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The Pyramid of Success
Day 3 of 3
Guest: John Wooden
From the series: True Success: A Personal Visit with John Wooden
Bob: There are a lot of skills in life that, according to Coach John Wooden, are more important than being able to hit a jumpshot or sink a free throw in the middle of a basketball game. One of the character qualities that Coach Wooden tried to instill in all of his players was the quality of poise, which he defines as being comfortable with just being yourself.
John: The person who has poise is not acting, they're not pretending, they're not trying to be something they're not. They are themselves, therefore, they are going to function in whatever they're doing near their own particular level of confidence. There will be no fear, no trepidation at all. They'll function near their own particular level of confidence, because they're not pretending, they're not trying to be something they're not.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, April 4th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Before you sit down to watch the games this weekend, you ought to hear what The Coach has to say. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Friday edition. How does this work? This is April, but this is the end of March Madness. So is this just kind of a spillover? Technically, is this April Madness that we're going to experience?
Dennis: I think it's March Madness without aspirin – there's been no cure, Bob.
Bob: Tomorrow, of course, are the semi-finals in college basketball, and then Monday night the championship game in what's called The Final Four, and it's all over the papers and all over the TV, and it's even here on FamilyLife Today, although we're not talking about this year's Final Four. We are talking with a man who has been there year in and year out.
Dennis: He really has – Coach John Wooden coached UCLA to 10 national championships out of 12 years. What a great man. I just remember watching, as a young lad, his championship teams – the first year he won, 1964 – Gale Goodrich helped win that national championship. He came back the next year and scored over 40 points in a game, and it's funny how you can remember those things as a kid, but basketball was a very important part of my life, and I think parents need to pay attention to their children's athletics. Not just for their performance and whether or not they win the championships but the kind of coaches they have, the kind of influence that they have on them.
And, Bob, you know, you were there when I received a phone call from the Washington Post asking me for my opinion if a parent should be informed if their daughter is going to play for a coach who is a lesbian, and they were wanting to know what I thought about that, and my ultimate point was character does matter, and a person's sexual practice and sexual preference are a reflection of his or her true character. And Coach Wooden grew up in a family where he learned character, and he raised a family where they had great character.
In fact, his daughter was in the room where we were interviewing him, and she was smiling so big during this interview, and she told us later it was one of her favorite interviews she's ever heard with her daddy who, at the time, Coach Wooden was 91 years of age. And she was just beaming, because we were drilling down deep around the stories that surrounded their family.
Bob: You had asked him about regrets from coaching and yesterday we heard him share some of those regrets, and then you turned the conversation and asked him about any regrets at home. Here is our interview with Coach John Wooden:
Dennis: I know something that I heard that you did that you don't regret, and that was spanking your daughter one time when she was in the fifth grade. You're laughing. You think it was the right thing?
John: Yes, I think it was the right thing.
Dennis: Tell us about it.
John: Well, she had wanted very much a wristwatch, and I couldn't get the wristwatch at the time. I had one coming for her. I got her – and we got a cameo ring that we thought was very pretty and very nice, and when we gave it to her, we had some guests there – some friends – and she wanted the wristwatch. She took that cameo ring and threw it, and she went to her room in a hurry with me after her, and I spanked her. I think it's the only spanking that Nancy ever got from me. I spanked her. But what hurt her a lot is I made her march back in and apologize to our friends, and I think that hurt her worse. I didn't hurt her too much on the spanking. I remember that. That's the only time.
Dennis: You were married for 53 years before Nellie's death.
Dennis: It's my understanding that you have a tradition on the anniversary of her death – something that you're doing on a regular basis in honor of her.
John: Oh, I write her a letter, mm-hm. We, Nan and Jim and I go to the cemetery, and we write her a letter.
Dennis: Just a letter expressing your heart, your love, your appreciation for the 53 years you shared with her?
John: More than that – there were several years before, you know, and still – still.
Dennis: She was a soulmate.
Dennis: How so?
John: Well, it will be kind of hard to explain just from first time, but there was something there almost from the first time we ever got acquainted, and she was the one for me, she was the one for me, she was the one for me.
Bob: Did she love basketball like you loved basketball?
John: She loved what I loved.
Bob: So if you loved basketball, she loved basketball.
