Never Lie. Never Cheat. Never Steal.

UPDATED: October 17, 2023
PUBLISHED: November 15, 2016
Never Lie. Never Cheat. Never Steal.

Coach John Wooden’s father gave his four sons two direct sets of three rules he hoped would guide their everyday behavior. They were referred to as “Two Sets of Three” and became the underlying philosophy that Coach’s Pyramid of Success is based on. The first set dealt with integrity, and must be the starting point for any leader:

Never lie.
Never cheat.
Never steal.

These rules are simple and self-explanatory, yet they are as important as they are obvious. The first thing anybody wants to know about you is, “Can I trust you?” It is a question asked by parents, friends, co-workers, recruits, athletic directors, fellow coaches and anyone else with whom you may hope to build a relationship. By following these three simple rules consistently, you will always be trustworthy.

Related: The Path to Greatness 

Know that your most important teaching tool is the example you set. In order to set the model for good character, you must consistently follow rules that drive your behavior. You cannot be a person whose ethics depend upon the situation or the company you keep.

On each side of Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success are five desirable character traits that he referred to as mortar, the substance that holds the structure together. Four of the five pieces of mortar on the right side of the pyramid directly reflect what he learned from his father’s first set of three:

Integrity (purity of intention)
Reliability (creates respect)
Honesty (in thought and action)
Sincerity (keeps friends)

Coach Wooden’s players and those he worked with over the years always talk about the good example he set. His coworkers have told many stories about this, such as the payment he made to cover some personal phone calls he had placed over a school phone, even though they totaled less than a dollar. One of his fellow coaches speaks of the fact that after Coach Wooden retired and maintained an office in the athletic department, he would still take all of his return correspondence and packages to the post office himself each day and pay for the postage out of his own pocket. Indeed, his integrity was legendary.

As with most of his wisdom, Coach provided us with a set of maxims to help us remember the lessons and implications of trustworthiness.

“Tell the truth. That way you don’t have to remember a story.”
“The true athlete should have character, not be a character.”
“Young people need models, not critics.”

And of course Coach always gives a character trait (a block on the pyramid) to remind us of these behaviors. In this case it is Loyalty – “To yourself and to all those depending upon you. Keep your self-respect.” Coach Wooden has often described Loyalty as an essential component of any successful team. However, loyalty can only be built if you have integrity, so be certain to start there first.

Related: 27 Motivational Quotes by John Wooden to Inspire You to Be Better


Dive deeper into Coach’s philosophy with The Path To Greatness: Coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, a course that highlights the leadership techniques and inspirational teachings Coach used to empower others to greatness.

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

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.