John Wooden's Pyramid of Success

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson we'll explore the Pyramid of Success developed by the late basketball coach, John Wooden. Wooden's philosophy made him a success on and off the court.


Self-improvement is a normal and healthy impulse. Whether you're trying to eat a healthier diet or have a better outlook on life, you may look for guidance in improving your life. Some people look to self-help books, while others look to gurus. Still others, especially those with a sporting background, may look to a coach.

In this lesson, we will discover the important keys to success according to one such coach, the late John Wooden.

John Wooden's Biography in Brief

Wooden was born in a small town in Indiana in 1910. He grew up on a farm, but he proved his prowess on the court. A local basketball star, he went on to star at Purdue University, where he was a three-time All-American. After graduation he became a teacher and a basketball coach. Wooden eventually made his way to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where he became one of the best basketball coaches of all time. During the 1960s and 1970s his teams won 10 national titles in 12 years. Wooden was renowned not just for his victories but for his signature coaching style, which emphasized hard work, a positive attitude, and teamwork.

Even after Wooden's retirement in 1975, he remained influential in the basketball and wider coaching communities. His teachings and maxims were - and still are - adopted by people in and out of sports.

Pyramid of Success

Perhaps one of Wooden's more popular creations is the Pyramid of Success. The Pyramid lists 15 values and attributes, with basic skills or qualities being used to build more advanced ones, leading to the end goal: competitive greatness. Below, we briefly detail each step and how each is important on the road to success.

Base 5


In Wooden's own words, 'this means hard work. Very hard work.' According to Wooden, only those who are willing to outwork their competitors and put in the time and energy to get better have even a chance at achieving great success.


According to Wooden, this is not the affectionate friendship you may have for a close friend or confidant. Instead, friendship in a workplace or team setting is based on mutual respect and a sense of camaraderie. When both of these are achieved, individuals will go to great lengths to help one another.


Wooden considered this to be possibly the most important of all the base values. Loyalty to one another and toward an organization, both from above and below, encourages fairness and respect and is an important part of any team environment.


A willingness to cooperate by listening to others' ideas and being confident enough to share your own is an important part of any organization. A team can achieve far more through cooperation than by working against one another.


Making sure you have a passion for what you're doing, or at the very least, a passion for doing the job in front of you correctly, is incredibly important to personal and team morale.

Level 2


Being in control of one's emotions, whether in the workplace or on the court, is vital to ensuring you can keep a clear head with which to tackle the challenges before you.


This means being aware of your surroundings and being willing to learn from them at all times. Wooden often illustrated the importance of this value by saying 'The driver who's asleep at the wheel will crash. The same happens to organizations lacking alertness.'


This means having the courage to act and the wherewithal to try again when you have failed. Inaction or inactivity, according to Wooden, only guarantees more failure.


It is important not only to have goals, but to ensure that you have the single-minded tenacity to achieve these goals. Important or great achievements are usually not achieved overnight; therefore, it's important to make sure you stay focused on your goals regardless of any setbacks.

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