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Coach John Wooden on the difference between winning and success

John Wooden was an experienced and wise man. He knew something about success and he shared that knowledge with others. John taught english and coached basketball.

John’s coaching career

As a high school coach, his 11-year record was 218-42. In the world of college basketball, John is a legend. As head coach at UCLA, he won 10 NCAA national championships. John’s teams won a record 7 championships in a row. The second most consecutive national wins is four.

Wisdom and teachings John shared

John felt that there was not a secret to being successful or winning. He often shared lessons and guidance his father Joshua gave to him as a boy. These foundational teachings were his guide for living, learning and coaching.
Upon graduation from grammar school, John’s father gave him a seven point creed. It’s easy to see how the sound advice could help a young man continue to grow and live a meaningful life:

  1. Be true to yourself.
  2. Make each day your masterpiece.
  3. Help others.
  4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
  5. Make friendship a fine art.
  6. Build a shelter against a rainy day.
  7. Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.

John died on June 4, 2010 at the age of 99. He was a lifelong teacher, talented writer, and inspirational speaker. John’s legacy lives on in the people he interacted with and through the many books he published. We also have recordings of John sharing his wisdom via speeches and presentations. It must have been a treat to hear him speak in person.

“The Difference Between Winning and Succeeding”

In February 2001, Coach Wooden spoke at the TED conference in Monterey, California. The topic of his presentation was “The Difference Between Winning and Succeeding.”

The difference between winning and succeeding | John Wooden | TED

Equality and ability

John began this speech with a reflection on the abilities we have as individuals. “Not everyone was created equal,” said John. This wasn’t to say that each person couldn’t do amazing things. He acknowledged that every person has different abilities. Most importantly, everyone has drive.

Balance for the competitive spirit

While working as a teacher, John recognized that his desire to be a better english teacher and coach. had a moment of insight. He recalled a lesson his father shared with him back on the small family farm in southern Indiana. “You should never try to be better than someone else,” said his father. Further, we should always learn from others and never give up on being the best we could be as an individual.

The key take away was this, that what is in our control is our mindset, ability to learn, and drive. “If you try to meddle with things that are outside of your control, things won’t go so well.”

Core rules to follow

John also felt that character and reputation were important. For the athletes he coached, education was first and basketball was second. There were three core rules he expected the team and coaching staff to follow:

  1. Never be late.
  2. Be neat and clean.
  3. Start on time and close on time.

He emphasized the importance of that third rule for leaders. “People should’t feel like they are going to be kept over.” The habit of starting and ending on time was essential to a happy and fulfiling life. An interesting counterpoint to the idea that success might come from non-stop work.

John also felt that profanity was unacceptable. Also, that we should never criticize a team mate. Our behavior matters and will affect our relationships and future success.

A model for an amazing life

John shared that he developed a model to help him understand his philosophy for life. He called it his “Pyramid of Success.” The cornerstones of this model were:

  1. Work hard.
  2. Enjoy what you are doing.
  3. You must have faith and patience.

He emphasized that “you need to believe that things will work out as they should. So long, as we do the things that we should and that are necessary.”

We influence our fate and destiny

John also shared a concept he called “The Road Ahead and the Road Behind.” He said that we lose and win within ourselves. That individuals make their fates based on their attitudes and behaviors.

  • Past victories are no guarantee.
  • We must show our best every time.
  • Don’t be afraid of defeat.
  • It’s important to give your all.
  • Don’t whine, complain or make excuses.
  • Never mention winning.

Winning and losing vs. effort and attitude

John observed that it was possible to lose even when you outscore someone. Likewise, you can still win even when someone outscores you. What counts is our making the effort to do the best we can. If we make this a habit, “the results will be what they should be.”

Near the close of his speech, John quoted Cervantes. Who said, “the journey is better than the end. The getting there is the fun.” John emphasized that we should understand the value and priority of knowledge. “Balance is important. You won’t be perfect at everything.”