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Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success

Confidence Is an Essential Success TraitConfidence is defined on Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success as, “Respect without fear. May come from being prepared and keeping all things in proper perspective.”

This definition reflects one of Coach’s favorite quotes: “Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.”

He believed that confidence was an essential part of success. “You can’t expect others to have confidence in you if you don’t have confidence in yourself,” he said.

Related: 8 Ways to Be a More Confident Person

When he was asked how a person could acquire confidence, Coach responded in much the same manner as when he was asked how a person could gain poise. “Is it easy? Not at all. It’s very, very difficult,” he wrote. “How can we acquire it? By being industrious, enthusiastic, friendly, cooperative and loyal. By maintaining our self-control. By being alert and alive and constantly observing the things that are going on around about us and not getting lost in our own narrow tunnel vision. By having initiative and not being afraid to fail, realizing that we are not perfect and we’re going to fail on occasion. By being intent and persistent on reaching the realistic goals that we set for ourselves. By being conditioned morally, mentally, emotionally and physically. By being skilled. By knowing what we are doing. By being able to do it and doing it quickly. And by having consideration for others. This foundation will bring poise and confidence that will be real.”

It might come as a surprise to some readers that in his book Practical Modern Basketball, Coach Wooden does not mention either confidence or poise as desirable personality traits of a coach or an assistant coach. That does not mean he didn’t think they were an important part of leadership; on the contrary, he considered them essential.

Related: Why You Need Poise to Perform to Your Potential

But Coach believed they could only be present as a byproduct of the blocks on the pyramid listed below them. In other words, poise and confidence do not exist in a vacuum. Confidence without a strong foundation is simply arrogance. “Have respect without fear for every opponent and confidence without cockiness in regard to yourself,” Coach warned his players.

Coach Wooden made it clear that his level of confidence was unrelated to whom the competition was. His confidence was a result of the knowledge that he had done everything within his capability to prepare himself and his team to perform at their highest level—not only with regard to their basketball skills, but in terms of their personal character, too.

Coach also cautioned us about the pitfalls of false or unearned confidence that gives us the assumption that our success in the past would somehow repeat itself without the same hard work and preparation. He was very fond of the saying, “When success turns your head, you face failure.”

Swen Nater’s poem on confidence reflects the philosophy of his old UCLA coach quite well:

Confidence, a noble trait,
Surprisingly cannot be bought.
With preparation at the gate,
You’ll doubtless find that it’s been brought.

Related: How to Gain Confidence and Become the Greatest

Craig Impelman

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.