At the University of California-Los Angeles, John Wooden won a record 10 NCAA men's basketball championships, but he considered his legacy to be as a teacher.
Although Wooden's last on-court victory was secured more than 40 years ago and he passed away in 2010, his lessons are as relevant today as ever. Coach, as he was simply known to all, believed that real success is defined not by wins and losses, but by the daily development of yourself and giving your best in all you do. Simple as the principles might seem, truly delivering on them requires effort most won't give. Those who do--and those who did while playing for him--become world-class.
In partnership with the Wooden family, SUCCESS has built an online learning course designed to help you put the legend's lessons into action. The Wooden Effect, as we call it, is the well-worn method studied and engineered by Wooden that will allow anyone to reach his or her full potential and competitive greatness. To create the course, we enlisted the help of some of the very greats who called Coach their mentor. As a look inside the wisdom offered, we reached into several of those interviews to tell Wooden's story.
Considering all that he accomplished and his eventual status as a national treasure, the contrast to Wooden's upbringing becomes even more dramatic.
Wooden was born in the rural town of Hall, Indiana, on Oct. 14, 1910, one of six children to Joshua and Roxie Anna Wooden. "His parents ought to get an awful lot of credit for raising him right," explains legendary Florida State football coach Bobby Bowden, a contemporary. "They gave Wooden a foundation that set him on a path that would serve him for the rest of his life. His principles were right out of the Bible, and you're not going to get better principles than that. And what was more, he lived the Bible. That impacted everything else he ever did as a coach, as a teacher, as a mentor and as a man."
Tubby Smith, who coached the University of Kentucky to an NCAA championship in 1998 and now leads the University of Memphis men's basketball team, agrees. "His basic philosophy he learned from his dad about many of the things he conveyed to his players and in his writings and his teachings were about being respectful of others: Don't complain, don't whine, don't steal. Be a good person. Don't lie. Don't cheat. Just basic principles in the way he was brought up that guided his life and helped him achieve his dreams, not just as a basketball coach but as a person."
Wooden graduated with a degree in English from Purdue University in 1932, having enjoyed a highly successful career as a college basketball player. Afterward he began to play professional ball while also coaching and teaching high school in Kentucky and Indiana. Throughout his life, the deeply personal faith Wooden cultivated in his childhood colored everything else. His notions of sportsmanship, fair play, integrity and character were all rooted in the religious upbringing his parents instilled in him early, and they spilled over not only to his players but to the people around him.
"You look at his eyes and see how he could be a tough disciplinarian even though he was a man of God," sportscaster Dick Enberg, a longtime friend, recalls. "We see a lot of his photos from later in his life where he had that sheepish, sweet smile and innocence all over his face, but if you go back to his coaching days, his players knew what he meant when he burned a hole through them with those eyes of, at times, tough ness. If you stayed around him enough you learned an awful lot about life and yourself and how to be good. You felt a responsibility to conduct yourself the way Coach would want you to behave if you were wearing one of those jerseys sitting on his bench, so you checked your behavior each day that you were around him. Now, that's power. That's influence in all the right ways.
"A lot of strong personalities and strong leaders feel that in order to really fulfill that role, they have to change everyone around them and make them like themselves, but Coach wasn't like that. I mean he had his plan and you lived within the plan, which was of course teamwork and love for one another and the team being more important than the individual, and winning (not necessarily the score) defining your success in life. But Coach didn't impose his religion, his philosophy, his lifestyle on others. He allowed each of us to be an individual."
Wooden was 21 when he married his high school sweetheart, Nellie Riley in 1932. The couple had two children, Nancy and James, and Wooden continued coaching high school until joining the Navy in 1943. He served as a physical trainer for combat pilots for the better part of World War II and left with the rank of senior lieutenant. When his duties concluded, he took over as the coach of Indiana State Teachers College (now Indiana State), juggling other duties within the school's athletic department while working toward his master's degree in education. After guiding the school to a conference title in...