John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success

Many of you have probably heard of the great John Wooden, UCLA’s head basketball coach from 1948-1975. He led the Bruins to win 10 national championships and his teams hold an astonishing eight records in the sport. Coach John Wooden is considered one of the greatest coaches and teachers in all of sports. 

Wooden’s teaching philosophy that he is most famous for is his Pyramid of Success. Although initially used to develop his team’s character and mental and physical strength, the Pyramid of Success can be utilized by athletes of all sports. His teachings are valuable and applicable because much of what we learn from our sports we can use in our lives. Learning from Coach Wooden about what it takes to be successful can be a very useful tool for any athlete looking to get to the next level.

The characteristics that make up the pyramid are industriousness, friendship, loyalty, cooperation, enthusiasm, self-control, alertness, initiative, intentness, condition, skill, team spirit, poise, confidence, competitive greatness. These are supported by faith and patience. pyramid_lg
According to Wooden “ everything begins at industriousness and enthusiasm”. The cornerstones of the pyramid are the first ingredients necessary in creating success for yourself. By industriousness, Wooden means hard work. A lot of hard work. Getting to the college level in athletics takes a lot of grit, and playing there comes with even more hard work. You have to be prepared for it, but remember that “the great successes that we all know about are individuals who outworked their competition”. In the end it will be more than worth it, but you have to agree to work as hard as you can. Enthusiasm is the other cornerstone of the pyramid. It’s extraordinary difficult to succeed in something if you don’t enjoy doing it. If your sport is a passion, pursue it wholeheartedly and commit to giving 110%. But you have to be enthusiastic about it. Just as industriousness means hard work, enthusiasm means heart. If your heart is in what you do, you are setting yourself up for success.



The next three bricks of the pyramid are friendship, loyalty and cooperation. Friends respect each other and share a strong sense of camaraderie; therefore, true friends will go to the wall for each other when it counts. Not only is this an important step for friendship, but for the strength of a team. Loyalty is something that great leaders have for their team and that teams have for their leader. Cooperation allows for all members of the team, not just the leader, to share ideas, solutions, responsibilities, troubles and successes. Without cooperation, the senses of loyalty and friendship is not as strong and can be threatened.


Self-control and alertness are two essential parts of Wooden’s Pyramid. Self-control is not simply denying yourself things and resisting temptations. It is resisting the urge to get angry after a missed game-winning shot and instead working harder on your follow through for the next game. It’s avoiding “peaks and valleys of effort” and training honestly and thoroughly every day. Self-control will be a key aspect of success and getting to where you want to be. Alertness allows you to learn something from every situation, good or bad, and gives you more perspectives through which to improve. “Basketball is played as much between the ears- alertness- as between the lines on the court”.


Initiative and intentness are the next two blocks of the pyramid. Initiative is the ability to act after you have prepared. Being able to take initiative and do what you have trained to do is a huge step towards success. According to Wooden, instead of fearing failure, we should “fear instead inaction when it is time to act”. Intentness is nothing more than never giving up. It may take years to get to where you want to go but in order to achieve success you can’t allow yourself to give up.


Condition, skill, and team spirit follow on the pyramid. When Wooden talks about condition, he is not just referring to physical conditioning. He is also talking about mental condition (mental toughness) and moral conditioning. It was important to Coach Wooden that his players worked themselves into the best possible physical shape; however, it was just as important that they were as mental tough as they could be and that they lived good, moral lives. Skill, obviously an essential component to success, ranked above experience for Wooden. It is the center block of the pyramid, yet can be developed using the other blocks and combined with them brings an athlete closer to success. Lastly, team spirit exemplifies what it means to be a selfless player. This is an extraordinarily powerful characteristic to develop and one that will serve you well in your personal life as well as your professional and athletic career. Being able to work for the good of the team and to put other before yourself pushes the team to greater lengths and makes you a better leader for it.


Poise and confidence. The two work together at the top of the pyramid. Having poise allows you to play the game to the best of your ability regardless of pressure. “Those with poise have a brave heart in all circumstances”. Confidence, paired with hard work and the other traits of the pyramid, will take you very far in life. Knowing that you put everything into your goal will give yourself the resolve to achieve it. Coach Wooden warned that if you are not careful, confidence can turn into arrogance and lead you to believe that “previous achievement will be repeated without the same hard effort that brought it about in the first place”.


The final block of the pyramid, at the very top, is competitive greatness. “Competitive greatness is having a real love for the hard battle knowing it offers the opportunity to be at your best when your best is required”. You develop a strong urge to overcome all adversity when you are faced with a challenge and a tough competitor. The achievers and doers and greats of the world have all realized and appreciated the struggle that takes place in the journey, and that the journey itself holds more than the destination.


For more information on legendary Coach John Wooden, his triumphs at UCLA and the Pyramid of Success visit .



The Official Cite of Coach Wooden

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