The Key to Adaptability

UPDATED: October 18, 2023
PUBLISHED: August 30, 2017

On the left side of the Pyramid of Success, below faith, there are four additional pieces of mortar: ambition, adaptability, resourcefulness and fight. These are qualities that encompass the resolve, ingenuity and resilience of the human spirit.

In his book Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, with Jay Carty, Coach Wooden defined adaptability and its importance in the following manner:

“Adaptability is being able to adjust to any situation at any given time.

“In life, we all know that we can only be sure of a few things, specifically death and taxes. We can also count on change. We need to recognize change, grow with it and learn from it. Since change is inevitable, people who are inflexible, bullheaded or stubborn will never make it to the apex of the Pyramid. If we want to succeed, we must readily adapt to circumstances as they unfold—this includes both what we cannot change and what will take some time to change.

“If we fail to adapt, we fail to move forward.”

Related: Do You Have Adaptability?

Under each piece of mortar on the Pyramid, in parentheses, there is some brief application advice for that mortar. Under adaptability, the application advice is “to any situation.” Coach described the essence of adaptability in his book Practical Modern Basketball this way: “Be flexible enough to be able to adjust to the environment and to the occasion.”

The key to being effective in our adaptability is recognizing the situation and determining whether we can change it or whether we simply need to make the best of it and move forward.

Coach has three great quotes that describe this strategy:

  • “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”
  • “The more concerned we become over the things we can’t control, the less we will do with the things we can control.”
  • “Things turn out the best for those who make the best of the way things turn out.”

Related: How to Handle Adversity: Don’t Whine, Don’t Complain, Don’t Make Excuses.

When Coach arrived at UCLA 1948, he had a gym with only two baskets, which he shared with other sports during his practice period. At Indiana State University, where he had come from, he had six baskets and a private facility. He recognized that he could not change the situation at UCLA, so he adapted and made the best of it.

When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar came to UCLA, Coach adapted his style of play and practice routine to take advantage of Kareem’s unusual talent, though he had already won two national championships with his prior system. Coach recognized this as a situation he could and would need to change so the team could reach its potential.

Coach summed it up this way in his book with Jay Carty:

“We change what we can, but if we get too concerned, involved and engrossed in circumstances over which we have no control or can’t change, those circumstances are going to have a negative impact on events and outcomes we can control.”

Related: To Be Skilled at Anything, Commit to Being a Lifelong Learner

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.