 in the Final Four against Cincinnati (who won the championship that year), we lost in the last few seconds of our semifinal game. However, Walter Hazard, Gary Cunningham, Peter Blackman, John Green, Fred Slaughter and the other UCLA players left the court as winners in my eyes.
You respect everyone. Then you simply make the strongest effort to prepare to the fullest extent of your abilities. The result will take care of itself, and you should be willing to accept it.
The Glory Is in Getting There
When people ask me now if I miss coaching UCLA basketball games, the national championships, the attention, the trophies, and everything that goes with them, I tell them this: I miss the practices.
I don’t miss the games or the tournaments or all the other folderol. As Robert Louis Stevenson wrote, “It is better to travel hopefully than arrive.” I tried to do that. It’s the practices I miss most even now.
Coaching, Teaching, Leading
In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.
Wilfred A. Peterson
A Sacred Trust
A leader, particularly a teacher or coach, has a most powerful influence on those he or she leads, perhaps more than anyone outside of the family. Therefore, it is the obligation of that leader, teacher, or coach to treat such responsibility as a grave concern.
I consider it a sacred trust: helping to mold character, instill productive principles and values, and provide a positive example to those under my supervision.
Furthermore, it is a privilege to have that responsibility, opportunity, and obligation, one that should never be taken lightly.
Who Can Lead?
Leadership is the ability to get individuals to work together for the common good and the best possible results while at the same time letting them know they did it themselves.
Some people are automatic leaders. Some can never be leaders. But many who don’t think of themselves as leaders have the potential to become such if they understand the fundamentals of getting individuals to work together.
Those fundamentals can be learned. I have learned them.
Pride as a Motivator
Pride is a better motivator than fear. I never wanted to teach through fear, punishment or intimidation.
Fear may work in the short term to get people to do something, but over the long run I believe personal pride is a much greater motivator. It produces far better results that last for a much longer time.
Who would I prefer to work with, an individual who has great personal pride or one who is fearful of punishment? That’s an easy choice for me.
Remember, pride comes when you give respect.
The Worst Punishment of All
The worst punishment I could give a team was to deny participation in what was very hard work. I wanted my players to understand that practicing
on our UCLA basketball team was indeed a privilege, a privilege that could be taken away from them.
If they weren’t working hard in practice I would say, “Well, fellows. Let’s call it off for today. We’re just not with it.”
The vast majority of the time the players would immediately say, “Coach, give us another chance. We’ll get going.” Usually that was all it would take, the threat of taking away their privilege of practicing. Keep in mind that our practices were physically and mentally grueling.
On rare occasions when that didn’t work, when the players continued to coast, I would simply terminate the practice session, turn out the lights, and leave.
The privilege of practicing had been taken away. It was the worst punishment of all: “Gentlemen, practice was over.”
I was disinclined to play so-called mind games with opponents. However, there was one idea I used that was aimed directly at the opponent’s physiology as well as their psychology.
Never did I want to call the first time-out during a game. Never. It was almost a fetish with me because I stressed conditioning to such a degree. I wanted UCLA to come out and run our opponents so hard that they would be forced to call the first time-out just to catch their breath. I wanted them to have to stop the running before we did.
At that first time-out, the opponent would know, and we would know they knew, who was in better condition. This has a psychological impact.
Hatred motivates only briefly. It is a variation of rage or anger and is a result of emotionalism. Emotions aren’t lasting. When emotions take over, reason flies out the window and prevents you from functioning near your level of competency. Mistakes occur when your thinking is tainted by excessive emotion.
You may refute that in a sense by saying that love is an emotion and it is productive. But isn’t it true that when you’re in love, really in love, your ability to reason may be somewhat reduced? Of course, I can only speak for myself on that issue.
Generally, to perform near your level of competency your mind must be clear and free of excessive emotions, such as hatred.
Unless you’re attempting to run through a brick wall, excessive emotion is counterproductive.
