Real Success Begins Where Selfishness Ends

UPDATED: October 18, 2023
PUBLISHED: January 22, 2018

Many of famed UCLA basketball coach John Wooden’s favorite maxims reflected his keen appreciation of unselfishness:

“You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for someone without a thought of repayment.”

“Be as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.”

Related: 4 Reasons You Should Celebrate Others’ Success

Coach Wooden considered the ability of an individual to be a team player an essential character trait in selecting the players he chose to recruit at UCLA.

One of my favorite stories that Coach told regarding unselfishness is from his book They Call Me Coach, which he wrote with Jack Tobin, describing an incident after the 1964 championship game victory over Duke:

“As I turned away from the post-game press conference and headed down that long corridor in Kansas City toward the dressing room, my feet and spirits dragged. For while I looked forward to congratulating the team on their victory, my thoughts were also on Fred Slaughter. What was he feeling at this moment?

“Throughout the entire season, Fred had started every game. He had a brilliant year. Fred was a totally unselfish player with great team devotion and was frequently asked to do things for which a player receives little public attention. Even though he was short for a college center, barely 6’5” tall, Fred was the blocker, screener and rebounder—things seldom seen and appreciated by the crowd. But in this final game for the championship with Duke, he had gotten off to a bad start. As the game moved along, it got worse instead of better. Finally, a change had to be made, so I pulled Fred and put in Doug McIntosh. And Doug did such a fine job that I left him in until the game was ours.

Related: Bad Times Can Make You Bitter or Better

“While I walked along toward the dressing room, George Moriarty’s words were ringing in my mind: ‘Who could ask more of a man than giving all within his span? Giving all, it seems to me, is not so far from victory.’ And yet I knew that Fred was not alone in his disappointment. Having grown up not too far away in Topeka, Kansas, where he had attended high school, he was well aware that the crowd had been pretty well sprinkled with Slaughter relatives and fans.

“Pushing open the dressing room door, I ran right into Fred. He had evidently been waiting for me. ‘Coach,’ he said, ‘before someone gets the wrong impression, I want you to know that I understand. You had to leave Doug in there because he played so well, and I didn’t. I wanted to play in the worst way, but I do understand, and if anyone says I was upset, it’s not true. Disappointed, yes, but upset no, and I was very happy for Doug.’”

Related: How John Wooden Led His Teams to a Victorious Life

Coach also described another compelling incident following UCLA’s victory over Michigan in the 1965 national championship game:

“Doug McIntosh, whose spectacular substitution for Slaughter in the 1964 championship game contributed so much to that win, was our regular starting center. He had a good year, but he didn’t get off to a good start in this decisive Michigan game. And just as with Slaughter the year before, I had to pull Doug and substitute Michael Lynn, a sophomore. Mike did well and I played him almost all of the rest of the game.

“And so, as I headed toward the dressing room, my feelings matched those of 1964. But, like Fred, Doug understood and told me that I had no choice. There wasn’t even a hint of resentment, and Doug was happy that the team had done so well.”

Fred Slaughter went on to become a dean at the UCLA Law School, a highly successful attorney and member of the UCLA Hall of Fame.

Following his college career, Doug McIntosh attended seminary at Dallas Theological Seminary and later co-founded the Cornerstone Bible Church in Liburn, Georgia.

As Coach liked to say, “It’s amazing how much can be accomplished if no one is concerned with who gets the credit.”

Related: The Qualities of a Humble Leader

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.