Coach John Wooden Taught the Game of Life

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“Some people go through their lives like they are walking slowly into a swimming pool — the water hardly ripples as they ease comfortably into their own little corner. John Wooden wasn’t one of those people,” Coach Mike Krzyzewski wrote in the forward of A Game Plan for Life: The Power of Mentoring by Don Yaeger about the late basketball coach. “His life was like a cannonball dive that sent waves across the water, affecting everyone in the pool.”

Sportscaster Bill Walton was touched by one of those waves. In the time that he played for Coach Wooden at UCLA from 1971-1974, Walton found an unforgettable teacher and mentor in the man regarded as the best coach of all time. “Coach Wooden epitomized everything I want to be,” says the 2-time NCAA champion and 3-time All-American player.

Related: Framework of Success

From Wooden, Walton learned how to be an industrious student, so that you earn the privilege to be a UCLA basketball player, how to act with poise when you’re at your lowest and why friendship, loyalty and cooperation are the building blocks of success. Wooden even taught his players the resourceful way to put on their socks and shoes.

“While our practices were the most demanding endeavors that I’ve ever been a part of, so physically, emotionally, mentally and psychologically taxing, there is always the sense of joy, of celebration and of people having fun playing a simple game,” Walton wrote on his site

But you didn’t have to play for Wooden to feel the ripple effect of his Pyramid of Success. The tenets he taught have touched many, far beyond that one rippling wave of influence.

Related: Coach John Wooden: The 4 Things a Man Must Learn to Do

Take J. N. “Jim” Whiddon of Dallas, featured in the October 2016 issue of SUCCESS, who wanted to be a basketball coach growing up like his idol Wooden.

When he discovered a coach’s salary wouldn’t sufficiently pay the bills, Whiddon shifted gears and earned a master’s degree at The American College of Financial Services instead. He founded the firm JWA Financial Group (which he sold in 2013) and hosted a radio show during his lucrative 30-year career in finance. But the influence of the legendary UCLA coach still called to him.

In his book The Old School Advantage, published in February, Whiddon shares the importance of “old school” communication with younger generations. “We’re manufacturing technicians in colleges across the country,” Whiddon says. “But can those technicians, who are brilliant and have such know-how, communicate those ideas? Do they have the social skills?”

Influenced by Wooden’s highly principled style of leadership, Whiddon’s book explores how enthusiasm and sincerity in storytelling can make you a great leader. It also presents advice for negotiating during a job interview and touts the impact of a handwritten thank-you note.

Related: 27 Quotes by John Wooden to Motivate You to Be Better

That’s what Wooden did. He taught people how to be better. “Coach Wooden was a great teacher, teaching the right way to play the greatest game all people play — the game of life,” says sportscaster Dick Vitale, who is one of dozens of people that shared their stories about Coach Wooden for an upcoming SUCCESS project.

In fall 2016, SUCCESS will partner with SUCCESS Academy in collaboration with the John R. Wooden family to present lessons from the coach’s iconic Pyramid of Success. Visit for updates about the one-of-a-kind program.

Related: Timeless Lessons From John Wooden, the Greatest Coach of All Time


Turn the impossible into your reality with the Framework of Success, a free video course with three timeless lessons from Coach Wooden.


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