When to Be Dejected
You are entitled to be dejected when you know you did not do what you should have done in preparing yourself to execute near your own ability level. Yes, then you have reason to be dejected.
But if you have prepared yourself properly, there is no reason to be downhearted. Disappointed perhaps, but not excessively so.
The most disappointing thing that happened to me in basketball was losing the final game of the Indiana state high school championship by one single point. That was back in 1928 at Butler Field House in Indianapolis. We lost to Muncie Central, 13-12 in the last seconds of the game on a shot that seemed to clear the rafters before it finally went through the basket.
When the buzzer signaled the end of that game, one that still talked about by old time Indiana basketball fans, most of my teammates broke down and cried. I did not. I believed I had done the best I could. I had prepared and played hard and knew it.
The team had prepared and played hard. I saw no reason to be overly distressed because we had lost a game, even a championship game. I wasn’t. Disappointed, of course, but not overly dejected and downhearted.
I felt even then that the more important question was, “Did I try to do all I could?” Rather than “Did I win.” If the answer to the first question was yes, then the answer to the second question was also, yes, regardless of the score.
There is nothing to be ashamed of when you prepared to the best of your ability. But you have ample cause to be dejected when you know you did not prepare properly when you had the ability to do so.
I used to say to an individual player who was unhappy because he wanted more playing time, “Young man, tell yourself, “I will be prepared and then perhaps my chance will come, because if it does come and I’m not ready, another chance may not come my way very soon again.”
The time to prepare isn’t after you have been given the opportunity. Its long before that opportunity arises. Once the opportunity arrives, it’s too late to prepare.
The Guaranteed Dividend
I believe one of the big lessons of sports for dedicated individuals and teams is that is shows us how hard work, and I mean hard work, does pay dividends.
The dividend is not necessarily in outscoring an opponent. The guaranteed dividend is the complete peace of mind gained in knowing you did everything within your power, physically, mentally, and emotionally, to bring forth your full potential.
I see the same self satisfaction occurring in every area of our lives when we strive mightily to do our best, whether it’s working in a business or community or raising a family.
The greatest satisfaction that comes from trying to do your best I the guaranteed dividend.
Bringing Out Your Best
As a player at Perdue University I had not been blessed with height or size. Those were the things over which I had no control. But the Good Lord had given me quickness and speed, and those were the things over which I had some control. I focused on them with great intensity. I worked very hard on conditioning for quickness and speed.
When I graduated, Coach Piggy Lambert said I was the best conditioned athlete he had ever seen in any sport. I had worked at it-at what I had control over.
Later, I applied the same philosophy to our teams: focus all your effort on what is within your power to control. Conditioning is one of those things. How your mind functions is another.
Love Of The Routine
Some people wondered how I could end endure working in such a minutely detailed, persistent, and arduous manner day after day, week after week, or years on end. I could tell them only this: “I love it.” It was a Cervantes described. For me the journey was the inn.
The practice and the planning and the drills were my journey, and I loved it.
Sween Nater Understood His Role
Sween Nater was playing basketball at Cypress Junior College in Southern California when I spoke with him about coming to UCLA. He was nearly seven feet tall and had an outstanding physique, although his basketball skills were somewhat limited because he had spent his early years in Holland.
I told him, “Sween, if you come to UCLA you will play very little in actual games, maybe not at all because I’ve got someone coming in who is extremely talented.” The player coming was Bill Walton.
“However,” I continued, “if you work with us, practice with and against this player, by the time you graduate I feel certain that you’ll get a pro contract. You’ll be that good because of the role you’ll play on our team.”
Sween listened and joined us. He understood his role. The first year he hardly challenged Bill. The second year made great progress. The third year he gave Bill all he could handle.
Sween knew his individual role and his team role and never once complained. As a result, everyone benefited: the UCLA basketball team as a group, Bill Walton as an individual, and Swen Nater, who, after graduation, joined San Diego in the ABA and became rookie of the year.
