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Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.” —Friedrich Nietzsche

This quote from the 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was a favorite of Coach Wooden’s. It is usually referred to in the context of directing your life in pursuit of a noble cause, but a different perspective would be to apply this idea in the framework of discipline. 

Any great company, family or team must have discipline. Discipline can only be effective when it is delivered with self-control; it allows the person receiving it to focus on why they are being disciplined.

When people understand the why of discipline, they will be able to bear the how.

In his book Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, Coach expanded on this idea:

When disciplining someone we supervise, if our emotions take over, chances are we’re going to antagonize that person. It’s difficult to get productive, positive results under these circumstances. We must remember why we discipline. We do it to help, to prevent, to correct and to improve, but not to punish. It takes self-control to accomplish this goal. 

Coach Wooden provided discipline but was flexible and innovative in his approach. He made sure his players understood the why so they would be able to bear the how.

In Coach Wooden’s book Coach Wooden’s Leadership Game Plan for Success, a former player Bill Hicks (1960-62) gave an example:

One of our top players—maybe our best—got upset about something during practice one day and stormed off the court. This put Coach Wooden in an awkward position because he didn’t want to lose the guy. We didn’t exactly have a lot of talent to spare. 

Coach solved the problem by telling the player who had blown up and walked off the court that he was suspended. However, he then informed the suspended player that our whole team would be allowed to vote on whether or not to let him return. This allowed everybody to save face. It also empowered the team, because it felt like we got in on the decision. Of course, we voted to let him back. Coach had solved his problem, disciplined the player and strengthened our team all at the same time.

Coach made sure everybody understood the why, and the how worked out great!

Photo by GaudiLab/

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.