What I am reading: Lessons from Wooden

John Wooden was an amazing basketball coach. I always admired him because while he cared about winning he also spent much of his time helping his men develop character. His book helps frame up some of the things he has learned over the years and outlines his approach to his coaching career.  He hits 2 main points over and over again. While he does not list then in this way they are present throughout his writing.


  1. Lessons he learned from his father.
  2. Lessons he learned from observation.

These 2 types of lessons are extremely valuable when considering his definition of success. To Wooden success is doing your absolute best effort. Winning a game or even championship may come as a result of your best effort or it may not. Ultimate success however is not determined by the terms of points or sales. Those things may mean a goal was achieved but do not indicate the success that matters at the end of your life.

Lessons from his father.

You can see the influence of his father in this statement taken from page 145 when he says “my dad taught me not to measure in comparison to others but rather on the quality of my efforts to improve.” Clearly that impacted his understanding of what success really was. He speaks of it being an evolving concept that took a stronger hold as he got older.

Lessons from observation.

Throughout the book he speaks of times in his career when he did things wrong or when he adjusted things as he moved on as well as understood people. On page 146 he says, “For a period of years at UCLA I was guilty of worrying over some issues that I could do nothing about.” However, he continues, “Eventually, I overcame it…” This is the important because it lends to never stop learning. (That is another post altogether.)

Throughout the book He continually makes statements of wisdom that I believe come from one of either of these sources. Here are a few of my favorite.

  • If you can’t control your emotions, your emotions will control you. (27)
  • Self-control contributes to consistency in all areas that matter. (40)
  • In any context, what happens after a missed opportunity, mistake or failure is crucial. (71)
  • Effort is the measure of a man. (85)
  • While I could nourish and test character, give the young man a chance to show character, I was not able to instill character where it did not exist. (104)
  • Have the courage to be yourself; have the intelligence to make yourself as good as you can be. (146)
  • Adversity thins the ranks of your competitors. (153)
  • Passion is temporary. (171)
  • The force of character is cumulative. (192)

What is it to you?

  • Read the whole book. If you think any one of the statements above is true or applicable to where you are or where you want to go then you need to read this book. The value in it is tremendous.
  • Teachings of your father. Revisit all the things that you learned from your dad. Some he may have said and others he may never have said but were shouted loud and clear by his actions. These are sometimes the more important lessons that take us years to comprehend.  Revisit these lessons and think on them and how they have impacted your life.
  • Lessons from observation. Your observations could be in hindsight of any of your experiences or from those experiences that you have observed others going through. Thinks through those days and moments that shaped who you are and how they have impacted your life.

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