Ten Great Life Lessons from a Legend; Coach John Wooden

Success is the peace of mind which is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing that you made the effort to become the best at what you are capable of becoming.”

~ John Wooden

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Whether you like basketball or even know what a basketball is — chances are you will love this man! At 98, John Wooden is still regarded a quick wit and sage to many players, coaches and friends seek his friendship and counsel. To give you a little flavor, this from the same article referenced above.

“When asked about the keys to successful aging, Coach was quick to respond: stay busy, stay active, enjoy every day like it is your masterpiece, have some variety and try to learn something new every day,” Castel said. “One of Coach’s famous quotes, ‘When I am through learning, then I am through,’ illustrates his lifelong commitment to learning.

“Make everyday your masterpiece!?” I almost let the brilliance of that comment escape me. It sounds too cliché, right? “Make everyday your masterpiece.” Wow! That is super powerful. If I could only possess that type of presence, that type of awareness – to make each encounter, each moment of each day a masterpiece. In order for each day to be a masterpiece, each moment would have to be a masterpiece. By definition that is what a masterpiece is right? All pieces/component parts masterfully interwoven to produce magnificence? I ask you, just what affect would that have on my life’s outcome?
And, “Lifelong commitment to learning.” Sound familiar? Based on the above statements, I think it’s obvious why I’ve taken some time to spotlight the “Wizard of Westwood”. Certainly, a site like this, dedicated to success philosophy is going to harmonize with so many of coach’s philosophies.

Yes, the “coach” is synonymous with “Success”. In fact, you’ll recall that in “The 3 C’s of Succcess” he is referenced for his storied commitment and direct study of success as well as his 14 year refinement of his “SUCCESS PYRAMID”.

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Take notice! At a relatively young age the Coach started to ASK questions — he wanted to understand SUCCESS better. In fact, he cites a story where his math teacher forced the class to consider what success meant to them. (sound familiar?) It was a profound moment in young Wooden’s life and he never forgot it. What is Success? He wondered. As a young teacher he became disillusioned by seeing the pressures and expectations certain parents put on their kids if they didn’t receive an “A” or a “B”.

Those judgments he felt were hurtful, limiting and in some cases unfair. He thought long and hard about success and what it ought to be — what the definition should be. Sound familiar? (See 3 C’s).

So, he ultimately settled on this definition believing it provides everyone equal footing. In many ways his definition is attributed to this poem which he often cites…

At God’s footstool, to confess, 
A poor soul knelt and bowed his head.
”I failed,” he cried. The master said,
”Thou didst thy best. That is success.”

Widely regarded as the best college basketball coach of all time and recently named the “Coach of the Century” by ESPN. John Wooden had a knack for cutting to the core issue, focusing on fundamentals and expertly dealing with different and difficult players – their unique personalities, star egos and all the while forging character. In short, he was a remarkable coach. His methods earned his teams unparalleled success. In 70-71,71-72 his teams went a perfect 30-0, winning back to back NCAA championships. Only a few coaches have ever had one undefeated season. In fact, during a twelve year stretch, he won an astonishing ten national championships

Here are a few quick lessons I’ve learned from his many insights:

1. Ask questions and focus upon what you want to master.
He elected to ask questions and focus on success and therefore came to know success. If you become what you think about most of the time — what better concept to focus upon, contemplate and learn about then success? He spent 14 years. YES, 14 YEARS developing a success pyramid. How many DAYS have you thought about your definition of success and its component parts?

2. Life is a TEAM Sport.
Wooden embraced diversity and worked to find all players strengths.

3. Don’t treat everyone the same.
To COACH effectively you don’t treat everyone the same. Everyone responds differently. Some require encouragement and some require increased pressure and challenge. Same goes for management.

4. Concentrate on what you can control.
Coach would never let his team’s dwell on the opposition. They remained focused on what they could control — mainly…

5. Practice Fundamentals FIRST and LAST.
He was legendary for grinding even the best players on the basics. He knew they could do fancy dunks — but could they hit a clutch free throw or bank shot when it counted? Do you know what your fundamentals are?

6. Moderate and Simplify.
Wooden exemplified this on the court and off with his simple demeanor and tremendous humility.

7. Focus on effort not the result.
Knowing that practicing fundamentals takes time, he was concerned solely with effort and commitment, understanding that success is a bi-product of said constant effort.


8. Quality Leadership and management require teaching.

Effective teaching requires coaching. Effective coaching requires caring and caring requires listening! Even today, ex-players recall his impact because he cared and took the time to listen and teach.

9. Balance is everything.
He said this often – balance in life and balance on the court. He put balance only second to LOVE. Balance is everything. “Be quick, but don’t hurry”. This, in essence, is balance; controlled action in all areas of life.

10. Love Rules.
See above. He used to say “the purpose of discipline isn’t to punish but to correct.” With love in his heart and by always seeking to measure intent and effort first, his players would quickly align with the teams goal — a national championship. They never feared or second guessed his intentions.

So, when you combine all his methods, it becomes fairly easy to see why he has been so successful on and off the basketball court.

Thank you Coach! All the best Sir! Thanks so much for your tremendous gifts — your thoughtful consideration and study of SUCCESS has no doubt made many a persons’ path more swift and assured. We are all likely to go farther faster because you have contributed so generously. We have indeed been fortunate to benefit from your wisdom.

Continued peace, health and happiness.

~MWS

Note: John Wooden passed away yesterday 6/4/10 at the age of 99. Be sure to watch this feature TED talk he gave at the age of 91 about success. RIP Coach. You’ve left us all a little wiser and we can never repay you (the way you would have wanted it- see #10 below).

TED TALK -> http://bit.ly/9ji96g (priceless wisdom coming from the Coach himself)

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