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Issue 9 - Pyramid Lesson One: A New Definition of Success

Woodens Wisdom
Wooden's Wisdom - Volume 1 Issue 9
Craig Impelman Speaking |  Championship Coaches |  Champion's Leadership Library Login


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Coach Wooden’s definition of success is one of his most-quoted pieces of wisdom: "Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable."

He first penned those words back in 1934, after several years of careful consideration and study upon the subject. But what were the experiences that helped shape his beliefs and guide his thoughts on the matter?  

Watch VideoFirst was, of course, the insight of Coach’s father, Joshua. “Never try to be better than  someone else. But always be learning from others,” he used to remind young John and his brothers. “Never cease trying to be the best you can be. One is under your control; the other isn’t.”



This same philosophy was reiterated in a slightly different way when Coach was still in high school. His history teacher, Mr. L. J. Shidler, charged each student to write his or her personal definition of success. After reviewing the answers from the class, Mr. Shidler expressed disappointment that the young people had all generally agreed with the definition of the word as it appeared in Webster’s Dictionary – that success was “the accumulation of material possessions or the attainment of a position of power or prestige.” It was their teacher’s opinion, however, that success can come only from peace of mind. This assignment made a lasting impression on Coach.


Later, when he began teaching high school himself in Dayton, Kentucky, he found that students hadn’t changed much – nor had their parents. Coach recalled:

I became somewhat surprised by the pressures placed on the students in my high school English classes primarily by their parents. It seemed that most parents wanted and expected their children to receive an A or a B. Now we all know that the good Lord in his infinite wisdom did not create us all equal as far as intelligence is concerned anymore than we are all equal as far as physical appearance, as far as size or as far as the environment into which we are born. We’re all different and that's good. Not everyone could earn an A or B. But I felt that I had youngsters who earned the mark of C who were every bit as successful as some who received A's or B's.

However it seemed to me in those early years many parents considered both teacher and youngster a failure if an A or B was not received. Perhaps the teacher was too young and inexperienced but might improve in time. If the youngster received a C , the average grade in that particular system, oh that would be all right for their neighbors children all of whom of course were average but not for their own.

In my opinion a mark received in class is no more valid a way to judge the success of a student than scores validly determine the success of a sporting event. It may determine a winner but not necessarily success . . . I was concerned about my English students so I began searching for something that could help me become a better teacher and give my students a realistic goal or objective.

Around that same time, Coach spied a poem posted on a wall at a Dayton barbershop while he was waiting for a haircut:

At God’s footstool to confess,
A poor soul knelt and bowed his head.
"I failed," he cried. The Master said,
“Thou didst thy best that is success.”

Click here for personal development exercise

Yours in Coaching

Craig Impelman

Twitter: @woodenswisdom

Armed with that short poem and the memories of the lessons from his father and Mr. Shidler, Coach Wooden composed the definition that served him well for the rest of his career and his life. It became one of his fundamental philosophies – the basis of his Pyramid of Success and his greatest challenge to those who would look to him as a mentor.

It bears repeating: "Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which are capable." What a world this would be if we each embraced such success every day.

Yours in coaching,

Craig Impelman
The John R. Wooden Course


Application Exercise

Favorite POETRY

Some say success is in
fortune and fame,

Or winning the crown in a championship game.

Some say success is
in riches and gold,

Or trophies and medals
That’s what we’ve been told.

We worship the winners
who shine in
the race,

And shame all the trailers
who hold
second place.

We train our poor children
to only be

“Success is just when you’re
ahead of
the rest.”

We tell them success is
an A or a B,

And that something is wrong
if they
bring home a C.

“What’s wrong with the teacher?
can’t my child pass?

When you know that you gave it all,
then you’ll find,

That self-satisfaction
gives sweet peace
of mind.

And that peace of mind,
that you only

Is your declaration
that you’re a


My child’s name should be
at the top of
the class.

My taxes are spent and
remain in their

So why is my genius
not getting an A?

My child is not average,”
They say as
they’re riled.

“That place is reserved for
neighborhood child.”

But God in His wisdom,
when making
this race,

Did not make us equal
in talent and

For some of us run,
but then others are

But both share success
if they try just
the same.

If you came up short
when you went for
the A,

But gave it your all
till the very last

And effort was made
to be all you can

You’re still a success
if you brought
home a C.

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