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Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success

How to Handle Adversity: Don’t Whine, Don’t Complain, Don’t Make Excuses.The core of Coach Wooden’s philosophy started with his father’s rules. Joshua Wooden gave his boys a very direct set of rules, the “Two Sets of Three” he hoped would guide their everyday behavior.

The first set dealt with integrity: Never lie. Never cheat. Never steal.

Related: Never Lie. Never Cheat. Never Steal.

The second set of three dealt with how to handle adversity:

Don’t whine.
Don’t complain.
Don’t make excuses.

The finest teaching tool we have is the example we set for others, and how we handle adversity can be one of the strongest ways of demonstrating our character.

In Coach Wooden’s early life, his father set an example that had a very significant impact on him. Joshua Wooden had purchased some pigs as an investment for the family farm, but their expense necessitated that he take out a mortgage. He also purchased vaccinations to keep them healthy, but it turned out that the vaccine was bad and the entire herd died as a result.

Later that same year, the crops were destroyed by a drought; unable to continue paying the mortgage, Joshua Wooden ultimately lost his farm to the bank.

Yet without any ill words for the man who had sold him the bad vaccine, Joshua moved the family to a nearby town where he took a job as a masseur. Young John Wooden knew that these events had devastated his father’s spirit and broken his heart, but Joshua would never blame others or dwell on mistakes. He lived by the same set of rules that he bestowed upon his sons: “Don’t whine, don’t complain, don’t make excuses. Just do the best you can. Nobody can do more than that.” That story, and his father’s example, deeply impressed itself upon John Wooden’s mind.

Related: Coach Wooden’s Life Lessons: The 4 Things a Man Must Learn to Do

Years later, he would find himself recalling his father’s attitude when the poor facilities at the UCLA basketball facility bothered him. For the first dozen years of his coaching career there, this poor attitude really held him back as a coach. When he resolved to stop complaining and to simply make the best of it, Coach Wooden noted that his success greatly improved.

Coach devised and collected a number of maxims regarding the best way to respond to difficult situations. They are great triggers that you can use with yourself, your staff and your team to rekindle a positive attitude when the going gets tough.

“Bad times can make you bitter or better.”
“Never make excuses. Your friends won’t need them and your foes won’t believe them.”
“Things usually turn out the best for people who make the best out of the way things turn out.”

Coach Wooden said, “Complaining, whining and making excuses just keep you out of the present. If your complaints are constant, serious and genuine about your calling, then leave when practical.” By handling yourself in such a way through difficult situations, you will not only find your own outlook improving, but you will likely inspire those around you, too.

Related:John Wooden’s Legacy Is a How-To Guide for a Successful Life

Craig Impelman

For more blogs and videos about John Wooden’s legacy, vist

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.