Slow and Steady Gets You Ready
When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. When you improve conditioning a little each day, eventually you have a big improvement in conditioning. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made.
Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens-and when it happens, it lasts.
Tough Toes Bring Hidden Rewards
In our first team meeting two weeks before UCLA’s actual practices began, I would ask players to start toughening up their feet. Waiting until practices began would guarantee blisters.
I advised them against scrimmaging. Instead I urged them to start with plenty of sliding side to side, starting and stopping, making quick changes of direction and sprinting short distances rather than long. This would gradually toughen up their feet. Players understood the need for this. They knew they couldn’t hide blisters.
What is didn’t tell them was that by getting their feet ready, they would also get their lungs ready. If they did the drills I recommended, their wind would be in good shape when practices got underway. Players were less inclined to pay attention to their wind. They may have felt it was less detectable.
On the first day of practice I wanted UCLA to be able to literally hit the floor running, at full speed for two hours without getting blisters or becoming winded. When we addressed one issue, the other came as sort of a hidden reward.
The Laws of Learning
The four laws of learning are explanation, demonstration, imitation and repetition. The goal is to create a correct habit that can be produced instinctively under great pressure.
To make sure this goal was achieved, I created eight laws of learning; namely explanation, demonstration, imitation, repetition, repetition, repetition and repetition.
A Coaches Highest Compliment
One of the finest things a player could say about me after he left the team was that I cared about every bit as much about him as an individual as I cared about him as an athlete.
It was important to me because I really did care about them. I often told he players that, next to my own flesh and blood, they were the closest to me. They were my extended family and I got wrapped up in them, their lives. Their problems. There was a great deal of love involved in my coaching. That’s what a team should be to a coach.
Dad helped set my thinking in place on the issue of race. He told me and my brothers many times, “You’re just a good as anyone, but you’re no better than anybody.” Because of him I’m better than I might have been on many matters, even though I fall short of what I could and should be.
One of our players said to a reporter once, “Coach Wooden doesn’t see race. He’s just looking for players who will play together.” I’d have to say that gave me about as good a feeling as I could have.
My dad was a very wise man.
Be Careful Who You Follow
The story goes that a fellow was walking past a cemetery when he noticed a tombstone with the following inscription:
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, you are sure to be.
So may I say, as now I lie,
Prepare yourself, to follow me.
The gentleman took out a piece of chalk and wrote underneath the inscription:
To follow you I’m not content,
Until I know which way you went.
Choose your role models, your leaders, your teachers and coaches, with care.
Putting It All Together: My Pyramid of Success
There is a choice you have to make, in everything you do. And you must always keep in mind the choice you make, makes you.
Success is a piece of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.
Finding the Answers: The Pyramid
One day I saw an illustration that helped lead me to the answers I was looking for. It was called the ladder of achievement.
The author had taken the ladder with five rungs and had given each rung of that ladder a name describing something he thought was necessary to get to the top of the ladder.
Naturally, I could not use the ladder idea, and I had a completely different notion of what the top consisted of. But it gave me the idea for what became the Pyramid of Success.
I decided that the individual blocks of the Pyramid would consist of those personal qualities necessary for achieving success according to my definitions: peace of mind that is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.
Building the Pyramid Took Years
Each block in the Pyramid was selected with meticulous care and consideration over many years and after a variety of experiences in my life. Some of the blocks selected in the early years were discarded when I concluded they were less than essential. Other blocks were put in different positions within the structure as I learned more the time.
The position of each block and the specific order of the tiers of blocks in the Pyramid have great importance, starting with the foundation and cornerstones and building up to the apex: your own personal success.
Building a Solid Foundation for Success
In 1934 I chose two blocks as the cornerstones of my Pyramid of Success without any clear knowledge of how many blocks it would eventually have or its eventual size. That would come only after hundreds of hours of reflection over a period of fourteen years.
I did know that at the top of the Pyramid, at the apex, was success and defined by many of the teachings Dad had given us back on the farm. To those I added my own ideas gained from experience.
