Life Lessons from the “Wizard of Westwood”

“Success is a peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” –Coach John Wooden

I vividly recall my mom, Dr. Linda Andrade Wheeler, preparing for one of the many corporate training seminars she did when we partnered in business together at The Human Connection, Inc. It was in the early 90’s and one of the handouts to be shared with seminar participants was legendary Coach John Wooden’s, “Pyramid of Success” motivational program (a faded copy still remains in my research file, but here’s a new, printable PDF). Wooden tied success not to achievement, wealth or fame, but to how close a person came to their potential.

In essence, the Pyramid of Success consists of philosophical building blocks for winning at basketball and at life. According to John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, there are 12 lessons in leadership. At the summit of the pyramid is “success”. Each of the blocks represents a trait that a person must possess in order to become successful in life just like in playing a basketball game. At the time, as a recent Bruin graduate (1989), I was both intrigued and proud to be remotely associated–however indirectly–with such a legendary motivator and strong Christian. During his long tenure with the Bruins, Coach Wooden became affectionately known as the “Wizard of Westwood.

Fast forward twenty years: Earlier today I received an email from the UCLA Alumni Association. The following email message informed me of Coach Wooden’s passing at age 99, came from UCLA Chancellor, Gene D. Block:

“To the Bruin Family:

With the passing of John Wooden, we have lost a true giant and a gentleman, an individual who was perhaps more closely identified with UCLA than any other person in our university’s history. Coach Wooden was an unparalleled motivator and an inspiration to people throughout the world. Those of us who were fortunate enough to meet him will forever be touched by his unfailing wisdom and generous spirit.

Coach Wooden’s record of hundreds of victories and 10 national titles established a gold standard of achievement in college athletics. Both on the court and off, he was a teacher, role model and mentor who guided his players and generations of UCLA coaches and student-athletes to become champions in life. His lasting influence has extended far beyond the campus to include leaders in academia, business and government.

The renowned Wooden Pyramid of Success–a copy of which hangs in my office–encourages us all to value cooperation, loyalty and team spirit. The Pyramid remains one of the most recognized blueprints for competitive excellence, in any pursuit.

Coach Wooden and his beloved wife, Nell, were treasured members of the UCLA family, and the Nell and John Wooden Court at Pauley Pavilion is a lasting testament to their place in our hearts.

John Wooden’s remarkable legacy will stand forever at UCLA. Today, as we mourn his loss, we also extend our deepest sympathy to his daughter, Nan, his son, James, and his entire family.

The university flag in front of Pauley Pavilion will be lowered to half-staff, and a public memorial is being planned. Please visit the UCLA homepage for further information, as well as links to news articles and remembrances of Coach Wooden.

Gene D. Block

‎”When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur…. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens — and when it happens, it lasts.”  — John Wooden.

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