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Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success

“Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.” –John Wooden

This quote of Coach Wooden’s is reflected in the lives of countless people with amazing stories. Here are just a few examples:

  • Leonardo Del Vecchio was born to a poor Milanese family and, fatherless, was forced to live in an orphanage when he was 7 years old. Now, his company, Luxottica, is the world’s largest producer and retailer of glasses and lenses.
  • Ingvar Kamprad was born and raised on a farm near a small village in Sweden and went on to develop IKEA.
  • J.K. Rowling lived on welfare before creating the Harry Potter franchise.
  • As a child, Oprah Winfrey wore dresses made out of potato sacks. She grew up around poverty, and endured years of sexual and physical abuse, until she was 14 and went to live with her dad. It was in high school that Oprah discovered her passion for media—and the rest is history.

Certainly, financial wealth is not always the only indicator of happiness or success.

The happiest man I ever knew was John Wooden. His amazing marriage to his wife Nellie was a primary source of that happiness. In his book A Game Plan for Life with Don Yeager, Coach described it this way:

My Nellie was the one and only woman I ever loved, ever kissed, ever hoped to share a life with. And even though she passed away in 1985 after 53 years of marriage, my love for her remains as strong as it ever was. I still keep her pajamas laid out on her side of the bed, and I’ve written a letter to her every single month on the date of her passing. She was my strength and encouragement, my comfort and my support—she taught me so much about love.

In his book My Personal Best with Steve Jamison, Coach describes his situation two days before he was supposed to be married:

At 6 p.m. on August 6, 1932—two days before Nell and I were supposed to get married, I had exactly $2  to my name. The Martinsville Trust Company—where I had put my entire life’s savings, exactly $909.05—went bust. When the bank went broke, so did I.

Coach and Nell made the best of the way things had turned out.  A local businessman lent them $200, and rather than delay or make excuses, they went to Indianapolis the next day and were married.

A marriage that certainly turned out the best for them.

Related: John Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: ‘Be Thankful’

Photo by HQuality /

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.