So in 1934 I began by putting in place two huge and powerful blocks as the cornerstones of the Pyramid, two fundamental personal qualities that I wouldn’t change if I had to do it over again today in 199, because without them you will not succeed. These are the biggest and most essential blocks in the Pyramid: industriousness and enthusiasm. Let me tell you a little about both of them.
The First Cornerstone: Industriousness
Industriousness? I mean very simply that you have to work and work hard. There is no substitute for work. Worthwhile things come only from work.
I challenge you to show me one single solitary individual who achieved his or her own personal greatness without lots of hard work.
Michael Jordan? More important than his physical ability is the way he has worked hard to improve any weaknesses he had. Jack Nicklaus? Mr. Nicklous is legendary for his hard work. Cal Ripken? The same. And anyone else you might care to mention who has achieved personal success and competitive greatness. Businessperson, clergy, doctor, lawyer, plumber, artist, writer, coach or player, all share a fundamental trait. They work very hard. More than that, they love the hard work.
You might suggest that Babe Ruth achieved greatness even though he broke training in every sort of way over and over again. But just imagine what he might have done if he had focused on bringing out the best that he had within him.
He may have achieved greatness in the eyes of many, but did he achieve his own personal greatness? Did he try to be the best that he could be?
The Other Cornerstone: Enthusiasm
On the other side of the Pyramid foundation is my second most powerful cornerstone: enthusiasm. By that I mean simply that you have to like what you’re doing; your heart must be in it. Without enthusiasm you can’t work up to your fullest ability.
I have a little problem with those who complain about their jobs-coaches who tell me how hard their job is, businesspeople who whine about this or that, teachers who complain about how tough they have it working with youngsters. Gracious sakes alive! The opportunity to teach and coach and work with youngsters hard? I believe otherwise.
And I believe it’s true in any profession. If you’re knocking it all the time, get out! Don’t whine, complain, or criticize. Just leave. Maybe you can’t leave immediately, today, right now, but understand you must eventually do it.
Because if you don’t enjoy your endeavors, it is almost impossible to have enthusiasm for them. And you must have enthusiasm for them. And you must have enthusiasm to prepare and perform with industriousness. Enthusiasm ignites plain old work and transforms it into industriousness.
Enthusiasm brushes off on those with whom you come into contact, those you work with and for. You must have enthusiasm, especially if you’re a leader or if you wish to become a leader.
Leadership Requires Enthusiasm
People in positions of leadership have many responsibilities. They have to influence those under their supervision in a positive way. They must be interested in finding the best way rather than having their own way. Leaders must make sure that those under their supervision understand that they’re working with the leader, not for the leader.
But, most important, leaders must always generate enthusiasm if they wish to bring out the best in themselves and those under their supervision.
Regardless of whether you’re leading as a teacher, coach, parent, or businessperson, or you’re a member of a leadership team, you must have enthusiasm. Without it you cannot be industrious to the full level of your ability. With it you stimulate others to higher and higher levels of achievement.
So as the cornerstone of the Pyramid of Success I place these two essential qualities: industriousness and enthusiasm. You must be willing to work hard, to be industrious. You must join that with enthusiasm. Separately each is powerful in its own particular way. Joined together they become a force of almost unimaginable power.
You need those qualities within yourself. And if you are a leader, you will soon instill those qualities in those under your supervision by your example.
Between the Cornerstones: The Foundation
No structure is going to be very strong and solid unless it has a sturdy foundation. The blocks in between my two cornerstones make a strong and solid foundation because they include others, and when we include others we’re adding tremendous strength.
Those additional blocks of the foundation are friendship, loyalty, and cooperation. Their great importance is that they bring together and amplify at the cornerstones: industriousness and enthusiasm. The additional blocks show that it takes united effort to succeed.
For success, either individually or for your team, there must be a level of friendship. It’s a powerful force that comes from mutual esteem, respect and devotion.
