Thoughts + Articles

Coach John Wooden’s Leadership Lessons For Life

Whether you are a basketball fan or not; Wooden’s life lessons will help you navigate the turbulant waters of life and relationships.

John Robert Wooden was an All-American basketball player, coach, and teacher, and is the winning-est coach of all time. He won ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period as head coach at UCLA, including a record seven in a row.

Role Models for Success

When John Wooden was 8 years old, he and his older brother, and his parents, Joshua “Hugh” Wooden and Roxie Rothrock Wooden moved to a farm in Centerton, Indiana. Later, two younger brothers were born. Coach Wooden spoke of the gentle and loving way his parents interacted and the fact that his father’s favorite Abraham Lincoln quote was, “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”

It was a difficult life but a good one

Wooden’s didn’t have much money during John’s childhood, “We had no electricity, plumbing or conveniences, and for entertainment Dad read books to us in the evening by the light of a coal-oil lamp… For my brothers and me, growing up on that little farm in Centerton was almost perfect.”… It was “a hard good life.” (“My Personal Best” by John Wooden & Steve Jamison)

John’s mother, Roxie, made all their clothes, washed them by hand, and cooking all their meals from the products they grew on the farm. When the Wooden boys expressed a desire to play basketball, but the family didn’t have the money to purchase one; Roxie created basketballs for her sons by stitching socks together and filling them with old rags. John’s father, Hugh, made a basket for his sons from knocking out the bottom of a tomato basket and nailing “it to the hayloft in the barn.” (“My Personal Best” by John Wooden & Steve Jamison)

Coach Wooden taught life skills needed for a successful life to his students, coaches, family members, and others for over 70 years. He developed his “Pyramid of Success” over a 14 year period, 1934- 1948 by identifying 25 behaviors he believed were necessary to achieve his idea of success.

Modeling behaviors for a successful marriage

Hugh and Roxie Wooden modeled the behavior they wanted to show their children. They had a long and loving marriage. They were married for 45 years until Hugh Wooden died. John Wooden and his wife Nell Wooden had a loving happy marriage also. They were married for 53 years until Nell died. Coach Wooden continued to write his wife love letters every month after her death.

Reading to your children

Coach Wooden said, “I can just see my dad as I see you, if I close my eyes. By the shores of Gitche Gumee, / by the shining Big-Sea-Water, / stood the wigwam of Nokomis, / daughter of the moon Nokomis… Upon completing the verse by Longfellow, Wooden opened his eyes. “We had no electricity, no running water.”

Coach Wooden said, “My Father, Hugh Wooden, tried to get his ideas across, maybe not in so many words, but by action. He walked it.”

“Hugh didn’t lecture his boys so much as he sprinkled seeds along their paths.” (“Wooden: A Coaches Life” by Seth Davis)

“7 Things to Do” for a successful life 

“When John  graduated from grade school” his father gave him a small hand written card with his “7 Things to Do” and his “Two Sets of 3” with a short poem by Reverend Henry Van Dyke and a two dollar bill. Joshua “Hugh” Wooden wanted to guide his sons by giving them a “moral compass and a powerful foundation”. Coach Wooden kept it in his wallet to read it. These words he lived by for his 99 years on earth. These were Coach Wooden’s “core principles” of his life, which he shared with his students, coaches, family, and others for over eight decades.

Discipline and hard work

On the Wooden farm, John Wooden learned “the habits of discipline and hard work.” Farm chores and studying were a priority in the Wooden household.

Joshua Hugh Wooden’s “7 Things to Do” later Coach Wooden called it his “7 Point Creed”.

  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.”

Coach John Wooden’s parents, Hugh and Roxy Wooden were his most important teachers. They showed him by example how to have a loving home, to respect others, how to work hard with enthusiasm, and gave him a moral compass to live by.

Coach Wooden said, “Success is peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable.”

Coach Wooden’s first cornerstone of his “Pyramid of Success” is “Industriousness”. He says, “There is no substitute for work. Worthwhile results come from hard work and careful planning.”

The second cornerstone of Coach’s “Pyramid of Success is “Enthusiasm”. Coach Wooden says, “Having enjoyment and love for your task, job, or profession”. When we enjoy and love what we are doing, we work harder with more energy, are more focused and productive working with enthusiasm.

Coach Wooden’s father Joshua “Hugh” Wooden’s “7 Point Creed” and “Two Sets of Three” are words of timeless wisdom for you to live by just like Coach Wooden, his family, his students, coaches, and others have for over 70 years.

Our next blog in our series on Coach John Wooden’s philosophies and teaching, will focus on “Adversity” .


Madeline Frank, Ph.D., DTM is an award winning teacher, Best Selling Author, 2017 Coach Wooden Certificate of Excellence, John Maxwell Team Member, Certified World Class Speaking Coach, sought after speaker, business owner, and concert artist. She helps businesses and organizations “Tune Up their Businesses”. Her innovative observations show you the blue prints necessary to improve and keep your business successful. She writes a monthly newsletter “Madeline’s Monthly article & Musical Tips Blog” and a monthly radio show “Madeline’s One Minute Musical Radio Show”. Her book “Leadership On A Shoestring Budget” is available on Amazon or Kindle. Contact Madeline Frank for your next speaking engagement at



This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 24th, 2017 at 4:31 pm and is filed under Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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