John Wooden – Updated

Posted by

America is the home of the coach.  That may not literally be true but it is certainly the place where coaches are held in the highest regard.  A large part of this is due to the connection between sport (and coaches) and education in the US system.  Coaches were from earliest times equated with teachers and because we over value everything to do with sport (see Movement, Olympic), coaches were soon held as being the possessors of unique wisdom.  The coach who was widely held to possess the most wisdom is John Wooden.  Indeed I read studies on coaching at university that are based on the premise that he is the ideal coach, the one we should all mimic.  That ridiculousness aside, it is worth repeating that Wooden had an inordinate amount of success coaching basketball at UCLA.  He won 10 National Championships (including 8 in a row) and at one stage 88 consecutive matches.  College basketball is highly competitive, which explains to a degree why he is so highly regarded.  On top of that he produced many writings including the very famous ‘Pyramid of Success’, which is essentially the condensation of his life’s work (for a printable version of the ‘Pyramid of Success’ click here).  In contrast to nearly every other human being alive, and another reason he is so highly regarded, he never earned a single cent from it.  Anyone who asked for it received a copy free of charge.  It has been widely reprinted and republished as have several books by and about him including his life story, philosophies and quotes.

My two favourite quotes are:

“Perfection is impossible, but in striving for perfection sometimes we can achieve excellence.”

“Not all change is progress, but all progress is change.”

John Wooden died over the weekend.  It is doubtful that coaches as a group are indeed the font of much wisdom but it is not in doubt that John Wooden as a person possessed more than his share.

Joe Posnanski wrote one tribute here, and the John Wooden website is here.  You can read the ‘Pyramid of Success’ in both places.  And Rick Reilly wrote another tribute here.


  1. Rick Reilly wrote a really nice piece about it too.

    The pyramid is amazing. He actually refused to copyright it because he didn’t want to stop anyone who wanted it from having it. My favourite story about is is that, in the early 1980s, the USA women’s team actually painted it on the wall of their training hall as a team activity.


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 )

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