It isn’t friendship when someone does something nice for you. He or she is simply being a nice person. Friendship is mutual; doing good things for each other. There’s no real friendship when only one side is working at it. Both must give for there to be friendship.
Friendship takes time and understanding. Rarely will you find in working toward a common goal that others will be able to resist friendship if you offer it sincerely and openly. However, you may have to prime the pump first. Be brave enough to offer friendship.
My goodness, how can you work to the best of your ability unless you have someone or something to whom you are loyal? Only then do you gain peace and an increasing ability to perform at your highest level.
Loyalty to and from those with whom you work is absolutely necessary for success. It means keeping your self-respect, knowing who and what you have allegiance to. It means giving respect to those you work with. Respect helps produce loyalty.
Great loyalty was stressed on all my teams, from Indiana State Teachers College to UCLA. Loyalty is a cohesive force that forges individuals into a team.
Loyalty is very important when things get a little tough, as they often do when things get a little tough, as they often do when the challenge is great. Loyalty is a powerful force in producing one’s individual best and even more so in producing a team’s best.
In order to reach the full potential of the group, there must be cooperation at all levels. This means working together in all ways to accomplish the common goal. And to get cooperation, you must give cooperation.
You are not the only person with good ideas. If you wish to be heard, listen. Always seek to find the best way rather than insisting on your own way.
All of this requires cooperation. It allows individuals to move forward together, to move in the same direction instead of going off in different directions.
Ten strong field horses could not pull an empty baby carriage if they worked independently of each other. Regardless of how much effort they exerted individually, the carriage wouldn’t budge without their mutual cooperation.
Building on the Solid Foundation: Self-Control, Alertness, Initiative, and Intentness
No edifice is going to be better than its structural foundation, just as no individual is better than his or her mental foundation. Those five blocks-friendship, loyalty, cooperation, and the powerful cornerstones of industriousness and enthusiasm-are the strong and sturdy foundation upon which you build success.
Once this had been constructed I put in place the second tier, four blocks that build on the solid foundation: self-control, alertness, initiative and intentness.
Self-control is essential for discipline and mastery of emotions, for discipline of self and discipline of those under your supervision.
You cannot function physically or mentally unless your emotions are under control. That is why I did not engage in pregame pep talks to stir emotions to a sudden peak.
I preferred to maintain a gradually increasing level of both achievement and emotions rather than trying to create artificial emotional highs. For every contrived peak you create, there is a subsequent valley. I do not like valleys. Self-control provides emotional stability and fewer valleys.
Remember, discipline of others isn’t punishment. You discipline to help, to improve, to correct, to prevent, not to punish, humiliate or retaliate.
When you punish you antagonize. You cannot get the most positive results when you antagonize. Self-control is essential to avoid antagonizing.
When you lose control of your emotions, when your self-discipline breaks down, your judgment and common sense suffer. How can you perform at your best when you are using poor judgment?
In the many years before we won a championship I overcame disappointment by not living in the past. To do better in the future you have to work on the “right now.” Dwelling in the past prevents doing something in the present.
Complaining, whining, making excuses just keeps you out of the present. That’s where self-control comes in. self-control keeps you in the present. Strive to maintain self-control.
Alertness is the next building block in the pyramid. There is something going on around us at all times from which we can acquire knowledge if we are alert. Too often we get lost in our own tunnel vision and we don’t see the things that are right in front of us for the taking, for the learning.
My favorite American hero is Abraham Lincoln. He had alertness. He once said that he never me a person from whom he did not learn something, although most of the time it was something not to do. That also is learning, and it comes from your alertness.
As you strive to reach your personal best, alertness will make the task much easier. Be observing constantly, quick to spot a weakness and correct it or use it, as the case may warrant.
You must not be afraid to fail. Initiative is having the courage to make decisions and take action. Keep in mind that we all are going to fail at times. This you must know. None of us is perfect. But if you’re afraid of failure, you will never do the things you are capable of doing.
