Coach Wooden One-on-One

“While many rank Wooden as the greatest sports coach of the twentieth century – his record and acclaim speak for themselves – he considers himself first a teacher. He was obviously peerless as a professor of basketball, but his lessons stretched far beyond the court. He did not consider himself a success unless his students were mentored in physical, mental and emotional disciples that applied to all aspects of life.”

– Coach Wooden One-on-One, page 157

There’s no question that Coach John Wooden was, and still is, the greatest coach in all sports.

In fact, it’s something I touched on in my summary of The Wisdom of Wooden. For the uninitiated, here are some of Coach’s highlights:

– Led UCLA to 10 NCAA Championships in 12 years (1963 to 1975)
– Led UCLA to 7 straight NCAA Championships (1967 to 1973)
– Four perfect 30-0 seasons
– A record 88 game win streak
– 149-2 record at Pauley Pavilion (UCLA’s home court)

And for all the success Coach achieved on the court, it was who he was off the court that made him the man everyone admired and learned from. He always considered himself to be a teacher first, coach second.

But, before he was a teacher, he was also a student.

And as we discover in Coach Wooden One-on-One, Coach was not only a student of life, but a dedicated student of faith and religion.

As a child growing up on a small farm in Indiana, Coach’s father, Joshua Wooden, would read teachings from the Bible to Coach and his three brothers. And to say this had a lasting impact on Coach would be an understatement.

As I read and learn more about Coach, and his success as an individual and coach, it’s clear that the success principles he learned, and applied, are deeply rooted in the teachings from his father, and the Bible.

And broken into sixty individual readings, Jay Carty and Coach give us a glimpse into the spiritual part of Coach’s world in Coach Wooden One-on-One. And while there is a heavy focus on the Bible, complete with recommended readings and verses, there is value to be gained regardless of religion or faith (FYI: I’m not a Christian, but I still found the teachings applicable to my life).

Here’s my favorite lesson from the book.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Compete Against Yourself. No One Else.

"I’m fiercely competitive, so the games were important. However, the best competition I have is against myself – to become better. I did this with my teams, too. The competition was not so much against other teams as it was against ourselves – making us better."
- Coach Wooden One-on-One, Day 18: Cake & Frosting

In the arena of sports and business (and life in general, actually) it’s very easy to find yourself focusing on “the competition”. Focusing on what “everyone else” is doing.

But in reality, we are our own greatest competition.
We are our own greatest ally, and greatest enemy.

Coach emphasized that no matter what, we must always compete against ourselves, raising our own bar according to our own goals and belief in what we thought was possible.

The focus was always on improving yourself to the best of your ability.
If you truly did your best every day, then you will see improvement.

And that, according to Coach, is true success.

“I knew if we improved, we would win more games, but winning was always the by-product of improvement. I wanted us to be the best we could be.”

Here are two methods to always focus on to ensure your best.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Focus On Things In Your Control

"The more concerned we become over the things we can’t control, the less we will do with the things we can control."
- Coach Wooden One-on-One, Day 13: Overcoming Adversity

Whether it’s traffic during our commute to work, or officiating what we don’t agree with during games, we must always remember that we are always in control of how we think, act and behave in each and every single moment.

Regardless of external circumstance, the choice is always ours.

The fact is that we will most definitely face adversity and hardship in life. Both personally, and professionally, but it’s up to us how we respond (and move on).

It’s this very mindset that helped Coach not only be successful in the arena of basketball, but also in life.

“As I entered adulthood, I faced the same kind of challenges my folks had faced and had to quickly learn to get along with very little. A few days before Nellie and I were to be married, a bank failure took my life savings of $909.05, which was a lot of money in those days. A friend loaned us cash so we could get married anyway. I left to fight in World War II, and when I returned, another financial problem awaited me: the bank had foreclosed our home. My parents had shown me how to handle the setback, so we packed up and moved on… I had not thought of it as a hardship at the time, and I never made excuses.”

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Follow The 2 Sets of 3 & The 7-Point Creed

"My dad passed on powerful principles to me. He often used words that I have carried to this day… He said, ‘If you never lie, you’ll never have to remember what you said.’ Then he added, ‘Never try to be better than somebody else. Always learn from others and never cease trying to be the best you can be.’ "
- Coach Wooden One-on-One, Day 11: Powerful Principles

When Coach was in grade school, his father gave him “a wonderful formula for success – two sets of three”:

Don’t lie.              Don’t whine.

Don’t cheat.       Don’t complain.

Don’t steal.         Don’t make excuses.

And when Coach graduated from grade school, his father gave him two things.
One was a two-dollar bill. The other was a card which had his father’s Seven Point Creed:

  1. Be true to yourself.
  2. Help others.
  3. Make each day your masterpiece.
  4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
  5. Make friendship a fine art.
  6. Build a shelter against a rainy day.
  7. Pray for guidance and count and give thanks for your blessings everyday

I hope these two principles help you in your journey, as they did Coach in his journey.


Coach Wooden One-on-One gives us a look into the heart of what made John Wooden the successful coach, teacher, mentor and individual he went on to become. It’s filled with the many principles and philosophies that highlight how Coach approached various situations in life, and gives me a much better appreciation for the simple, yet profound wisdom, his father bestowed upon him. And we’re fortunate that he’s shared it with us as well.

“Time lost is time lost. It’s gone forever. Some people tell themselves that they will work twice as hard tomorrow to make up for what they did not do today. People should always do their best. If they can work twice as hard tomorrow, then should have also worked twice as hard today. That would have been their best. Catching up leaves no room for them do their best tomorrow. People with the philosophy of putting off and then working twice as hard cheat themselves.”

Consultant or Coach? Take our Fit Assessment to find out if partnering with Actionable is right for you.
Parin Patel

ABOUT Parin Patel

Parin is a Blogger, Writer, and Consultant, from Vancouver, BC. And he’s intrigued by one question: What makes GREAT people GREAT? As an avid basketball fan, he’s watched athletes like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant consistently perform at an elite level...
Read More
blog comments powered by Disqus

Back to summaries