John: That's right. My main regret is that I didn't do the things that she liked to do. She always did the things that I did. She liked to dance, and I didn't. I regret that I didn't learn to do more of the things – maybe go to operas and learn to dance and things of that sort. Those are things I regret.
Dennis: What was your favorite quality about her?
John: I don't know how to answer favorites – it's just love, just love – something about her – I just loved her.
Dennis: Tell us how your relationship with Jesus Christ fit into your marriage and your family?
John: Well, I think that started going back in my early years. My mother and father just good Christian people – not because they went to church and had us all go to church I don't think, necessarily, going to church makes you a good Christian, but Dad, I think, always reading the Scriptures every night, and I think that encouraged the children.
Dennis: Was there a time when you made a commitment as a young man or a boy to Jesus Christ that you look back on as being the time when your faith began?
John: I wish I could say that, but I can't. I was baptized in 1927 with Nellie, because she wanted me to, and my parents wanted me to – and her parents – so I was baptized. But in my heart I didn't really accept Christ then, and when I did, I can't say. It wasn't a sudden overnight thing – something didn't happen. I think it was just a gradual thing that came along. I've heard of people saying one thing happened and it changed. There wasn't any one thing.
Bob: Apart from your mom and dad, were there spiritual influences in your life as you went through coaching and as you continued as an adult?
John: Well, to some extent, many of the things that – I loved Lincoln – and many of the things of his life and his wonderful ability to say so much in just a few words and those things, and he was a spiritual man. I think perhaps Billy Graham has always stood out to me above all others, and I don't want to say that the others aren't, but he just has stood out a little more in spiritual things. And there have been things that have happened in my life that were strange – I wouldn't call them exactly spiritual. I was in the service, I was to go aboard the USS Franklin in the South Pacific, and I had an emergency appendectomy, and somebody else went in my place, and that person who took my place was killed. It wasn't my time.
Bob: The variety of players that you've had over the years – you've seen young men with all different orientations on life – some who have no interest in anything spiritual or religious; some who were devoutly interested in spiritual or religious things; in fact, it may have gotten in the way of their basketball sometimes, their interest in religious things, I don't know. And then, of course, in a high-profile sense, you had one young man who had a very high-profile conversion that involved a name change. What did you think when Lew Alcindor came and said, "I don't want to be called Lew anymore. My new name is Kareem."
John: He never talked to me about it, and that wasn't done until after he was out of school. I've had three players that have done that – all outstanding players. Walter Hazzard was the first one – he changed Abdul-Rahman, but that was after he was out of school. But here he has – his father's a minister, and he did. And the third one is Keith Wilkes – now it's Jamaal. I don't think I've ever known a finer person than Jamaal Wilkes – I don't know of a finer person, and his father also is a minister. Now, he's the one that talked to me – all this happened after they left UCLA. He asked me what I thought about it, and I said, "Well, it seems that most religions rely on our second commandment and not the first," which I don't approve of it, but I said, "What does your dad say?" He said, "About the same thing as you said."
Dennis: Coach, when I was a young man, I was in junior college – I think it was my sophomore year, when you played Houston in the Astrodome in front of 52,000 fans. It was a big showdown – number one, UCLA, undefeated, with Lew Alcindor against Elvin Hayes and the number-two ranked Houston Cougars.
John: It was the most widely televised athletic event for that time – the most widely televised, and there was about 52,000, they tell me, paid, but over 55,000 in there.
Bob: A few guys snuck in without paying, huh?
Dennis: What were you feeling? I mean, did you feel anything any different about that game than any other game?
John: No, I didn't. I didn't think it was a place to play basketball – had that floor way out there, and you're a quarter of a mile from your dressing room. I told me players that if they had needs to go to the bathroom, they better do it quick, because we're not going to have time for you to walk a quarter of a mile to go do it. It was a tremendous ball game, and it was good for basketball, very good for basketball.
Dennis: As you have been a coach over the years, and a teacher, you have developed a definition of success and what you'd call the Pyramid of Success. Could you just explain, just briefly, to our listeners the definition of success and what you've created here in this Pyramid of Success?
