October 5, 2009 | last updated May 26, 2012 8:45 am
MACKAY'S MORAL

Lessons From John Wooden: Build A Pyramid Of Success

If I could come back in a second life, I'd be a high school or college basketball coach. First off, I love basketball, and secondly, few can have a greater influence on young people than a coach, or teacher for that matter.

I've long admired John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach who won 10 NCAA championships in a 12-year period. He has won countless awards and even received our nation's highest civilian honor, the Medal of Freedom. Wooden was in the news again this summer when he was named the Greatest Coach Ever by Sporting News.

Coach Wooden was a masterful molder of young men. Bill Walton, a member of the National Basketball Association's Hall of Fame, wrote, "After my father, Coach Wooden has had the most profound influence on me of anyone in my entire life."

Coach Wooden, in turn, credits his father for grounding him in the principles on which he has based his life and career.

"When I graduated from our little three-room grade school in Centerton, Indiana," says Wooden, "my father gave me a little card on which he had written out his creed." At the top of the card was written, "Seven Things to Do." They are:

1. Be true to yourself.

2. Help others.

3. Make each day your masterpiece.

4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.

5. Make friendship a fine art.

6. Build a shelter against a rainy day.

7. Pray for guidance and count and give thanks for your blessings every day.

Wooden remembers that all his father said to him when he handed him the card was, "Son, try and live up to these things." Wooden certainly did.

Coach Wooden might be best known for his Pyramid of Success. He drilled it into his players over and over.

Basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who played his college years under Wooden, once told a reporter he thought the Pyramid was kind of corny when he first saw it, but he later came to the conclusion that it had a great effect on his career and later life.

You can construct a visual picture of Coach Wooden's Pyramid. On the bottom layer, draw five rectangular blocks and label them: industriousness, friendship, loyalty, cooperation and enthusiasm. On the next layer above, fill in four blocks with these labels: self-control, alertness, initiative and intentness. On the third layer toward the top of the pyramid, place three blocks and label them: condition, skill and team spirit. On the fourth layer, place two building blocks and label them: poise and confidence. The fifth and next to last layer has only one block. It bears the label: competitive greatness. Finally, the triangular crown of the pyramid is divided into two halves with the labels: faith and patience.

Wooden always maintained that the order and placement of each block was essential to the pyramid's success. Considering his success with this teaching tool, who can contradict him?

What a lot of people might not know is that John Wooden was a three-time All-American at Purdue University. "My coach at Purdue, Piggy Lambert, constantly reminded us: 'The team that makes the most mistakes will probably win.' That may sound a bit odd, but there is a great deal of truth in it. The doer makes mistakes. Coach Lambert taught me that mistakes come from doing, but so does success. The individual who is mistake-free is also probably sitting around doing nothing. And that's a very big mistake."

Like all great coaches and teachers, Wooden did not teach basketball. He taught life. If you learned a little basketball on the side, well, so much the better.

Among my favorite Wooden quotes:

• "Too often we get distracted by what is outside our control. You can't do anything about yesterday. The door to the past has been shut and the key thrown away. You can do nothing about tomorrow. It is yet to come. However, tomorrow is in large part determined by what you do today. You have control over that."

• "Develop a love for details. They usually accompany success."

• "Failure is not fatal, but failure to change may be."

Mackay's Moral: (courtesy of John Wooden) "Talent is God-given, be humble. Fame is man-given, be thankful. Conceit is self-given, be careful."

Harvey Mackay is president of Mackay Envelope Corp. and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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