Thoughts + Articles

Coach Wooden’s Way To Handle Adversity

John Wooden endured far more than losing basketball games or suffering the agony of defeat, yet his attitude paved the way for him to earn the title of the “Winning-est” basketball coach of all time.

Lesson #1: Life is not fair; I will still make it great.

Lessons on adversity:

While Coach Wooden was growing up, his family endured the loss of two sisters. Wooden’s parents placed their faith in God, and they “persevered”.

Later, Wooden’s father lost the family farm due to an illness that wiped out his hogs, and drought that killed the crops. His dad, Hugh Wooden, never winced. He understood that “blaming, cursing, hating doesn’t help you. It hurts you.”

John Wooden understood that “whining; complaining, and excuses didn’t accomplish anything.” No matter what happens on the court or off, “what you do is more important than what you say you’ll do.”

Make the best of the situation you are handed:

When Coach Wooden accepted the Coaching position in 1948 for the UCLA’s Bruins the Men’s Gym was used by all the schools other teams and was small and inadequate.

Coach Wooden did not “whine or complain” about it. He did the very best he could with the situation he was handed. He held practices at the Men’s Gym. For the Bruins games, Coach moved them to larger facilities in Los Angeles – the Pan Pacific Auditorium, the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, and to other facilities.

UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion was built 17 years later in 1965.

Lesson #2: Choose your words wisely.

The words you choose to live with are an extension of your integrity.

When John and his older brother Maurice were in the barn messing around, “Maurice grabbed a pitchfork and flipped a pile of manure at John’s face. John lunged at Maurice in anger and cursed at him. Their father, had been standing nearby, but instead of reproaching Maurice for instigating the fight, he came down on John for his foul language.”

In the Wooden household profanity was forbidden. Hugh never swore and “made sure John understood the severity of his transgression. Hugh whipped” John “with a switch.”  Coach said, “It was the only time I remember him using it.” (“Wooden: A Coaches Life” by Seth Davis)

After that lesson John never used profanity, and he was fond of reminding other coaches that you don’t need to use profanity to motivate players.

So what did Coach Wooden say when he was really angry? “Goodness gracious, sakes alive!”

Lesson 3: Leaders accept the blame when something goes wrong. When something goes right, leaders give others the credit!

In 1974 during the NCAA semifinals, the UCLA Bruins were favored to win, but lost to North Carolina State. Coach Wooden accepted “full responsibility for that game, saying that his failure to call a timeout and make adjustments was the reason for the loss.”

Coach Wooden modeled how great leadership is “the sharing of ideas, information, creativity, responsibilities, and tasks.” He listened carefully during his meetings with assistant coaches for new ideas on how do something better during practice. If the idea worked he would implement it and give the assistant coach credit for it. Coach said, “The only thing not to be shared is blame.” Leaders that are strong “accept blame, and give credit, when deserved to others.” (“Be Quick-But Don’t Hurry” by Andrew Hill and John Wooden)

“When a player scored in a game, Coach encouraged him to give a nod to the teammate who had given him the pass or set a pick for him.” (“A Game Plan for Life” by John Wooden and Don Yaeger)

Coach Wooden modeled on a daily basis how to handle adversity to his students, coaches, family members and friends for over 70 years. He knew life would always throw obstacles in your path. He never “whined, complained, blamed or used profanity”. Coach made the best of what he had, accepted blame when things went wrong and gave the credit to others.

By following Coach Wooden’s 3 lessons for handling adversity, you too will respond well to any adversity thrown your way!

Our next blog in our series on Coach Wooden’s philosophies and teachings will focus on his foundations for success.



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 Monday, February 20th, 2017 at 3:33 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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