John Wooden on Success

John Wooden and Steve Jamison

From: Wooden on Leadership by John Wooden and Steve Jamison. Copyright 2005 by McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Editor’s note: John Wooden, 1911 – 2010, is widely-acclaimed as the most successful college basketball coach in history, having led the UCLA Bruins men’s team to ten NCAA national championships in twelve years from 1963 to 1975. Also unprecedented for a men’s program is Wooden’s 88 straight victories during a run on of seven consecutive national championships. But winning or accolades or championships is not how Coach Wooden defined success. Here are two brief excerpts from his bestseller, Wooden on Leadership.

While my speeches at the beginning of the year were never recorded or written down, a few years ago the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame asked me to approximate what I said”¦ Obviously my remarks changed from year to year, but this is a pretty good example of the basic tone and philosophy that I resented at the start of a new season at UCLA”¦

“Please let me have your attention, young men. I would like to say a few words about this coming season. We all want to be very successful, but for our success to become a reality you must first accept my concept of what success truly is. True success in basketball shouldn’t be based on individual statistics or the percentage of victories, any more than success in life should be based on material possessions or a position of power and prestige. Success must be based on how close you come to reaching your own particular level of competency.

“Outscoring an opponent is important, and we must make an honest effort to do that, but you must keep things in proper perspective. Our efforts on the court are only building blocks for achieving success in life, and that should be our main purpose in being here.

“Even though it can never be attained, perfection should be our goal. Giving less than your best effort toward attaining perfection is not success – regardless of winning percentages or how successful others may perceive you to be.

“You cannot be truly successful without the peace of mind, and that only comes through the self-satisfaction that comes from knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming. You and only you will know whether or not you have done that.

“You can fool others, but you cannot fool yourself.

“We must not become too concerned about the things over which we have no control, but we must make every effort to utilize to the best of our ability the things over which we have control.

“Everyone is different. There will always be others who are bigger or stronger or quicker, or better jumpers or better in some other areas, but there are other qualities in which you can be second to none.

“Among these are your dedication to the development of your own potential, your industriousness, your physical condition, your integrity, self-control, team spirit and cooperation. If you acquire and keep these traits, I can assure you that you will be successful, not just in basketball, but in life, which is of far greater importance.

“Now for some final thoughts. You are here to get an education, which will provide you with the foundation for a productive and pleasant life for years to follow. Your education and academic progress must be your first priority. No one else can do it for you. Your second priority is basketball, and here again, it is entirely up to you – under my direction, of course – to make the effort to reach your potential. Do not try to be better than someone else, but make every effort to become the bet you can be. For a team, at practice and at games, your concentration must be completely on basketball. But the rest of the time, you are not a basketball player. You’re a student – a student who should neither want nor expect special privileges.

“Are there any questions? Good!”

Some comments from Dave Myers, UCLA Varsity 1973-1975, two national championships

“On the first day of practice (in the NBA), I think I heard the “˜F’ word 150 times. Quite a change from Coach Wooden. But that wasn’t the only change”¦

“As a pro, absolutely nothing else mattered but winning. If you missed a shot or made a mistake, you were made to feel so bad about it because all eyes were on the scoreboard. Winning was all that mattered and all that anybody talked about.: “˜We’ve gotta win this game,’ or “˜We shoulda won that game,’ or “˜How can we win the next game?’ Win. Win. Win.
“Coach Wooden didn’t talk about winning””ever. His message was to give the game the best you’ve got. “˜That’s the goal,’ he would tell us. “˜Do that and you should be happy. If enough of you do it, our team will be a success.’ He teaches this, he believes this, and he taught me to believe it.

“Winning was not mentioned, ever””only the effort, the preparation, doing what it takes to bring out our best in practice and games. Let winning take care of itself.

“When I was a senior playing forward at UCLA, none of the experts thought we’d do much. The Walton Gang – Bill Walton, Keith Wilkes, and others – had just graduated after winning two national championships and extending a streak that got up to 88 straight victories before losing to Notre Dame. I was the only returning starter on the 1974-1975 Bruins

“Coach went to work with us””fundamentals, drills, teamwork, self-sacrifice. Play hard, don’t get down, wait for your chance, try to improve each day.

Don’t worry about the scoreboard. Never a single word about winning. We won the national championship that year”¦

“What he taught us was how to win. And he did it without ever once mentioning winning.”

Excerpted from Wooden on Leadership by John Wooden and Steve Jamison. Copyright 2005 by McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. Used by permission.