I always cautioned my team, “Respect your opponents, but never fear them. You have nothing to fear if you have prepared to the best of your ability.”
Never fear failure. It is something to learn from. You have conquered fear when you have initiative.
The fourth block in the second tier of the Pyramid of Success is intentness. I could say it means determination. I could say it means persistence. I could say it means tenacity or perseverance.
I will say it is the ability to resist temptation and stay the course, to concentrate on your objective with determination and resolve.
Impatience is wanting too much too soon. Intentness doesn’t involve wanting something. It involves doing something.
The road to real achievement takes time, a long time, but you do not give up. You may have setbacks. You may have to start over. You may have to change your method. You may have to go around, or over, or under. You may have to back up and get another start. But you do not quit. You stay the course. To do that, you must have intentness.
Here’s a little example of what I mean. In 1948 I began coaching basketball at UCLA. Each hour of practice we worked very hard. Each day we worked very hard. Each week we worked very hard. Each season we worked very hard. For fourteen years we worked very hard and didn’t win a national championship. However, a national championship was won in the fifteenth year. Another in the sixteenth. And eight more in the following ten years.
Be persistent. Be determined. Be tenacious. Be completely determined to reach your goal. That’s intentness.
If you stay intent and your ability warrants it, you will eventually reach the top of the mountain.
Three More Strong Blocks: Condition, Skill and Team Spirit
In the third tier I put what I think is the heart of the Pyramid. It may seem to apply to athletics alone, but it doesn’t. The personal characteristics in the third tier apply equally to individuals and teams anywhere.
These blocks are condition, skill and team spirit.
You must be conditioned for whatever you’re doing if you’re going to do it to the best of your ability. There are different types of conditioning for different professions. A deep sea diver has different conditioning requirements from a salesperson. A surgeon has different physical conditioning requirements from a construction worker. A CEO has different conditioning requirements from a food server.
You musts add to physical conditioning mental and moral conditioning. I stressed all forms of conditioning for my teams.
Some believed my players were simply in better physical condition than the competition. They may have been, but they also had tremendous mental and emotional conditioning.
You must identify your conditioning requirements and then attain them. Without proper conditioning in all areas, you will fall short of your potential.
It is impossible to attain and maintain desirable physical condition without first achieving mental and moral condition.
At the very center of the Pyramid is skill. You have to know what you’re doing and be able to do it quickly and properly.
I had players at UCLA who were great shooters. Unfortunately they couldn’t get off any shots so they didn’t help us. I had players who could get off plenty of shots but couldn’t shoot a lick. You need both; the ability to do it quickly and properly.
Skill means being able to execute all of your jobs, not just part of it. It’s true whether you’re an athlete or attorney, a surgeon or a sales rep, or anything else. You’d better be able to execute properly and quickly. That’s skill. As much as I value experience, and I value it greatly, I’d rather have a lot of skill and little experience than a lot of experience and a little skill.
The last block in the third tier is team spirit. This means thinking of others. It means losing oneself in the group for the good of the group. It means being not just willing but eager to sacrifice personal interest or glory for the welfare of all.
There is a profound difference between mere willingness and eagerness. A prisoner on a chain gang may be willing to break rocks to avoid punishment. But how eager is he?
Of course, we all want to do well and receive individual praise. Yes, that’s fine, if you put it to use for the good of the team, whatever your team is: sports, business, family or community.
Team spirit means you are willing to sacrifice personal considerations for the welfare of all. That defines a team player.
Nearing the Peak: Poise and Confidence
Near the peak of the apex of the Pyramid are poise and confidence. I believe these two important blocks of the structure are the natural result of the personal qualities that we put in place below. Poise and confidence ensure from all the other blocks.
That is why the exact order of the tiers and the blocks in those tiers is so important. I don’t believe poise or confidence can come about until all the other blocks are in place.
My definition of poise is very simple: being yourself. You’re not acting. You’re not pretending or trying to be something you’re not. You are being who you are and are totally comfortable with that. Therefore, you’ll function near your own level of competence.
