The Wisdom of Wooden

Summary Written by Parin Patel
"At some point Sports Illustrated concluded: 'There has never been a finer coach in American sports. Nor a finer man.' It's the last part – ‘nor a finer man’ – that makes John Wooden JOHN WOODEN."

- The Wisdom of Wooden, page 1

The Big Idea

Make Each Day Your Masterpiece

"You cannot change yesterday, and a better tomorrow will be the result of what you do today. If you do your best, angels can do no better. And this present moment – right now – is when you have that opportunity."- The Wisdom of Wooden, page 8

Make Each Day Your Masterpiece.
Read the previous sentence again: Make. Each Day. Your Masterpiece!

If there’s one piece of advice Coach wanted us to learn and apply fully, it was this: Imagine not only the possibilities, but progress and experience you would have if each day was truly your masterpiece.

“Thus, if I may offer you one piece of advice that I hope you’ll apply after reading our book, it is this suggestion from my father: ‘Make each day your masterpiece.’ When you do that as the weeks and months and years (and, for me, century) unfold behind you, you’ll have the deepest self-satisfaction knowing your life has really meant something.”

Insight #1

Redefine Success

"Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming."- The Wisdom of Wooden, page 54

As a high school English teacher and basketball coach, Coach didn’t agree with the traditional definition of success everyone had at the time; the belief that success should be strictly measured by outcome. He believed it was grossly invalid and unfair” to judge success by the number of victories a team had or the number of A’s a student had.

Coach believed success was about much more than just the end result.
More than another “A”.
More than another win.
And more than another trophy.

That’s not to say Coach didn’t care about winning and losing. He did.
He just felt there was something more important than winning and losing.

“I want to be clear about something: Winning or losing matters. Why else would we keep score? When you win it usually feels good. Losing hurts, and it should. But my belief is that winning and losing are a by-product, offshoot, consequence of something more important. That’s why in my early years of teaching, I sought to figure out what that ‘something’ was.”

So in 1932, he created his own definition of success.
A definition which he shared in his memorable TEDTalk in 2001.
A definition he felt was a more realistic and honest appraisal of success”:

“My definition of success, my concept of what constitutes ‘greatness’ in an individual or a team and how to achieve those lofty goals, is put in perspective with a simple directive: Do not judge yourself by what you have achieved but rather by what you could and should have achieved given your potential – if you’d never ceased trying to be the best you could be.”

It’s an interesting dichotomy to think of a coach best known for “winning” as defining success by effort. Perhaps an explanation lies in the quantifiable success you naturally have when you put the emphasis on effort – on something you have complete control over. It’s sort of like the business person who focuses on work they love and make great money as a result, versus the person who works strictly for the money.

Do you define success by mastering that which you have control over, or by outside recognition beyond your control?

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Insight #2

The Wisdom of Wooden isn’t your typical leadership or business book – in fact, it isn’t a business book. It’s a collection of stories, philosophies, teachings, poems and pictures that have been at the heart of Coach John Wooden’s life; a life which happens to be one of the greatest legacies of the 20th century.

Read the book

Get The Wisdom of Wooden on Amazon.

John Wooden

John Wooden (1910-2010), guided the UCLA Bruins to ten NCAA basketball championships over a 12-year period, including four perfect seasons and an 88-game winning streak. He was named ESPN’s “Greatest Coach of the 20th Century” and voted “#1 Coach of All Time” by The Sporting News. Sports Illustrated said it best when they said: “There’s never been a finer man in American sports than John Wooden, or a finer coach.” In 2003 John Wooden was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

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