John: Well, first of all, as an English teacher, I became a little bit disappointed, disillusioned somewhat that parents of youngsters in my English classes – many, if they're youngster did not receive and A or a B in one way or another I found that many parents would make the youngster or the teacher feel that they had failed. Now, our good Lord, in His infinite wisdom, didn't create us all alike as far as intelligence is concerned, any more than we're not alike as far as appearance or size or anything else. Not everybody could earn an A or B, and I had youngsters that didn't that I thought did very well. I'd be proud of them if I were the parent.
But I didn't like that way of judging, and I wanted to come up with my own definition of success, and it came from three things. One, my father tried to teach us to never try to be better than somebody else. Always learn from others and never cease trying to be the best you can be. That’s under your control, and the other isn't, and if you get too involved and engrossed and concerned in regard to things over which you have no control, it will adversely affect the things over which you have control.
And I also recalled a discussion in class that we'd had many years before where success was discussed and most everyone went along with Mr. Webster's definition – "the accumulation of material possession or the attainment of position of power or prestige," or something of that sort. And then I ran across a verse, and as you have indicated, I like verse, and I ran across this simple verse that said, "At God's footstool to confess, a poor soul knelt and bowed his head; 'I have failed,' he cried; the Master said 'Thou didst thy best.' That is success." I believe that's true.
And from those three things I coined my own definition of success. Success is peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable, and you're the only one who will know that. You can fool everybody else. It's like character and reputation – your character – you're the only one that knows, and you're reputation is what you're perceived to be by others, but your character is what you really are.
So that was what I wanted to use to help me become a better teacher and to give the youngsters under my supervision something to which to aspire other than just a higher mark or more points in some athletic endeavor, but it didn't seem to be serving a purpose for which I had hoped, and I had tried to analyze it, and I came to the conclusion that it would be much better if I came up with something you could see. But it gave me an idea of a pyramid, and I started working on that, and I worked on it for the next 14 years. But somehow the first two blocks I selected were the cornerstones, and if any structure is to have any real strength and solidity, it must have a strong foundation, and the cornerstones anchor it, and I used "industrious" and "enthusiasm," and I believe that today.
From those two, and I think they're strong – you have to enjoy what you're doing, and you have to work hard. You can't work near your own particular ability level unless you enjoy what you're doing. You may think you are, but you can't unless you really enjoy it. And, along with the foundation, I wanted blocks that included others, so I chose "friendship," "loyalty," and "cooperation," and then gradually moved up to the second tier – "self-control," "alertness," "initiative" and "intentness." And then going up to the heart, which I call being in condition for whatever you're doing – whether you're an athlete, whether you're a surgeon, whether you're a deep-sea diver – whatever you are – being in condition for whatever you're doing can be attained by practicing moderation.
And then you have to have the skills. You must know how to do things, you must be able to do it, and you must be able to do them quickly, oftentimes. Then "team spirit" – that's consideration for others. I could talk on that for a long time – consideration for others. And all these blocks below will help you become confident. You can't have confidence unless you're prepared. Failure to prepare is preparing to fail, and you can't have confidence without being prepared, or you can't have that without the blocks below.
You must have confidence, and then you must have poise, and I also coined my own definition of poise and poise, to me, is just being yourself. The person who has poise is not acting, they're not pretending, they're not trying to be something they're not. They are themselves, therefore, they are going to function in whatever they're doing near their own particular level of confidence. There will be no fear, no trepidation at all. They'll function near their own particular level of confidence, because they're not pretending, they're not trying to be something they're not.
And all these blocks will make you competitive – competitive. You'll enjoy it, you'll enjoy it. There's joy in being involved in something difficult. There's no great joy in doing things that anybody else can do, although they must be done to the best of your ability regardless of whether difficult or easy, but the joy comes in being involved in a difficult situation, and these blocks below will bring them up.
And then leading up to the apex on which success rests, I put on one side, "patience" and "faith." Good things take time and should. We don't want them to, but they should. Things should take time, and we must have faith. We must have faith that things will work out as they should, which doesn't mean that they'll work out exactly as we want them to. But if we have faith, and we do what we should – too often we want things to happen a certain way, but we don't do the things that would necessarily help that become reality. We just want it to happen. But you have to have faith. If you do what you should, things will work out as they should. So that's a very brief synopsis of the pyramid.
