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Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success

The Value of FriendshipCoach Wooden had a great appreciation for the value of friendship. In the ’60s, Coach received a letter from his elementary school principal and coach, Earl Warriner, requesting tickets to an upcoming game against the University of Notre Dame. Mr. Warriner also included a signed and dated check but left the amount line blank. When the tickets arrived in Warriner’s mailbox, he found the check was with them, and on the amount line Coach had written, “Friendship is far too valuable to be measured in dollars.”

Related: The Science of Friendship

Coach often emphasized that we can accomplish a lot more if we open our lives to others. He often commented on friendship in speeches he gave after retiring from coaching by urging his audience to “Work at it. Don’t take friendship for granted. If you do, it may not last. And don’t just work at it from one side. Friendship comes from mutual esteem, respect and devotion. Just as in a successful marriage, both sides must work at it.”

When speaking about friendship, Coach often emphasized the importance of initiating the effort to make friends; in his own words, “You may have to prime the pump first.” Perhaps his favorite illustration was the experience of a friend named Bob, who had traveled to California from Indiana to visit the Wooden family:

“Johnny, these people in California aren’t as friendly as they are back home,” Bob lamented. “Coming over here this morning, I met a lot of people and not a single person spoke to me. That would never have happened back home.”

Did you speak to any of them?” Coach asked.

“Well, no,” Bob said. “I didn’t know them.”

Coach was also inspired by historical examples of the power of friendship; he especially admired Abraham Lincoln’s philosophy on the subject:

After the Civil War, many of Lincoln’s constituents felt he was being far too generous in his offers of reconstruction and reparations to the Confederate states. One man admonished him, “Mr. President, you are supposed to destroy your enemies, not make friends of them.”

Lincoln replied, “Am I not destroying an enemy when I make a friend of him?”

He chose kindness instead of anger.

This was a lesson Coach took to heart. He chose kindness instead of anger as his reaction toward critics in the media, referees he felt were unfair, rude fans of rival teams, and even the rare disgruntled player or assistant coach.

Two of his favorite maxims addressed this very subject.

The first was a simple reminder: “Be more concerned with: loving than being loved; giving than receiving; being a friend rather than having a friend.”

The second was a kind of proverb: “There is a wonderful mystical law of nature that the three things that man craves the most in life—happiness, freedom, and peace—are always attained by giving them to someone else.”

Both are lessons we can all live by.

Related:17 Famous “Woodenisms” by Coach John Wooden

Craig Impelman

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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.