You understand that the goal is to satisfy not everyone else’s expectations but your own. You give your total effort to becoming the best you are capable of being.
It takes poise to accomplish this.
You must have confidence. You must believe in yourself if you expect others to believe in you.
However, you can’t have poise and confidence unless you’ve prepared correctly. Remember that failing to prepare is preparing to fail. Every block is built on the others. When all are in place, poise and confidence result. You don’t force them to happen. They happen naturally from proper preparation.
Ultimately, all fourteen building blocks in the Pyramid of Success are necessary for competitive greatness.
What is competitive greatness? It’s being at your best when your best is needed. It’s enjoying the challenge when things become difficult, even very difficult.
True competitors know it’s exhilarating to be involved in something that’s very challenging. They don’t fear it. They seek it. It is fun to do that which is ordinary, easy, and simple, something anyone can do? Not at all.
Yet most of the tasks we do in our everyday lives are very simple. Anybody could do them. They will not produce the joy that comes from being involved with something that challenges your body, mind and spirit.
Competitors love that challenge. They know it offers that chance to produce their very finest. It brings forth their competitive greatness.
The Mortar: Patience and Faith
Just above competitive greatness I have placed patience and faith, two essential qualities that are like mortar keeping the individual blocks firmly in place. Patience and faith are really present throughout the Pyramid, holding everything together.
Most of us are impatient. As we get a bit older, we think we know more and things should happen faster. But patience is a virtue in preparing for any task of significance. It takes time to create excellence. If it could be done quickly, more people would do it.
A meal you order at a drive through window may be cheap, it may be quick, and it may even be tasty. But is it a great dining experience? That takes time. Good things always take time, and that requires patience.
Competitive greatness requires patience. Excellence requires patience. Most of all, success requires patience.
Of course, I believe we must also have faith that things will work out as they should. Please keep in mind that I’m not saying things will necessarily work out as we want them to.
However, we must believe they will work as they should as long as we do what we should do. And we must let that suit us. That should be satisfactory.
The Apex: Success
The highest point of a pyramid is called the apex. In our Pyramid, it is success. Above the block of competitive greatness and above patience and faith, at the very pinnacle, representing the culmination of all the qualities working together below, those powerful blocks we put in place, is success.
True success is attained only through the satisfaction of knowing you did everything within the limits of your ability to become the very best that you are capable of being.
Success is not perfection. You can never attain perfection as I understand it. Nevertheless, it is the goal.
Success is giving too percent of your effort, body, mind and soul, to the struggle. That you can attain. That is success.
As a coach, leader, and teacher you’re trying to bring individuals up to their greatest level of competence, and then meet the real challenge of putting them together as a group. That can be extremely difficult. The Pyramid shows the way.
As an individual you strive to bring forth your best. The Pyramid has allowed me to accomplish that, and with it, to achieve a very precious commodity: peace of mind.
What is so important to recognize is that you are totally in control of your success-not your opponent, not the judges, critics, media, or anyone else. It’s up to you. That’s all you can ask for; the chance to determine your success by yourself.
The Pyramid and the Players
Over the years since completing the Pyramid of Success, I would ask players to come in a couple of weeks before practice started to review with me, to go over what is meant and how it applied to the team and themselves. I did this particularly at UCLA at the beginning of each new season.
What’s surprising is that nearly every player told me later that although the didn’t understand it all while they were students, the Pyramid of Success has been very meaningful to them as adults. I’m very pleased by that.
Kareem Adbul-Jabbar told a reporter he actually thought the Pyramid was kind of corny when he first saw it. But by the time he graduated, it had begun to make a little more sense to him. It was only later, he said, years after he had left UCLA, that it had its greatest effect on him.
Perhaps that’s as it should be, because the Pyramid of Success is about life more than about basketball.
