Committed to Excellence – A Tribute to John Wooden

Posted by Todd Smith

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Coach John Wooden, arguably the most successful college basketball coach, died last Friday at the age of 99. Under his leadership, UCLA won 10 NCAA championships in 12 years, 7 back-to-back national titles, and 88 consecutive games. In 1973, he was the first person to be honored by the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach. Known as the Wizard of Westwood, Wooden preferred to be called “Coach.”

Wooden’s death has sparked a flurry of articles and blog posts paying tribute to the giant for his accomplishments and teachings both on and off the basketball court. Many of his guiding principles have been the subject of my lessons here on Little Things Matter, and one is particularly consistent with the overall theme. “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” I thought it only fitting then that today’s post be dedicated to the memory of John Wooden.

If you ask any of the young men who played for him, they will tell you that he taught them as much about life as he did about basketball. He always treated his players with respect and imparted far more than Xs and Os. He taught them a way to live.

Practice began every day at 3:00 and ended at exactly 5:30. Why? He knew the value of maintaining a balance between his work and his family. At the age of 99, he was still writing love letters to the only woman he ever dated, his wife who predeceased him by 24 years.

Wooden never used profanity and was intensely loyal to his family, to his job, and to his city. He was a meticulous planner and strategist. His commitment to excellence was at the forefront of everything he did and he never wavered.

Wooden’s teachings were embodied in what has become known as the Pyramid of Success, patterned after advice handed down from his father: “Be true to yourself, help others, make each day your masterpiece, make friendship a fine art, drink deeply from good books — especially the Bible — build a shelter against a rainy day, give thanks for your blessings, and pray for guidance every day.”

Wooden created the Pyramid of Success as an attempt to define success in his own way and as a model for becoming a better person. He lived it, and his players knew it.  Leadership by example at its finest.

We would all be well served to incorporate Wooden’s 15 attributes for excellence, including his personal definition of success (“a peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best that you are capable of being”) into our own lives.

Some of the other components of the pyramid include integrity, self-control, enthusiasm, and initiative. Six decades later, the foundational behaviors have withstood the test of time. The lessons he taught his players have transcended from the wooden floor into our communities, at home, and in the workplace.

During his retirement, Wooden was a sought-after public speaker, acclaimed author, and mentor to young coaches. His wisdom was rock solid and his selfless gifts and vision will be remembered for years to come.

I leave you with some of Coach Wooden’s other pearls of wisdom:

Be more concerned with your character than your reputation because your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely what others think you are.

Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.

Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.

Never mistake activity for achievement.

Be prepared to be honest.

Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.

You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.

Thank you, Coach Wooden, for your life lessons. May you rest in peace.

We can’t control how long we will live, but we can control how we will be remembered.  What do you want to be said in your tribute?


About the Author:

Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 43 years and founder of Little Things Matter. This blog contains over 200 of his timeless life lessons.

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