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Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success

During his coaching career at UCLA, John Wooden shared numerous words of wisdom while he led the basketball team to an 88-game winning streak and 10 NCAA championship titles. But Wooden is equally famous for being a mentor and lifelong teacher, with several books published on his insights and methods for leadership. The following include some of his key strategies.

Related: Timeless Lessons From John Wooden, the Greatest Coach of All Time

Be enthusiastic about your work.

Enthusiasm is one of the cornerstones of Wooden’s “Pyramid of Success.” “Without enthusiasm, you cannot work up to your fullest ability and potential; you’re just going through the motions. And just going through the motions won’t bring you to the level of competitive greatness we seek, whether in basketball, business or life.”

Don’t get angry when people test you.

“People are going to test you. But don’t back down from them on the things in which you believe, because once they take advantage of you and get away with it, they’ll keep it up.”

Coach Wooden was tested one day when All-American center Bill Walton defiantly showed up to Picture Day on the eve of the season’s first practice with a full beard, which Wooden forbade his players to have. Walton told Wooden that he didn’t have the right to tell him how to wear his hair. Wooden agreed that he didn’t have the right to tell him how to wear his hair, but he did, however, have the right to decide who would play on the team. “We’ll miss you,” he told Walton, who shaved his beard before practice the next day.

To get cooperation, you must give cooperation.

“The sharing of ideas, information, creativity, responsibilities and tasks is a priority of good leadership. The only thing that is not shared is blame. A strong leader accepts blame and gives the credit (when deserved) to others.”

Don’t be afraid to fail.

“If you are afraid to fail, you will never do the things you are capable of doing. If you have thoroughly prepared and are ready to give it all you’ve got, there is no shame if you fail-nothing to fear in failure. But fear of failure is what often prevents one from taking action.”

Be confident but not arrogant.

“Arrogance, or elitism, is the feeling of superiority that fosters the assumption that past success will be repeated without the same hard effort that brought it about in the first place. Thus, I have never gone into a game assuming victory. All opponents have been respected, none feared. I taught those under my supervision to do the same. This reflects confidence, not arrogance. Arrogance will bring you down by your own hands.”

Pay attention to the little things.

As a coach, Wooden was known for teaching his players how to put on their socks and shoes on the first day of practice. His words of wisdom: Every detail matters.

Be loyal to yourself and to your organization.

“A leader who has loyalty is the leader whose team I wish to be a part of. And so do others. Most people, the overwhelming majority of us, wish to be in an organization whose leadership cares about them, provides fairness and respect, dignity and consideration…. [Be loyal] and you will subsequently lead an organization that will not waffle in the wind when things get tough.”

Remember that success is not defined by victories.

Wooden’s definition of success: “peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.” Wise words of wisdom indeed.

Related: 27 Quotes by John Wooden to Motivate You to Be Better

— Brenna Fisher

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.