Blogger Expose’: John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success

John Wooden's Pyramid of Success was refined over a 14-year period.
John Wooden’s now-famous Pyramid of Success was refined over a 14-year period.

John Wooden was arguably the greatest coach who ever lived – in any sport. As a head coach at UCLA from 1948-1975, Wooden won ten National Championships in a 12-year period including an unprecedented seven in-a-row (1967-1973). What sets Wooden apart is that just winning was never his standard of success. The definition of success that Wooden coined in 1934 reads, “Peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing that you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable. Only you as an individual know whether you did that or not. You can fool others, but you can’t fool yourself. As long as you know that you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable, there’s no failure.” Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is made up of 15 different building blocks:

Worthwhile things come from hard work and careful planning.
The first of the two cornerstones of success, “Because to be strong,” says Wooden, “You have to have a strong foundation.” When I think about my own life, I have never been the smartest student in school or the most talented athlete, but I refuse to be outworked. Probably the best example of this was when I went to Arizona State University. I decided beforehand that I wanted to run on the Cross Country and Track teams. I wasn’t good enough to get an athletic scholarship, and the team was ranked in the Top 25, so my only option was to walk-on. The tryout was simple – those left standing at the end of an indeterminate period of time would make the team. I refused to give up, and I made the team. I just kept showing up. I refused to quit. To this day, it’s still the most difficult thing I’ve ever accomplished athletically, and it’s the achievement I’m most proud of.

Your heart must be in your work. Stimulate others.
The second of the two cornerstone of success. Wooden says, “The cornerstones of success to me, in anything, are hard work and enjoy what you’re doing.” Wooden says you have to love what you do. Before I came to the Golf Academy, I was a sales representative for a local IT Services company. The job didn’t fit my skillset, and I knew it. I dreaded going to work every day because I couldn’t stand what I was doing. I loved the people that I worked with, but not knowing where my next paycheck was coming from was a stress to which I never acclimated.

Comes from mutual esteem, respect and devotion. A sincere liking for all.
Wooden says this comes from mutual esteem with both sides working together, like a marriage. I am so fortunate to have found a great friend, partner, and teammate in my wife. I think we make each other better. We know that marriage is hard and that relationships take work. But we each bring different qualities to the relationship that elevate one another.

To yourself and all those dependent upon you. Keep your self-respect.
To me, this is a big one. One of the reasons I stayed at my job with the IT Services Company as long as I did was because the company gave me a chance to succeed when few others did. Out of loyalty for the opportunity I was given and to the people who gave it to me, I refused to quit. I gave the job a legitimate shot, and it just wasn’t for me. But no one can say I didn’t try or that I wasn’t loyal to the company that gave me the opportunity.

Bill Walton (far left) said Wooden helped "inspire others to reach levels of success and peace of mind that none of us could ever dream of reaching by ourselves."
Bill Walton (far left) said Wooden helped “inspire others to reach levels of success and peace of mind that none of us could ever dream of reaching by ourselves.”

With all levels of your co-workers. Help others and see the other side.
Is it ever a bad thing to help others? I don’t think so. And I believe that what goes around, comes around. There are plenty of times when you do something to help others and then someone else returns the favor down the road. You never know what that’s going to be. It’s also the right thing to do! I think we all have an inner desire to help others.

Emotions under control. Delicate adjustment between mind and body. 
In golf, as in life, it helps to be even keeled. I try not to get too high or too low. I’m not saying that I don’t get frustrated. Oh, I get frustrated. But I don’t let it control me. I try to act the same on the golf course whether I made a birdie or a bogey. Being too emotional can be physically exhausting.

Be observing constantly. Be quick to spot a weakness and correct it or use it.
Always keep your head on a swivel. I tell this to my wife all the time. You never know what you’re going to see. It’s important to be observant so that, you can better anticipate what’s coming. Life is full of surprises, but the more alert you are, the better equipped you are to deal with those surprises.

