Basketball, Building Blocks and Being Your Best

These days, there are so many books and tapes and books on tape telling us how to be successful that it will make your head spin. It’s enough to make you almost start believing those radio ads for the State Lottery.

My advice: Get back to the basics. Give a try to the old-fashioned way of doing things.

And there’s no one more old fashioned – or with more proven success – than John Wooden. If you’re a basketball fan, you know the name. If you’re not, I’ll tell you that John Wooden is a 96-year-old gentleman who is regarded as the greatest college coach in history. In his time at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), his men’s teams won an unprecedented ten national championships…sometimes with superstars and sometimes not.

New players – freshman hopefuls and junior college transfer hotshots – snickered at John Wooden’s methods from the first day they entered his locker room when he gave these young men a lesson on how to properly tie their shoelaces. John Wooden was always about the basics. His team did the exact – the EXACT – same drills on the first day of practice each season as they did in warming up for every national championship game. Shooting, running, rebounding, passing, playing together with precision were the marks of John Wooden’s teams.

As a new coach in the 1940s, Wooden developed something he called the Pyramid of Success. He spent 30 years honing his thoughts on what he believes are the underpinnings of success, in basketball and in life. 15 building blocks make up the Pyramid, and these are what John Wooden still shares with anyone who asks him today. What can we take from John Wooden’s 15 building blocks of success?

Industriousness – “Success travels in the company of very hard work. There is no trick, no easy way.”

Friendship – “Strive to build a team filled with camaraderie and respect: comrades in arms.”

Loyalty – “Be true to yourself, be true to those you lead.”

Cooperation – “Have utmost concern for what’s right, rather than who’s right.”

Enthusiasm – “Your energy and enjoyment, drive and dedication will stimulate and greatly inspire others.”

Self-Control – “Control of the organization begins with control of self. Be disciplined.”

Alertness – “Constantly be aware and observing. Always seek to improve yourself and the team.”

Initiative – “Make a decision! Failure to act is often the biggest failure of all.”

Intentness – “Stay the course. When thwarted, try again; harder, smarter. Persevere relentlessly.”

Condition – “Ability may get you to the top, but character keeps you there – mental, moral and physical.”

Skill – “What a leader learns after s/he’s learned it all counts most of all.”

Team Spirit – “The star of the team is the team. ‘We’ supercedes ‘me.’”

Poise – “Be yourself. Don’t be thrown off by events, whether good or bad.”

Confidence – “The strongest steel is well-founded self belief. It is earned, not given.”

Competitive Greatness – “Perform at your best when your best is required; your best is required each day.”

In summary, Wooden says that success is the peace of mind that results from knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.

For more information on John Wooden, his life and career and the Pyramid of Success, visit his website at

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