17 Lessons from Coach John Wooden That Can Improve Every Aspect of Our Lives

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Here are some fun facts you should know about me.

Basketball is my favorite sport.


TED talks are my favorite form of fast-food intellectual consumption.

And John Wooden? He’s one of my favorite humans ever, as well as being a one of the great treasures of UCLA, the city of Los Angeles, and the world at large.

So when I stumbled upon this TED talk of Coach Wooden it was only natural that it would become one of my all-time favorites.

The talk embedded below was given in Monterey back in 2001. Even at 91 years old (91!) Wooden delivers a brilliant lecture full of practical wisdom, wit, and humor. He recalls details of his life, recites poetry and explores anecdotes of players with elegant ease. And he’s just got a lot of really cool stuff to say!

What follows after the jump is an unpacking of as much of Wooden’s wisdom as I could manage. It’s broken into  17 points that I think could improve our lives, our outlook, and our well being in at least some small way.

When you think about it’s kind of amazing how much insight he has to offer, even in just a shade under 18 minutes. And you know the crazy thing? This talk represents just a small kernel of the wisdom that Wooden has to offer.

In any case, hope you like it!



1. Aspire for More Than Achievement

“I wanted to come up with something that I hoped would make me a better teacher, and give the youngsters under my supervision, whether it be in athletics, or in the English classroom something of which to aspire other than just a higher mark in the classroom or more points in some athletic contest.”

2. Don’t Obsess Over Comparing Yourself to Others

“Never try to be better than someone else. Always learn from others, and never cease trying to be the best you can be.”

3. Don’t Worry About What You Can’t Control

“If you get too engrossed and involved and concerned in regard to things over which you have no control, it will adversely affect the things over which you have control.”

4. Success is Doing Your Best

Wooden’s brilliant (in my opinion) definition of success:

“Peace of mind only attained through self satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best you’re capable.”

5. Character is More Important Than Reputation

“Your reputation is what you’re perceived to be, your character is what you are.”

6. Value Your Time

Wooden’s first rule that he taught every youngster he coached: “Never be late!”

7. Make a Plan and Stick to It

“I believe in time, it’s very important.  At practice, we start on time and we close on time.”

One of Wooden’s greatest (most underrated) skills was as a planner, to be able to efficiently get done what he needed to with his team while still respecting their time and his own. It’s a lesson we could all implement into our lives just a little bit better.

8.  Withhold Judgment of Others

“Never criticize a teammate.”


It seems like a simple principle, but it does wonders when you’re trying hard to build something or achieve an objective while working with others.

9. Work Hard and  Love What You Do

The cornerstones of Wooden’s Pyramid of success: Industriousness and Enthusiasm

10. Have Patience

“I say to you, in whatever you’re doing, you must be patient.”

Success is a long road. Keep that in mind with each tiny step along the journey.

11. Keep Your Perspective of the World in Balance

“The young think all change is progress, while older generations tend to forget that there is no progress without change.”

12. Pair Belief With Action

“Our tendency is to hope that things will turn out the way we want them to but we don’t do the things that are necessary to make those things a reality.”

13. Make Your Own Destiny

Quoting a poem from former major league baseball umpire George Moriarty, Wooden recites:

“If bravely we have given all, for who can ask more of a man than giving all within his span, it seems to me, is not so far from – Victory. And so the fates are seldom wrong, no matter how they twist and wind, It’s you and I who make our fates, we open up or close the gates, On the Road Ahead or the Road Behind.”

14. Don’t Whine

John Wooden quoting his father:

“Don’t Whine. Don’t Complain. Don’t make excuces. Just go out there and whatever you’re doing do it to the best of your ability. No one can do more than that.”

15. The Score Doesn’t Decide the Winner

“You can lose when you outscore somebody in a game, and you can win when you’re outscored.”

16. Don’t Let Results Affect Your Attitude

“When the game is over and you see somebody that didn’t know the outcome, I hope they couldn’t tell by your actions whether you outscored and opponent or an opponent outscored you.”

17. Know The Journey is More Important than the End

“As a basketball coach at UCLA, I liked the practices to be the journey, and the games to be the end.”

Ultimately, we ought to appreciate the beauty of the journey, whatever that may entail. If you do what you need to do to achieve success, the results will as they should. It may not always be what you want it to be, but it’ll be what it should be. Enjoy the ride.

Have any favorite John Wooden quotes you’d like to share? Add them in the comments below!


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