Mr. Shidler’s Question
So, as you can see, I’ve spent most of my lifetime pursing the issue posed in Mr. Shidler’s classroom back in Indiana: What is success? It was a question that my father had already begun to answer for me with his wisdom on our little farm.
What is success? How do you achieve it? Who has it? These questions really go to what life is all about.
I do believe this: A man or woman who strives conscientiously to become the best that he or she is capable of becoming can stand tall on Judgment Day. That person will be judged a big success regardless of whether he or she has accumulated riches, glory, or trophies.
The values, ideals, and principles of the Pyramid of Success are the qualities that I believe will allow you to stand tall, now and throughout your days.
Furthermore, I believe that all of us have within us the building blocks of success. The potential is within each of us waiting to come forth. That’s what you must always keep in mind. You have success within. It’s up to you to bring it out.
I’ve been trying to do that in my own life for over eighty years. I will continue each day to strive for that until the moment the Good Lord calls me to be with my dear Nellie again.
The Great Competitor
Beyond the winning and the goal, beyond the glory and the flame,
He feels the flame within his soul, born of the spirit of the game.
And where the barriers may wait, built up by the opposing Gods,
He finds a thrill in bucking fate and riding down the endless odds.
Where others wither in the fire or fall below some raw mishap,
Where others lag behind or tire and break beneath the handicap,
He finds a new and deeper thrill to take him on the uphill spin,
Because the test is greater still, and something he can revel in.
Coach John Wooden’s Favorite Maxims
Happiness begins where selfishness ends.
Earn the right to be proud and confident.
The best way to improve the team is to improve ourself.
Big things are accomplished only through the perfection of minor details.
Discipline yourself and others won’t need to.
Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.
I will get ready and then, perhaps, my chance will come.
If I am through learning, I am through.
If you do not have the time to do it right, when will you find the time to do it over?
The smallest good deed is better than the best intention.
The man who is afraid to risk failure seldom has to face success.
Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.
Time spent getting even would be better spent trying to get ahead.
It is what you learn after you know it all that counts.
Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights.
There is nothing stronger than gentleness.
You discipline those under your supervision to correct, to help, to improve-not to punish.
Goals achieved with little effort are seldom worthwhile or lasting.
Make sure the team members know they’re working with you, not for you.
Be most interested in finding the best way, not in having your own way.
What is right is more important than who is right.
You handle things. You work with people.
As long as you try your best, you are never a failure. That is, unless you blame others.
Tell the truth. That way you don’t have to remember a story.
Don’t let making a living prevent you from making a life.
If I were ever prosecuted for my religion, I truly hope there would be enough evidence to convict me.
Although there is no progress without change, not all change is progress.
If we magnified blessings as much as we magnify disappointments, we would all be much happier.
The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.
The worst thing you can do for those you love is the things they could and should do for themselves.
It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely help another without helping himself.
Do not permit what you cannot do to interfere with what you can do.
Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation character is what you really are; reputation is merely what you are perceived to be.
Love is the greatest of all words in our language.
Much can be accomplished by teamwork when no one is concerned about who gets credit.
Never make excuses. Your friends don’t need them and your foes won’t believe them.
Never be disagreeable just because you disagree.
Be slow to criticize and quick to commend.
Be more concerned with what you can do for others than what others can do for you. You’ll be surprised at the results.
The more concerned we become over the things we can’t control, the less we will do with the things we can control.
Don’t permit fear of failure to prevent effort. We are all imperfect and will fail on occasion, but fear of failure is the greatest failure of all.
Being average means you are as close to the bottom as you are to the top.
The time to make friends is before you need them.
We are many, but are we much?
Nothing can give you greater joy than doing something for another.
Material things are not gifts but apologies for gifts. The only true gift is a portion of thyself.
You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for another without thought of something in return.
Do not mistake activity for achievement.
You can do more good by being good than any other way.
Forget favors given; remember those received.
Make each day your masterpiece.
Make friendship a fine art.
Treat all people with dignity and respect.
Acquire peace of mind by making the effort to become the bests of which you are capable.
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