TED Talks: ‘John Wooden: The Difference Between Winning and Succeeding’

UPDATED: June 22, 2023
PUBLISHED: November 7, 2016
win or succeed

Coach John Wooden, the legendary UCLA coach who led his teams to numerous championships and double-digit winning streaks, began learning the rules of success at an early age. His father taught him that it was better to be the best person he possibly could rather than strive to be better than everyone else.

In this TED Talk, Wooden talked about what led him to create the Pyramid of Success, his love of teaching and why winning isn’t the greatest mark of achievement.

As a basketball coach and an English teacher, Wooden placed a high importance on teaching. On and off the court, he wanted to give his students something real to strive for. It would be much greater than scoring points in a basketball game or earning high grades in the classroom, he said. But before he set out to lead others, he hammered out his own personal philosophy on achievement.

Related: 17 Famous “Woodenisms” by Coach John Wooden

“I coined my own definition of success, which is peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable,” Wooden said.

Soon after, he began putting together the Pyramid of Success to become a better teacher. He came to believe that giving real effort creates the results that should come about—maybe not the results a person truly wants, but the progress that was meant to take place. Wooden said he considered every practice session to be a journey, an opportunity for daily improvement. The right scoreboard number in a basketball game was not the end goal, but a byproduct of the real achievement: getting better.

“You never heard me mention winning… My idea is that you can lose when you outscore somebody in a game, and you can win when you’re outscored,” he said.

For example, Coach Wooden considered two of his players, with noticeable weakness on the court, to have achieved just as much as any of his other players, simply by giving their all where it counted.

“Neither one of those youngsters could shoot very well, but they had outstanding shooting percentages because they didn’t force it,” he said. “And neither one could jump very well, but they kept good position and so they did well rebounding… They came as close to possibly reaching their full potential as any players I’ve ever had, so I consider them to be as successful as [Kareem Abdul-Jabbar] or Bill Walton.”

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

TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less). TED began in 1984 as a conference where Technology, Entertainment and Design converged, and today covers almost all topics—from science to business to global issues—in more than 100 languages. Meanwhile, independently run TEDx events help share ideas in communities around the world. See more at TED.com.