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  • Writer's pictureHugh Lawrence

The Pyramid of Success

The great UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said that "Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful." Great words from a legend of coaching - and not just basketball coaching. Few, if any coaches, have bestrode the coaching landscape like Wooden. While 10 NCAA National Championships in 12 years is extraordinary and unrivalled, his dedication to making the young men he coached better people is how he will be remembered. The many quotes attributed to Wooden have little to do with basketball but everything to do with character - "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are."

I've met and worked with many coaches who quote Wooden and claim his influence. Meeting the standard he set, however, is more than just quoting his words. If you accept Wooden's coaching philosophy, you have to live and operate by it. Success and failure on the training floor has to be framed by the characteristics Wooden saw as all important. His arguments have merit in a scientific view of performance. Writing training programmes and delivering coaching scientifically is not particularly difficult. We know a great deal about training volumes, intensity and recovery; about playing systems and game theory. The great coaches, however, go beyond the 'what to coach'. They have an ability to inspire athletes to go beyond what they thought possible; to commit years of their life to winning a world championships; to go where none have gone before. Invariably, their athletes talk of the personal qualities the coach displayed and lived, and how they [the athletes] became better people for knowing the coach.

The best of these coaches pay close attention to personal qualities and share their assessments with the athlete. After all, if the athlete doesn't know what the coach is looking for beyond technical skills, how can there be any improvement? Communicating those qualities must integral to training sessions and directly connected to competition performance.

Wooden's Pyramid of Success is well known. Each block of the pyramid speaks to what it takes to be successful in life by being a better person. No other coach has a legacy that goes beyond the sporting code he or she dominated. Wooden's wisdom can make us all better coaches. But before testing your delivery against the pyramid, the challenge is to ask yourself how much you are willing to change of yourself to meet Wooden's standards. In his words "It isn't what you do, but how you do it".

(photo sources:, and J R Wooden)

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