Cultivate the ability to make decisions and think alone. Desire to excel.
Wooden says, “Don’t be afraid to fail. Act!” This is another one of the many reasons I enrolled at the Golf Academy. Fear of failure can be debilitating. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, but I was almost afraid to try anything else, even if it meant that I would be happier and more productive. I also didn’t have the financial flexibility. Again, if it wasn’t for my wife, I wouldn’t be where I am right now.

Ability to resist temptation and stay on course. Concentrate on your objective and determine to reach your goal.
I have always been a very goal-oriented person. I set goals on a daily, weekly, and even a monthly basis, and I really enjoy crossing them off my list! Wooden says you have to set reasonable, but difficult goals, and I agree. If they’re too easy or if they’re unattainable, you won’t strive to achieve them, but the motivation has to come from within.

Mental, moral, and physical. Consider rest, exercise, and diet. Practice moderation and eliminate dissipation.
These next three blocks make up the heart of the Pyramid of Success. While rest, exercise, and diet must be considered, the key is to do everything in moderation. Getting at least eight hours or sleep, exercising regularly, and eating healthy are important to being able to sustain excellence over a long period of time.

A knowledge of and the ability to properly execute the fundamentals. Be prepared, and cover every detail.
This is being prepared and knowing how to execute the fundamentals. I’m always going to the driving range to practice what I’ve learned in class. There’s a good chance I will be an instructor when I graduate from the Academy, so I have to know these skills. I joke with my wife that I’m doing homework (and she rolls her eyes, by the way), but what I’m really doing is expanding my knowledge of the game and sharpening my ability to execute the golf fundamentals that I’m learning.

Team Spirit
An eagerness to sacrifice personal interests or glory for the welfare of all. The team comes first.
To me, this means consideration for others. This goes hand-in-hand with the cooperation block of the pyramid listed above. Many times, if you sacrifice personal glory for that of the team, the personal glory will come anyway.

John Wooden was both a leader and a coach right up until the day he died in 2010.
John Wooden was a leader and a coach right up until the day he died.

Just being yourself. Being at ease in any situation. Never fighting yourself.
This is playing to your strengths by “just being yourself.” I am reminded of Trombone Player Wanted. You know what you’re supposed to be doing because those activities strengthen you. They don’t weaken you. These activities are second nature. I felt this way when I was a television news anchor and reporter. Writing, shooting video, and editing have always come very easily to me, and I enjoyed doing it. Even when it took me several hours to edit a story together, I felt more energized when it was completed than I had when I had started.

Respect without fear. Comes from faith in yourself and knowing that you’re prepared.
I have always believed that there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. An athlete’s confidence often comes off as arrogance, but the more individual the sport, the more “arrogantly confident” an athlete has to be. Just look at the sport of golf! Golf is the most mental game there is. But if you want to be a great golfer, you have to believe that you can hit any shot under pressure at any time. Is that arrogant, or is it just confident? It’s the game inside the game. Golfers have to be confident, bordering on arrogant.

Competitive Greatness
Be at your best when your best is needed. Real love of a hard battle.
Last, but certainly not least, is competitive greatness. It sits atop the Pyramid of Success. Wooden says this is “functioning your best when needed the most.” Some people thrive on this kind of pressure. Others cower away from it. There’s a reason why this block is at the top of the pyramid. It’s not the foundation of the pyramid, nor is it at the heart, but it’s vitally important. If you look at what separates the greatest athletes of all-time, they have all thrived under pressure. Michael Jordan, LeBron James, and Tiger Woods have all performed at the times when it meant the most. Competitive greatness will always be a differentiator among the greatest athletes – those who have come and those who are yet to come.

In closing, Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is a strikingly thorough examination of what it takes to be successful, whether it be in sports or in life. If you love what you do, and you have faith that things should turn out as they should, then the rest will take of itself. Boy am I glad I decided to come to the Golf Academy of America!

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