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Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success

“How to Be a Champion” and 10 Other John Wooden Selections of Favorite Poems

Jim Rohn said, “Miss a meal if you have to, but don’t miss a book.” Coach John Wooden was a voracious reader, wholeheartedly believing in the power of reading.

Wooden was especially a fan of prose and poetry, and could recite whole passages of his favorite poems. John Wooden’s grandson-in-law, Craig Impelman, shared some of Wooden’s favorite poems with SUCCESS, so here are 11 of John Wooden’s favorite poems:

1. “Four Things”

By Rev. Henry Van Dyke

Four things a man must
learn to do
If he would make his life
more true:
To think without
confusion clearly,
To love his fellow man
To act from honest
motives purely,
To trust in God and
Heaven securely.

2. “How to Be a Champion”

By Grantland Rice

You Wonder How They Do It,
You Look to See the Knack,
You Watch the Foot in Action,
Or the Shoulder or the Back.
But When You Spot the Answer
Where the Higher Glamours Lurk,
You’ll Find in Moving Higher
Up the Laurel-Covered Spire,
That Most of It Is Practice,
And the Rest of It Is Work.

3. “I Keep Six Honest Serving Men…”

By Rudyard Kipling

I keep six honest, serving men,
They taught me all I know.
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.

4. “A Little Fellow Follows Me”

By Rev. Claude Wisdom White, Sr.

A careful man I want to be,
A little fellow follows me;
I do not dare to go astray,
For fear he’ll go the self-same way.
I cannot once escape his eyes,
Whate’er he sees me do, he tries; Like me he says he’s going to be,
The little chap who follows me.
He thinks that I am good and fine, Believes in every word of mine;
The base in me he must not see,
The little chap who follows me.
I must remember as I go,
Through summer’s sun and winter’s
I am building for the years to be
That little chap who follows me.

5. “At Day’s End”

By John Hall

Is anybody happier because
you passed his way?
Does anybody remember
that you spoke to him today?
The day is almost over,
and its toiling time is through;
Is there anyone to utter
now a kindly word of you?
Can you say tonight, in parting
with the day that’s slipping fast,
That you helped a single brother
of the many that you passed?
Is a single heart rejoicing
over what you did or said?
Does the man whose hopes were fading,
now with courage look
Did you waste the day, or lose it?
Was it well or sorely spent?
Did you leave a trail of kindness,
or a scar of discontent?
As you close your eyes in slumber,
do you think God will say,
“You have earned one more tomorrow
by the work you did today”?

6. “Shut the Door on Yesterday”

By Vivian Yeiser Laramore

I have shut the door on yesterday,
Its sorrows and mistakes.
I have locked within its gloomy walls
Past failures and mistakes.
And now I throw the key away,
And seek another room.
And furnish it with hope and smiles,
And every spring-time bloom.
No thought shall enter this abode
That has a taint of pain.
And envy, malice, and distrust
Shall never entrance gain.
I have shut the door on yesterday
And thrown the key away.
Tomorrow holds no fear for me,
Since I have found today.

7. Title unknown

By Philip B. Bliss

There is a choice you have to make,
in everything you do.
So keep in mind that in the end,
the choice you make, makes you.

8. “After You Know It All”

By Swen Nater

Beyond the festive caps and gowns,
Beyond the PhDs,
Beyond the books that filled the minds
Of those who earned degrees,
A greater knowledge will commence,
For those who heed the call–
What counts the most is what you learn
After you know it all.
All graduated pedagogues,
When teaching, find in turn,
Those books on what to teach had failed
To show how children learn.
And they will soon discover that
Each child who owns a name
Is different and unique, and so,
They all don’t learn the same.
The class roomed coach
who learned, the boys
Are Xs and are Os,
Become adept at leadership
The moment that he knows,
Those boys need teacher-shepherds who
Will guide their little lambs
To execute the truths of life
Beyond the diagrams.
Oh decorated graduate,
Once past that college wall,
What counts the most is what you learn,
After you know it all.

9. “Press On”

By Calvin Coolidge

Nothing in the world can
take the place of persistence.
Talent will not;
Nothing is more common
than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not;
Unrewarded genius
is almost a proverb.
Education will not;
The world is full
of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination
alone are omnipotent.

10. “Meditation”

By Shannon Hughes

As daylight fades and twilight approaches,
Swift and steady night soon encroaches,
So seize this moment and contemplate your next,
What will you do with the moments you have left?
For no gravestone should ever eulogize,
The death of great dreams unrealized.

11. “If”

By Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head
when all about you
Are losing theirs
and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself
when all men doubt you
but make allowances
for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be
tired of waiting
Or being lied about,
don’t deal in lies
Or being hated,
don’t give way to hating
And yet don’t look too good,
nor talk too wise;
If you can dream,
and not make dreams your master;
If you can think and
not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with
Triumph and Disaster,
And treat these two imposters
just the same;
If you can bear to hear
the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves
to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things
you gave your life to, broken,
and stoop, and build them
up with worn-out tools;
If you can make one
heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn
of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your
heart and nerve
and sinew
To serve your turn long
after they are gone,
And so hold on
When there is nothing in you
Except the Will
which says to them:
“Hold on!”
If you can talk with crowds
and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings–
nor lose the common touch–
If neither foes
nor loving friends
can hurt you,
If all men count with you–
but none too much;
If you can fill
the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth
and everything that’s in it
And–which is more–
You’ll be a Man, my son!

Related: 17 Famous “Woodenisms” by Coach John Wooden

Explore for more blogs and videos about John Wooden’s legacy.

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.