"Coach" at Purdue Coach John Wooden Coach on the sidelines at UCLA game
Wooden Way Leadership

A Business Management Seminar Based on the Leadership Principles of the "Coach of the Century"


Seminar Description

Who Should Attend

The Pyramid of Success!

The Pyramid of Success

Coach Wooden’s “Pyramid” identifies and defines the fifteen personal qualities and desirable values intrinsically necessary for success. It is based upon his notes, observations, and experiences, and its completion dates just prior to his arrival at UCLA in 1948.

In a real sense, the Pyramid is a compilation of his ethical, spiritual, and pragmatic reflections, formatted in what would turn out to be an introspective “toolkit” for his students to carry well beyond their college years. 

It would also serve as the philosophical basis for his coaching principles.


John first began to contemplate the definition of “success” during his sophomore year of high school in response to a homework challenge from his math teacher, Mr. Scheidler. After completion of that assignment, John was constantly editing and refining his thoughts on the topic, particularly as he commenced his own teaching career after graduating from Purdue. Specifically, John was both intrigued by and conflicted about determining the appropriate grade to assign to average students trying hard versus good students only partially applying their natural aptitude.

This philosophical predicament ultimately led him to search for a better way to motivate and inspire all who came under his instruction toward maximum effort and productivity. To do so, he turned to a logical and familiar source - the lessons and values from his own upbringing.


Like all of us, John experienced several defining moments of self-discovery during his growing-up years, yet there is no question that John’s father, Joshua, was his strongest influence. No stranger to the backbreaking labor brought upon by the severe economic challenges of the time, Joshua was  a God-fearing man of rigid moral austerity who ruled the farm with a kind heart and a heavy hand. These attributes were clearly reflected in John’s upbringing, and were brought forth in many of the following formative events and observations:

    · Regular farming hours were kept.  Work, homework and family were the priorities. 

    ·       True to his own mantra about the value of education, at the end of each day, Joshua read poetry and scripture to the family.

    ·       Faith in God was paramount. 

    ·       John never heard his father say an unkind word about anyone.  His father espoused love and care for his fellow man.

    ·       In early grade school, the principal (teacher and coach), Mr. Warriner, chastised and hit John in front of his classmates when he stubbornly refused to sing.   Needless to say, John joined the chorus thereafter.

    ·       When John was in sixth or seventh grade, his brother Maurice prompted a fistfight after tossing a pitchfork full of manure at John’s face.  When Joshua broke up the scuffle, it was John who bore the brunt of the whipping for his reactive cursing and lost temper.  (Note: Coach says that this is the last time he ever cursed.)

    ·       Succumbing to peer pressure and the additional temptation of a hot Indiana summer afternoon, John purchased a bottle of cream soda at the local general store by charging it to his parents’ account without their permission.  Later confessing to his parents, John expected a good whipping, but they understood the cause for John’s actions and calmly advised him why such was inappropriate.    

    ·       Upon graduation from grade school, Joshua gave John some words to live by entitled the “7 Point Creed”: Be true to yourself; Help others; Make each day your masterpiece; Drink deeply from the good books- especially the Bible; Make friendship a fine art; Build a shelter against a rainy day (faith in God); Pray for guidance and counsel and give thanks for your blessings everyday.  John carries these words in his wallet to this day.

    ·       Joshua also gave John some other philosophical words by which to live in what he called “2 sets of 3.”  This simple guidance included, “Never Lie; Never Cheat; Never Steal,” and “Don’t Whine; Don’t Complain; Don’t Make Excuses.” 

    ·       John watched his father - as if a “horse whisperer,” once coax some stubborn mules out of a gravel pit by demonstrating kindness and gentleness, as opposed to force. 

    ·       Basketball dominated life within the town and the state.
    ·       In standing up for what he thought was right, John sat out 2 weeks of the basketball season during his sophomore year in high school in order to protest of what he deemed to be the preferential treatment of another player.  

    ·       John had to sneak around a bit in order to date Nellie as his high school basketball coach, Glenn Curtis, forbid dating during the season, while enacting a strict 8:00 p.m. curfew.  This made their courtship both adventurous and challenging as Nellie’s house was behind the Curtis home.  (Dating options in rural Indiana in those days included a band concert in the park, a visit to the ice cream parlor, country walks, hayrides, church socials, and occasional county fairs.)

    ·       When not in the classroom or on the court, John worked wherever an opportunity presented itself -canning vegetables, boxing groceries, graveling county roads, and working on a loading dock.

    ·       John did not cry in the locker room, as did many of his teammates after losing the state championship game by a point in a controversial manner in his senior year of high school because he knew he had given his best effort. 

While it is difficult to discern which of these events had the most impact upon John, this last point of self-discipline was a true example of his father’s desire and encouragement for his sons to put forth their best effort, not for the purposes of comparison to others, but for personal judgment.   Ultimately, this specific philosophy would be reflected in the Coach’s future definition of success.

Defining “Success”

Coach’s thought-provoking definition of success is as relevant today as when it was originally crafted over five decades ago. 

Success is …

peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction

in knowing you made the effort

to do your best

to become the best that you are capable of becoming.

Somewhat surprisingly, this definition does not speak in quantitative terms - games won, margins of victory, or winning percentages.  These words do not characterize success as reaching a financial goal or a sales quota; they do not speak of material goods or other superficial barometers. 

This definition does suggest that success is obtainable through and as a by-product of proper discipline and preparation.  Simply, if one invests the maximum effort in preparation, the highest probability for success will be realized.  Through hard work and by focusing upon the things that one can control, you will be better enabled to process and react to change and adversity.  The yield will be your personal satisfaction knowing you gave your best as only you can judge.