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Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success

“The more concerned we become over the things we can’t control, the less we will do with the things we can control.” —Coach Wooden

When Coach was asked what one of the most important things his father taught him, he replied:

Never try to be better than somebody else. Always understand that you’ll never know a thing that you don’t learn from someone else, but never cease trying to be the best you can be. I can remember [my father] saying that’s under your control. The other isn’t, and if you get too engrossed, involved and concerned in regard to the things you that you have no control, it will have a negative effect on the things over which you have or should have control.

This philosophy controlled how Coach dealt with the past, as reflected in this key idea: A mistake is valuable if you do four things with it: recognize it, admit it, learn from it, forget it. 

For Coach Wooden, the past was not something to worry about, but rather learn from and move on.

This philosophy also controlled how Coach dealt with the present as reflected in this key idea: Do not permit what you cannot do to interfere with what you can do.

Coach liked to say: We change what we can, but if we get too concerned, involved and engrossed in circumstances over which we have no control or can’t change, those circumstances are going to have a negative impact on events and outcomes we can control.

And this philosophy controlled how Coach dealt with the future. In his book with Steve Jamison, The Essential Wooden: A Lifetime of Lessons on Leaders and Leadership, Coach commented on the difference between worry and concern:

“Worry” is fretting about the future. “Concern” is figuring out future solutions. When you are “concerned,” you’re going to analyze and determine where and how to improve. If you are “worried,” you’re just fretting that things won’t turn out right regardless of what you do—wringing your hands and imagining bad things.

“Concern” leads to results; “worry” results in losing a good night’s sleep.

For the past, the present and the future: Don’t worry about things you can’t control, act on those you can.

Photo by Dean Drobot/

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.