Monday, June 7, 2010

Coach Wooden's Pyramid of Success - An Overview

This article was originally published by Technorati on 7 June 2010 as a Simply Spirited/Sports feature. To see all my Technorati articles, click Lifestyle in the Contents listing on the sidebar.

Coach Wooden's pyramid is instructive not only by the individual blocks in contains, but also by its over all structure. Every block is placed particularly.

The structure stands on a foundation, the cornerstones of which are "Industriousness" and "Enthusiasm." Simply pointing this out teaches a great life lesson. When Industriousness is combined with Enthusiasm in any venture, self-evidently, we are well along the path toward success (we will have more to say about this in a future post).

"Skill" sits at the heart of the pyramid, pointing like an arrow at its apex, "Competitive Greatness." Again, we say, "Yes!" that makes sense, without further explanation. The centrality of skill can never be discounted if Competitive Greatness is to be supported.

The pyramid is shorn up on each side by Patience and Faith.

The former is easy to understand in terms of Coach Wooden's career. He spent 17 years coaching at UCLA, developing his philosophy, before he won his first national championship. His commitment to daily improvement over time lead eventually to exponential success that ended only when he retired. Patient, daily improvement as a coach, like compounded interest, paid off to a degree that even Einstein could not quite have gotten his mind around.

What Coach Wooden meant by faith is harder to define. Certainly, he had a tremendous faith in God as a practicing Christian, but almost as certainly this was not what he meant in terms of basketball success.

More likely, Coach Wooden means an overarching philosophical reliance on "the Good," the positive force of the universe, wherein when we have done all we can to succeed, when we put all of the blocks of the pyramid into practice to the utmost of our ability, the desired outcome will result, a concept akin to what is commonly called creative visualization these days.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of Coach Wooden's most celebrated players, wrote in the New York Time in 2000: “To lead the way Coach Wooden led takes a tremendous amount of faith. He was almost mystical in his approach, yet that approach only strengthened our confidence."

Coach Wooden has pointed to a belief in self that contributes to success: “In times of crisis, the best players won’t start forcing things and getting away from what got them there in the first place. I believe it’s the confidence they have in themselves, without being over-confident. The better ones believe in themselves, probably more than anything else.”

This goes more to the particular blocks marked "Confidence" and "Poise," but it demonstrates how both Faith and Patience have to infuse every block on the chart for the system to work, and that's why these two essential ingredients stand outside the pyramid proper, holding it together.

Finally, the ultimate aim of the pyramid--"Success"--necessarily stands outside the actual structure too. Coach Wooden defines it not in terms of winning, but rather in terms of "peace of mind."

"Success," he has written and quoted many times, "is peace of mind which is the direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best that you are capable of becoming." He wrote this definition in 1934 (remember this date, it becomes important to the story).

As is all spiritual teaching, Coach Wooden's pyramid is meaningless apart from the character of the one offering it. As the well-worn Bible verse says, "Faith without works is dead."

In explanation of his definition of success, Coach Wooden has said, "I didn't like the way of judging athletic contests, more points as successful. I think you can outscore somebody and not feel successful. And you can be outscored and feel very successful about it."

Very Zen. Though he was a midwesterner, Coach Wooden was a better fit for southern California in the 1960s and 70s than people give him credit for.

Was there an incident in the venerable teacher's past to which his definition of success and his explanation of it might refer? Perhaps there was.

His senior year in high school, 1928, a seventeen-year-old John Wooden was captain of his Martinsville High School basketball squad, playing for the Indiana State Championship against Muncie High. Martinsville lost the game on a last-second heave by Mucie center Charlie Secrist, after Wooden himself had missed a shot that would have put his team up by 3 (in the days before the 3-point shot).

Coach Wooden described it this way on his official website: "To this day, it is the highest arched shot I have ever seen. It seemed to go up through the rafters and come straight down through the hoop. Losing that game was the most disappointing thing to ever happen to me as a player."

Six years later in 1934, Coach Wooden's definition of success was complete, forged through six years of bitter memories since that final high school defeat.

And the Pyramid of Success, 14 years in the making, had its genesis.

In his own words:

See the rest of the Wooden series: Part 1, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

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