7 Things I Learned from John Wooden

I always read a book with a red pen. It has to be red. Don’t ask me why. If I’m not careful, I can mark it up pretty good. 

If I like something, I underline it.   
If I really like something, I may add a star to the underline. 
If I love something, I go overboard. I double underline. I triple star. I'll even throw in a few exclamation points!!

I mention this because what you’re about to read are the things I loved most from the life and philosophy of John Wooden. I’m only giving you the double underline, triple star stuff.

Here are the 7 things I learned from the Wizard of Westwood:
  

1) Play to win, but not for winning sake

John Wooden, to be sure, is considered a winner. Take a quick glance at your 10 fingers. That’s how many national championships he and his teams won. No other NCAA coach comes close.

Wooden played to win, but winning wasn’t the way he measured his success. Winning simply provided the resistance needed to achieve what he was really after—competitive greatness. Here’s how he puts it:

Competitive Greatness is having a real love for the hard battle knowing it offers the opportunity to be at your best when your best is required.

 

2) Success is giving it your absolute best effort

Out of everything I’ve read on the topic of success, John Wooden’s definition has resonated with me most. Coach is teaching me that the quality of my effort is what’s key. Did I do everything possible to achieve victory? If so, I’m a success, regardless of what the scoreboard says.
 

3) Success is also peace of mind

Coach Wooden also prefaces his definition of success with the words, “The peace of mind…” 

Wow. So then the predominant feeling attributed to success isn’t jubilation or exuberance, it’s inner peace. Yes, winning and succeeding can be exciting, but the abiding feeling that pervades is a tranquility of soul. 

Question. How much peace are you experiencing in your life? Real success feels a lot like peace of mind.
 

4) Success (often) precedes victory

Mind blown.  Success isn't achieved on gameday. It’s accomplished each and every day of practice. Gameday merely has the benefit of putting your success on display, and that success has usually leads to victory.

5) Never stop learning and you’ll never stop leading.

I want to remain effective all throughout life, especially in my twilight years. The Wizard provides a framework.  

Live as though you’ll die tomorrow, learn as though you’ll live forever.


Translation: Don’t squander a single day and never cease learning and growing. Do that and you will achieve longevity in leadership.
 

6) The 3 Don’ts from John Wooden’s Dad

John Wooden’s father taught 3 foundational don’ts to his children. Our modern ears need to hear this homespun wisdom:

  • Don’t whine
  • Don’t complain
  • Don’t make excuses

Enough said.

7) The right kind of confidence comes from the right kind of character

When you become a person of rock-solid character you achieve a strength and confidence, that strikes the right balance. As we all know, strength or confidence can so easily slip into pride, but high moral character provides the rails for avoiding vanity. 

We should all be the right-kind of confident. To do so, shoot for the right-kind of character. 


Wrapping it Up

These are just a few of the things that Coach Wooden has taught me. If you’ve yet to read about his life and philosophy, a great place to start is, The Essential Wooden.


I’ll leave you with a few quotes from the Wizard of Westwood:

Don’t let making a living prevent you from making a life.
It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.
Discipline yourself and others won’t need to.