John Wooden 101


I wish there would have been a class titled “John Wooden 101″ when I was in college…or preferably earlier. In fact, I think it should have been a pre-requisite to life. I was brainstorming (no, that’s not a mental health term) about my next blog post and recalled the many quotes and stories that I’ve seen about John Wooden over the years. He truly reminds me of my own grandfather, who was one of the most admirable men I ever knew. He offered simple and wholesome advice that would likely improve the quality of any of our lives if we would simply practice them.

A quick search in google turned up a whole list of top life lessons from John Wooden. Okay, so my idea wasn’t exactly original. However, I decided to go through the many pages of lessons, quotes, and stories to put together a compilation of my favorites and those that relate to common lessons in the mental health and personal growth fields.

As his record speaks for itself, I will spare the usual hype and background details about this remarkable man. Simply put, Wooden truly was “one of the most revered coaches in the history of sports.” His 10 National Championships in 12 years is a record that will likely never be touched by any coach in any sport.

Despite his accomplishments, it was his simplicity, the lessons that he shared (many of which came from his own father), and his basic nature that contributed to his charisma and charm.

While there are pages of “lessons from John Wooden,” it seems like there are a few themes that stand out. Particularly, he seems to emphasize the following: do the right thing; be grateful; don’t be selfish; and grow.

In his book “The Wisdom of Wooden,” he shares simple rules to live by. His simplicity is illustrated in his definition of success. Wooden states: “success is peace of mind.” Just as the Buddhist learns to practice using the principles of peace and wisdom through meditation, Wooden also seemed to agree in the idea of “letting go.” He encouraged his athletes to focus on what they could control and then accept that the rest may or may not go their way. Wooden believed in changing the things that we can, while recognizing that other things are out of our control. Further, he believed that things will work out as they should, as long as we do what we should do. Unfortunately, most of us tend to hope that things will turn out the way that we want them to, while not taking the necessary actions for them to happen.


Wooden and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Therapists and individuals on their personal journey of exploration often find journaling to be an invaluable tool for personal growth. Wooden also identified this as a tool that he used for reflection and growth, personally and with players. According to Wooden, he journaled for all his players and believed this made a major difference. Through journaling, he could focus on identifying nuances and distinctions with each player that were later used to fine tune the practices and drills for each player. By personalizing practices, he believed he could help bring out the best in each player. According to Wooden, whoever gets the closest to reaching their full potential is the best player.

Some other principles and practices that Wooden believed in:

-He offered three rules to live by (these also came from his dad): “never be late;” “not one word of profanity,” and “never criticize a teammate.” Wooden would sit players on the bench or send them home for breaking these rules.

-“Don’t whine, don’t complain, and don’t make excuses — you get out there and whatever you’re doing do it to the best of your ability. No one can do more than that.”

-According to Wooden, “We can agree to disagree, but we don’t need to be disagreeable.”

-“Don’t let what you cannot do, interfere with what you can do.” Wooden believed that it was important to not let our limitations get in the way of our goals, something I’ve written about in a previous post.

-Wooden believed that it was “courage that counts.” Also discussed in a previous post was the idea of not letting our fears get in the way of our goals.

-He believed in modesty and not trying to be better than others. He stated “You should never try to be better than someone else. Always learn from others and never cease trying to be the best you can be. That’s under your control. If you get too engrossed, involved and concerned in regard to things over which you have no control, it will adversely affect the things over which you have control.” Wooden’s #1 rule was to be true to yourself.

-Wooden always stressed the importance of being grateful. He believed this was essential for balance and peace in our lives.

While there is nothing profound about his beliefs or lessons, he seemed to have an ability to live by these in a way that is unmatched by most men. His principles, while simple, are similar to those found in various religions, spiritual leaders and those taught by therapists and other professionals. Imagine the changes you could make in your own life, if you just took the time to stop and practice one of these principles each day. It seems these would only lead to more happiness, content and growth.




You can find Coach Wooden’s official site here. It’s loaded with great content, including quotes, lessons, videos and more.

Coach Wooden appeared on TED Talks, where he spoke about the difference between winning and succeeding. I know that when I watched, I couldn’t help but to be drawn to his charisma, thinking and just inspirational talk.


About Mark Williams

Mark is a 49 year old sports fanatic, who lives in West Palm Beach, Florida. He's a passionate sports fan, who loves FSU football, the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Bucs! He has written as a Correspondent for the Florida Panthers on The Hockey Writers and enjoys blogging about sports and inspirational stories. When not busy following sports, Mark works as a licensed psychotherapist. His dream is to combine his passion for sports and helping people through his writing. Email:

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *