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Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success

20 Ways to Do Your Best and Be SuccessfulIn order to be effective in our teaching, we must have rules and suggestions.

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In an interview with Marv Dunphy for his dissertation “John Robert Wooden: The Coaching Process,” Coach Wooden described the evolution of his approach to rules and suggestions: “In my early years of coaching, I had a lot of rules and a few suggestions. In my later years of coaching I had a lot of suggestions and few rules.”

Coach ultimately had only three rules for practice: be on time, no profanity and never criticize a teammate. He provided his teams with his suggestions in the following handout.

Our chances of having a successful team may be in direct proportion to the ability of each player to live up to the following sets of suggestions:

  1. Be a gentleman at all times.
  2. Be a team player always.
  3. Be on time whenever time is involved.
  4. Be a good student in all subjects—not just in basketball.
  5. Be enthusiastic, industrious, dependable, loyal and cooperative.
  6. Be in the best possible condition—physically, mentally and morally.
  7. Earn the right to be proud and confident.
  8. Keep emotions under control without losing fight or aggressiveness.
  9. Work constantly to improve without becoming satisfied.
  10. Acquire peace of mind by becoming the best that you are capable of becoming.

Related: Make Each Day Your Masterpiece


  1. Never criticize, nag or razz a teammate.
  2. Never miss or be late for any class or appointment.
  3. Never be selfish, jealous, envious or egotistical.
  4. Never expect favors.
  5. Never waste time.
  6. Never alibi or make excuses.
  7. Never require repeated criticism for the same mistake.
  8. Never lose faith or patience.
  9. Never grandstand, loaf, sulk or boast.
  10. Never have reason to be sorry afterwards.

The player who gives his best is sure of success, while the player who gives less than his best is a failure.

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Coach Wooden wanted his players to exhibit the 20 behaviors he listed. If he had presented these 20 suggestions as rules with a “do it or else” attitude, he may have had some players that complied out of fear and certainly would have had some resentment with his long list of demands.

Coach, with his opening statement—“Our chances of having a successful team may be in direct proportion to the ability of each player to live up to the following sets of suggestions”—appealed with reason to the one thing he knew all his players wanted: a successful team!

When a team is governed with fear and intimidation, it may be compliant but not energized in the long run. Teams in this mode typically don’t perform well when the pressure is on.

When a team is governed with reason and inspired for a noble cause, its energy and excellence are consistent and self-sustainable. Teams in this mode perform their best when the pressure is on.

Coach Wooden was a strict disciplinarian who always remembered that the purpose of discipline is to teach, not to punish.

As Coach liked to remind us: You cannot antagonize and influence at the same time.

Related: 3 Rules for Giving Positive, Purposeful Criticism

Craig Impelman
As Coach Wooden’s grandson-in-law, Craig Impelman had the opportunity to learn Coach’s teachings firsthand and wrote about those lessons for his site, He is a motivational speaker and the author of Wooden’s Wisdom, a weekly “e-coaching module” that is distributed to companies nationally.