John Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: ‘Help Others’

UPDATED: May 27, 2024
PUBLISHED: January 11, 2017

One of Coach Wooden’s favorite role models was Mother Teresa, whose quote, “Unless a life is lived for others, it is not worthwhile,” served as the bedrock of Coach’s lifetime commitment to helping others.

After reading about her tremendous work among the poor in Calcutta, Coach resolved to do one kind thing each day for someone who could never return the favor. And he often put that same challenge to others. Coach realized that not everyone could bring hospices, orphanages and schools to underprivileged people like Mother Teresa, but we could still make a difference in someone’s life every day.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

Whether serving others’ needs physically or emotionally, even the simplest acts of kindness can have a tremendous positive impact. As Mother Teresa often said, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.”

Related: How 30 Days of Kindness Made Me a Better Person

Abraham Lincoln was also an inspiration to Wooden in this regard. Lincoln once remarked that “the worst thing you can do for those you love is to do the things they could and should do for themselves.”

This piece of wisdom inspired Coach to help other people find balance in their own lives. When my wife, Christy (Coach Wooden’s granddaughter), was in high school, she was also working part time to buy a car. Coach probably could have just purchased a vehicle for her, but in keeping with his philosophy, he suggested that he and her other grandfather match whatever Christy earned to help her save. From this experience, Christy learned that one can help others by empowering them to help themselves, thereby making them better, stronger people.

As usual, Coach gave us some great maxims to illustrate this point:

Team spirit is the block on the Pyramid of Success that serves as the best reminder to help others. Coach Wooden defines team spirit as “a genuine consideration for others. An eagerness to sacrifice personal interests of glory for the welfare of all.” If you think of the human race as your team, having team spirit means helping your fellow man to succeed in life.

Related: John Wooden: The Difference Between Winning and Succeeding’

So how can you start helping others today? Perhaps you might begin by being more observant of the people and situations around you. Pause each day and really look around. Do not wait to be asked for help because the very best time to help others is before they have to ask.

Consider taking out the trash or making the bed or doing the laundry. Compliment a co-worker on a great idea; a pat on the back is always appreciated and can be a great motivator. Mentor a child or teach a youngster to ride a bicycle. Volunteer an hour of your time at a senior citizen’s home, church, hospital or homeless shelter. Even the smallest gesture can mean a lot.

“Rings and other jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only true gift is a portion of thy self.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Rings and other jewels are not gifts, but apologies for gifts. The only true gift is a portion of thy self.” One way that Coach Wooden gave freely of himself was that, although he was arguably the most famous coach in American sports, he never had an unlisted phone number. If you wanted to reach out to Coach Wooden, his number was always there in public for anyone to find.

He was committed to being available to visit with anyone who cared to pay him a visit. Similarly, Coach Wooden’s players did not leave the locker room—either at home or on the road—until (as he put it) “the orange peels, gum wrappers, towels and soap chips are off the floor.” Of course, Coach also helped with the cleanup himself. He viewed this as a common courtesy to the cleaning staff. Being considerate of others makes you naturally inclined to help others.

Strive each day to be considerate of others, giving freely of your time, energy and resources to help them while expecting nothing in return. Trust that the joy you will experience in doing so cannot be matched.

Opportunities to help others are all around you, every day, all the time. You need only to take a moment to notice them, and then act.

Related: The 3 Most Important Things in Life


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This article originally appeared on and has been republished with permission.

Craig Impelman

As Coach Wooden’s grandson-in-law, Craig Impelman had the opportunity to learn Coach’s teachings firsthand and wrote about those lessons for his site, He is a motivational speaker and the author of Wooden’s Wisdom, a weekly “e-coaching module” that is distributed to companies nationally.