17 Famous “Woodenisms” by Coach John Wooden

UPDATED: May 19, 2020
PUBLISHED: September 28, 2016

John Wooden was a philosopher without even realizing it. His perfectly succinct and simple sayings inspired many thousands of young college basketball players at UCLA and many more individuals far and wide—many of whom never stepped foot on a basketball court to hear the words straight from his mouth. That’s how powerful his words were.

Related: The Path to Greatness

Everyone has their favorite “Woodenism,” as many fans of the humble philosopher call his motivational quotes. But former UCLA player and sportscaster Bill Walton, who credits Wooden as his greatest mentor, says he doesn’t have a favorite. He honestly loves them all. Here are 17 of John Wooden’s most famous “Woodenisms.”

1.”It’s not so important who starts the game but who finishes it.”

2.“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.”

3.“Happiness begins where selfishness ends.”

4.“Never lie, never cheat, never steal.”

5.“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

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

7.”Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”

8.“If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

9.“Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

10.“Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”

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

12.”Be true to yourself.”

13.”It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

14.“Be quick, but don’t hurry.”

15.“Never mistake activity for achievement.”

16.”Winning takes talent; to repeat takes character.”

17.“Make each day your masterpiece.”

Related: John Wooden Motivational Quote Archive at TheWoodenEffect.com

Did we leave your favorite “Woodenism” off the list? Share in the comments below or discuss with us on John Wooden’s Facebook page.


Join SUCCESS and host Brendon Burchard on March 25 for The Path to Greatness, a one-time-only live training event that taps into Coach Wooden’s success principles.