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Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success

John Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: ‘Make Friendship a Fine Art’As you might recall, the fifth point in John Wooden’s Seven-Point Creed was, “Make friendship a fine art.” So it should come as no surprise that Coach Wooden included friendship as one of the blocks in the foundation of his Pyramid of Success, defining it as something that, “Comes from mutual esteem, respect and devotion. Like marriage, it must not be taken for granted but requires a joint effort.”

Related: The Value of Friendship

The idea of work as a requisite component of friendship was one Coach Wooden took very seriously. “We tend to consider it to be friendship when somebody is doing something for us,” he said. “That is not friendship. That is one-sided…. If only one side works at it then it won’t be successful. Each must work at it and each must give to receive.”

By using the idea of friendship, Coach Wooden did not believe that he needed to be “buddies” with his players. He did, however, consider it critical that his players knew that he was genuinely interested in them as people and not just as basketball players. He also wanted them to feel they were working with him, not for him.

The same idea comes into play in the workplace. Common sense tells us (and numerous studies confirm it) that the relationship between an employee and his or her direct supervisor is the most important factor in determining whether the employee will retain their position. If the employer feels the employee is giving a solid effort and contributing to the team goal, the job is safe from downsizing or termination. If the employee feels the employer cares about the people doing the work and not just the job to be done, the employee is far less likely to look for a job elsewhere.

Related: John Wooden’s Leadership Legacy

In order to maintain this balance of “mutual esteem,” Coach Wooden recommended that leaders follow a collection of rules that had proven effective in his own relationships:

  1. Keep a close, personal player relationship, but keep their respect. Be sincerely interested in their personal problems and easy to approach.
  2. Maintain discipline without being dictatorial. Be fair and lead, rather than drive.
  3. Study and respect the individuality of each player and handle them accordingly. Treat each person as he or she deserves to be treated.
  4. Try to develop the same sense of responsibility in all.
  5. Analyze yourself as well as your players, and be governed accordingly.

The men who played basketball for John Wooden at UCLA, and the thousands of other people with whom he interacted in any number of capacities, all shared the same sentiment about Coach Wooden: He was a coach, he was a teacher and he was a friend. Never afraid of a little elbow grease to get the job done, Coach was always willing to apply his tireless work ethic to maintaining solid relationships as much as anything else.

Related: 8 Traits of Healthy Relationships​

“You are honored for what you give, not for what you get.” —John Wooden

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.