On the fourth tier of Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success are Poise and Confidence. Poise is defined as: “Just being yourself. Being at ease in any situation. Never fighting yourself.”
“Poise is much like self-control,” Coach Wooden said. “Many people over the years have noticed that and mentioned it to me, but I don’t consider the two to be quite the same. I again have my own definition for poise—a very simple definition: ‘Just being yourself.’ When you maintain your poise, you’re being yourself. You’re not acting. You’re not trying to be something you’re not. You are yourself, therefore you’re going to be able to function closer to your own particular abilities.”
Coach Wooden viewed Poise and Confidence as an outgrowth of the 12 blocks below them. This is how he described that relationship: “Let’s say if you’re industrious, if you’re enthusiastic, if you’re friendly, if you’re loyal, if you’re cooperative and if you maintain self-control. And if you’re alert and alive and observing constantly, and if you have initiative and aren’t afraid to fail, knowing quite well that you are imperfect and you are going to fail at times. And if you’re intent on reaching realistic objectives, and attaining poise and confidence. And if you conditioned yourself for doing these things, and if you work at it and you’re skilled, and you can execute not only properly but quickly. And if you’re imbued with consideration for others… you’ll have poise and confidence, and it will be true. It will not be false. It will not be whistling in the dark at all.”
If you have poise, you will be true to yourself under all circumstances. “Be true to yourself” was the first item in the Seven-Point Creed that Coach received from his father. As Coach himself later said, “If you sacrifice principle trying to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.”
In his book Practical Modern Basketball, Coach Wooden describes the importance of a coach being a philosopher: “Webster tells us that, among other things, a philosopher is a person who meets all events, whether favorable or unfavorable, with calmness and composure.” A philosopher has poise.
Coach expanded upon this concept by pointing out additional circumstances under which a coach must keep his or her poise: “The coach must recognize that his profession places him in the public eye and he will, at times, receive both unjustifiable criticism and undeserved praise, and he or she must not be unduly affected by either.”
But this advice is not true only for coaches; it can be applied to parents, supervisors, friends or any position where we work with others.
One of Coach Wooden’s favorite poems, If by Rudyard Kipling, eloquently describes the essence of poise:
If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you;
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you…
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch…
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man my son!
We all need poise to perform to our potential.