John Wooden’s Definition of Success

November 6, 2008

The other day I had some time to kill so I went into the local bookstore (a dangerous place for me). I was in the business section and spotted Wooden on Leadership*, picked it up and started reading.

I like his definition of success:

“Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

John Wooden believes that the true measure of success comes when we simply do the best that we can do, no matter what the outcome and that our ONLY competition should be with ourselves. In other words, you can consider yourself a success even if you lose the game as long as you gave it your best shot. That’s pretty remarkable to hear coming from a successful basketball coach.

I have never thought about it that way. To me, winning is everything—or at least it was until I started reading Coach Wooden’s book. Now, I’m starting to look at things differently.

Of course the scary part about Coach Wooden’s definition is that we have to be the ones who determine whether or not we gave our best. How do you know what’s your best? I think if we’re honest with ourselves, we could nearly always do a little better or try a little harder. In other words, it’s probably much harder to give our best than we think it is.

I want to close this post out with a quote of what Coach Wooden told his UCLA team when they were about to play for the National Championship:

“When it’s over, I want your heads up. And there’s only one way your heads can be up—that’s to give it your best out there, everything you have.”

It’s no wonder he is considered one the best basketball coaches of all time.

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6 responses to John Wooden’s Definition of Success

  1. “Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

    Awesome. I’m holding on to this quote.

  2. JLP, I can’t be sure but as a UCLA student, I’m sure one of his quotes is up somewhere on this campus (probably the Wooden Center?) 😉

  3. EN…What does that have to do with anything about this post? Just another dumb A$$ UCLA student I see…your comments would be a disappointment to Mr. Wooden!

  4. I believe success is being happy with what you’ve accomplished. My success is all based on my determination and hard work, I suppose. Success is what it means to the individual. There cannot be one universal yardstick to measure it.

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  5. you are a success when you can say that you are with complete honesty, and you can only do that if you truly gave it your all, regardless of the end result. wooden is rite, peace of mind from knowing you did the best you possibly could no matter the given circumstances is true success.

    and getting the positive end result is more likely if you concentrate on giving it your best without the thought of the end result, rather than concentrating on the quickest way of getting it, with the end result always on your mind.

  6. John Wooden realised that success involved more than this short quote. He spent the following 14 years developing his Pyramid of Success. As Coach Wooden often taught: If you will work hard… love what you do… be friendly, loyal and cooperative… maintain your self-control… be alert… take initiative… be intent on achieving your goals… stay conditioned (mentally, morally and physically)… develop your skills to execute both quickly and properly… exhibit team spirit which starts with consideration for others… display poise by just being yourself… then you will have the confidence that comes through intense preparation and maximum effort. From all this you will become a great competitor that enjoys the difficult challenge and is able to give their best, when their best is needed. Blend in a proper amount of patience and faith and you have found the formula for “true success”. As defined by Coach Wooden, “Success is peace of mind that comes from the self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best you are capable of becoming”.