John Wooden

I’ve got sports on the brain – perhaps you’ve noticed. Recently, without thinking about it too deeply, I posted former UCLA coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success on my office door. Wooden’s definition of success – the 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 – is meaningful and practical to me. Wooden’s teams not only had unprecedented success on the basketball court (10 national championships), but also got along exceptionally well in a time when social and racial tensions in America ran very high. The successes his teams achieved were enduring and any organization would do well to try to emulate them. Wooden himself was by all accounts an admirable and decent man, in contrast to boorish, small, me-first coaches that are often seen strutting sidelines in fancy suits this time of year.

After sticking the pyramid on my door it dawned on me that my job at Nielsen is to be a coach. I’m a recruiter who tries to attract and retain players who are skilled, coachable, and pleasant to be around. I’m a bench coach who tries to make adjustments in the flow of the game – changing defenses, substituting players, hollering at the refs. I’m a practice coach who tries to teach my team about the game as best I can, requiring me to know what the heck I am talking about. I don’t score a single point myself (at least, not very many) but my team is successful based on the effort that we all put in together, for which I am accountable.

In this TED talk (1) Wooden describes the difference between winning and success. I think it’s pretty amazing that he could give an unscripted talk like this at age 98! A few nice lines include:

  • Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
  • There is no progress without change, but change does not guarantee progress.
  • Things will work out as they should, provided we do what we should.
      If you surf YouTube for other Wooden interviews, you will find many occasions where former players say, “What Coach says sounds corny,


    ” An earnest approach like Wooden’s can be disarming and even uncomfortable because the message is so raw. We often wrap ourselves in cynicism and irony to give the appearance that what we’re going through doesn’t matter that much, and can’t hurt us. The genius of Wooden is that he thought carefully about the ultimate meaning of all this dribbling, cutting, boxing out and shooting, and directed his energy to help all those under his watch to find that meaning for themselves. That meaning, rather than the banners hanging from Pauley Pavilion, is Wooden’s lasting legacy.

(1): I read the recent (dead on right) HBR article about TED. The TED brand has become a joke, but this video is worth it, I promise.


Author: natebrix

Follow me on twitter at @natebrix.

3 thoughts on “John Wooden”

  1. Hi, Nate,

    I really liked this post about John Wooden. He reminds me of my dad, who was a football, track, and basketball coach for 25 years. He coached only basketball in the final years of his career. I think he tried to create gentlemen with high morals, determination, and persistence rather than just excellent basketball players. I could tell you many stories, but time and space prohibit that. Thanks for posting this and for posting John Wooden on your door. No better man to emulate!!!

    1. Thanks Joy! I really appreciate the kind words about the post, and the anecdote. Wooden’s (and your dad’s) emphasis on what really matters is what distinguishes them from others. Often what matters most seems to be simply stating what you value, and then trying to live out those values as best you can on a day-to-day basis. I’d like to do that better myself!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s