Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success

Summary Written by Dianne Coppola
"Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."

- Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, page 12

The Big Idea

Bring Your ‘A’ Game

"Competitive Greatness…It’s not about winning. It’s about learning to give all we have to give."- Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, page 87

The peak, the uppermost block in the pyramid is competitive greatness which Wooden describes as being at your best when your best is needed and the enjoyment of a difficult challenge. He is clear that the scoreboard is merely one measure of the outcome of a game noting you can score more points than the other team and still lose, and you can lose a game and still come out a winner. Athletes describe this as “leaving it all on…the ice…the field…the court”.

How often can you say you’ve given a task all you had to give? That you brought your ‘A’ game attitude and work ethic to the items on your daily to do list. I suspect that all too often we give only what we deem is necessary and sufficient – a good enough effort. We may work hard and long, but that is not the same as giving all we have to give.

Stop and consider the impact you could have if you made the commitment to give each task in your day all you have to give. If you listened to your partner or child’s dilemma with an open mind and heart. If you took the time to research potential solutions to the supply chain bottleneck before the troubleshooting meeting. If you rehearsed that sales presentation multiple times before meeting with the client instead of winging it. Even if the results are less than stellar, you will have the satisfaction of knowing you didn’t hold back – you gave it your all. That is the success Coach Wooden wishes for you.

Insight #1

Be Enthusiastic

"If we don’t enjoy what we do, we won’t be able to push as hard as we need to push for as long as we need to push to achieve our best."- Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, page 34

Enthusiasm is one of the foundational cornerstones of the pyramid (the other one is industriousness). I think Coach Wooden chose enthusiasm as a foundational building block because of its dual influence – enthusiasm not only sustains us during our quest for success, it rubs off on those around us. I’m sure you can think of times when someone’s unbridled enthusiasm for a project or activity inspired you and other members of the team to roll up your proverbial sleeves and pitch in (most likely with a smile on your face). We’ve also experienced the opposite – someone who seemed to suck the life out of a project because of their negativity and lack of enthusiasm. When given a choice – who would you rather be? A team booster or a party pooper?

Adopting a mental ‘can do’ attitude and embracing your day with enthusiasm is similar to turning on the lights in a dark room. It brightens the space and makes it easier to see things clearly. The room might be a dingy, messy space that needs cleaning and painting yet approaching the task with enthusiasm for what it will become makes it easier to bear down and tackle the myriad steps in the renovation process.

Try it yourself. Adopt a positive, enthusiastic attitude towards the next task you are undertaking. Look for the upsides and consider how you can achieve those outcomes in a fun and supportive way.

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Insight #2

Take Initiative

"Initiative is having the courage to make decisions and take action. People with initiative move forward without fear of failure, even though they might make mistakes or fail."- Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, page 58

I have always associated initiative with action and intrinsic motivation. I don’t think I have ever consciously acknowledged that overcoming fear is a prerequisite for action and yet it makes sense. Fear of failure causes us to pause before acting or to not act at all. This is a by-product of associating failure with our self-image (“I’m no good”) instead of viewing failure as a learning opportunity (“Well that didn’t work out like I thought”).

Coach Wooden believed that his players would not reach their full potential (as athletes, as students, as citizens) if they were afraid of making mistakes, afraid of failing. He wanted his players to be pushing against the walls of [their] capabilities and viewing mistakes as learning opportunities. Like the butterfly that pushes against the walls of its cocoon to break free and take flight, we need to push against our fear of failure and learn to take action even when there is no guarantee of success. As Yoda told Luke – “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success is in many ways simply good old-fashioned common sense. Just as athletes must practice the fundamentals of their sport continuously and deliberately before they can dazzle crowds with showmanship moves, there are fundamental principles and values that need to be practiced regularly before one can become successful.

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Jay Carty

An “unusual communicator” is a mild statement. Maybe a little “nuts” would be more accurate. He’s certainly “off the wall.” Not a preacher, not a teacher… more a story teller with a very important message. Fun, funny and provocative. Traditional, he is not. Challenging, he is. Where some “deep” preachers are too snoozy for the rank and file, and where some humorists don’t have much to say, Jay’s “stuff” is generally regarded as an unusual blending of humor and content. Youth won’t nod off, and neither will their parents. Jay Carty played basketball at Oregon State and coached there for two years. He was on John Wooden’s staff for three years at UCLA and coached Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Jay then played for the Los Angeles Lakers. Following basketball and a time in the business world, Jay directed a Christian conference center, was a church consultant with Churches Alive and in 1982 began Yes! Ministries, an organization dedicated to helping people say “yes!” to God. Jay crosses denominations and relates to a changing contemporary society as well as a broad range of age groups. Jay has spoken in churches, colleges, schools and retreat centers across the country. Jay and Mary make their home in Santa Barbara. They have two grown children.

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