Dennis: Well, I'm sitting here looking at the actual pyramid, Bob, and we're going to put it on the website as well – FamilyLife.com – and give folks a picture of this pyramid and what it exactly is, but he nailed it perfectly.
Bob: Without looking at it.
Dennis: Without looking at the copy I've got. I just want to say, Coach, to you, thank you for living an exemplary life, for being a man who has taught many of us over your lifetime, and I just appreciate you joining Bob and me and cheering on some moms and dads and husbands and wives who are in the throes of raising the next generation of young people. Thanks for helping us build a great team here on FamilyLife Today.
John: You're very kind, and I appreciate the kind words.
Bob: Well, that is the voice of legendary coach John Wooden who, today, is 92 years old, and undoubtedly on his way to catch the games this weekend and Monday night in the Final Four. He said he's been to most of them, even since his retirement, and just to hear the humility in his voice. That was characteristic of Coach Wooden all the way through his life, wasn't it?
Dennis: It really was and, again, I just had to go back to the Book of Proverbs and think about Solomon speaking to his son and exhorting him – "acquire understanding, embrace wisdom, listen to the words of your father. Heed them, and you'll live. If you don't, you'll be a fool, and you'll die." And Coach Wooden has exhorted us over the past couple of days to heed well our assignments in life, whether we be single, married, parents, grandparents, but to leave a legacy.
You remember, Bob, I told our listeners that there was a story I was going to conclude today with that is a real favorite, and I want to do that in just a moment, but I want you to tell our listeners how they can get a copy of this CD that we're making available for – not just the basketball players, but for dads and for coaches of any and every sport that your children may know.
Bob: It's actually a two-CD set that features our entire conversation with Coach Wooden, much of which we were not able to include over the last three days here on FamilyLife Today. This hour-and-47-minute conversation took place not long ago as we sat down with Coach Wooden and just probed issues relating to his life, his marriage, his family, his coaching, and his view of success, and it's a great tool to pass on, as you said, Dennis, to players, to coaches, to enthusiasts, to fans. It's a great way to open a door and begin to talk with them about what makes up true greatness in a life and in a profession.
Dennis: You may want to consider getting multiple copies of these CDs because you really only heard about half of the material, over the last three days, that are on these sets that we recorded.
Bob: You can call us at 1-800-FLTODAY to request the two-CD set. Again, it's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY. You can also go online to order at FamilyLife.com. While you're online, you can see John Wooden's Pyramid of Success. The Coach sat down, and he has got the mind of an engineer and the soul of a poet, and he laid out for us a pyramid, where he said here's what I think real success looks like, and how you achieve competitive greatness. It's built on poise and confidence and then on conditioning and skill and team spirit. He lays out all of the qualities that make up real success.
We've got a video where Coach explains that success pyramid along with a mousepad that has the pyramid on it and a pocket-sized card you can carry along that has some of Coach Wooden's counsel on how to live on this wallet-size card. It would be a great gift to give to somebody who loves the sport, loves The Coach. You can call 1-800-FLTODAY for more information about these resources or about the two-CD set of our interviews with Coach Wooden. Again, it's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY. Dennis.
Dennis: I mentioned a story that I was going to share about – at the end of our interview, we got up to leave, and Coach Wooden was using a cane to kind of make his way to the elevator, and he gave me a book and you, too, I believe, Bob, and I took the book, and it was about leadership, and I said, "Coach, would you just mind signing that to me, and as you did, Coach," I said, "you don't know this about me, but I was pretty good in high school. I set the school record, which still stands, for most points scored. I played junior college basketball on scholarship and, Coach, I remember watching you as a kid growing up," and I said, "If you wouldn't mind, Coach, would you just write in the front – 'To Dennis – you could have played for me at UCLA. Signed, Coach John Wooden,' and then date it."
He looked up at me, and a little mischievous grin worked its way across his lips, and he said, "Dennis, we just talked about integrity, didn't we? I can't do that." He said, "But here," and he reached up, kind of in a spry way and took the book from my hands, and began to write, and he was just getting a bigger and bigger grin as he wrote, and he closed the cover and handed it back to me and said, "There you go." And I now have that book in my office. It says, "To Dennis – Since I never recruited out of state, why didn't you call me? Coach John Wooden." That will be one of my prized possessions in everything that I own.
Bob: FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.
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