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Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success
The Key to Peak Performance: Attention to Detail

“Big things are accomplished only through the perfection of minor details.”

This quote defines what Coach Wooden thought the key to peak performance was: a lot of little things done well.

In the book Wooden on Leadership, Denny Crum, former Louisville head coach and a former player of John Wooden’s, described his mentor this way:

Coach Wooden’s teaching was effective because he was so well organized with his details. Everything was written out on 3-by-5 cards and in notebooks: What was happening from 3:07 to 3:11; what we’d do from 3:11 to 3:17; who was doing what and when.

Nothing was left to chance, every minute was accounted for—every single minute. And he was extremely disciplined in keeping to the schedule. He taught details.

That attention to detail was in everything he did—the way he planned practice, ran practice, evaluated practice and games. It applied to details of travel, equipment and food. Absolutely everything that could affect performance got taken care of.

Here are just a few examples of Coach Wooden’s practice details:

  1. Two hours every day (10 a.m. to noon) to meet with his assistants and plan that day’s two-hour practice. No interruptions to the meeting were allowed except family emergencies.
  2. Student managers were provided with 3 x 5 cards of the practice plan to ensure that the proper numbers of basketballs were staged at each basket during practice.
  3. Complete statistics were kept of practice scrimmages and the results, both daily and cumulative, were posted on the bulletin board that day before players turned in their equipment.
  4. Before showering, the coaching staff recapped their notes about practice that day with Coach Wooden writing down the results on his 3-by-5 card.
  5. Before going home, Coach Wooden transferred his notes from his 3-by-5 card to his practice binder notebook.
  6. The three previous years’ practice notebooks were referred to, to plan that day’s practice.

The following advice comes from key Coach Wooden ideas:

Worthwhile results come from hard work and careful planning. Remember that failure to prepare is preparing to fail. When you are doing your work, take special care to not mistake activity for achievement. If you feel a little rushed, be quick but don’t hurry. If you are tempted to take a shortcut, ask yourself: If you don’t have the time to do right, when will you have time to do it over?

This article was published in December 2019 and has been updated. Photo by @InLightOut/Twenty20

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.