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Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success
On the Road to Success, There Are No Shortcuts

If you keep too busy learning the tricks of the trade, you may never learn the trade.

In his book Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations On and Off the Court with Steve Jamison, Coach expanded on this important idea:

“There are no shortcuts. If you’re working on finding a shortcut—the easy way—you’re not working hard enough on the fundamentals. You get away with it for a spell, but there is no substitute for the basics. And the first basic is good old-fashioned hard work.”

There is an expression: “I want to work smart not hard.” Coach Wooden would say, “I want to work smart and hard.”

When Coach refers to not keeping too busy to learn the tricks of the trade, he is not in any way suggesting we shouldn’t consistently try to improve our production processes.

His success was based on two simple ideas: 

  • Failure to prepare is preparing to fail
  • Don’t mistake activity for achievement

Coach Wooden’s basketball practices were limited to two hours a day, a shorter time than many of his peers. His shorter practice time was not intended to be a trick or a shortcut to success. The amount of time was based on maximum efficiency and a consistent peak effort from all involved. There were no tricks, this was just smart and hard work.

Coach Wooden and his staff spent two hours every day meticulously planning those two-hour practices. In his 28th season at UCLA, he was still spending the same two hours every day planning a two-hour practice that was structurally very similar to the practices he had run in the past.

Coach was refining his trade with an eye on consistent improvement—no trick, no shortcut.

Coach felt that if you took shortcuts, you would not develop the skills within you required to reach your potential in your chosen field.

If a sales process has five fundamental steps and you skip three of them because you feel you don’t need them to get the sale that one time, you are not developing your ability to effectively deliver all five steps when you need them.

As Coach said: “You get away with it for a spell, but there is no substitute for the basics.”

Photo by @derek_j/Twenty20

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.