99 Wisdoms from Wooden



This page is in honor of Coach John Wooden (1910-2010).

Wooden Pyramid Black Ribbon

Much can be learned from this great man known quite simply as ‘Coach’. He was so much more than simply a basketball coach, however. He was a great leader, teacher, husband, father … an example for us all.

What follows below are 99 of Coach Wooden’s quotes (one for each year of his time on earth); words to live by, if you will.

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Good things take time, as they should. We shouldn’t expect good things to happen overnight. Actually, getting something too easily or too soon can cheapen the outcome. — John Wooden

If you do not have time to do it right, when will you find the time to do it over? — John Wooden

Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there. — John Wooden

Success is never final. Failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts. — John Wooden

Success is piece of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing that you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming. — John Wooden

The coach is first of all a teacher. — John Wooden

If you keep too busy learning the tricks of the trade, you may never learn the trade. — John Wooden

We don’t have to be superstars or win championships…. All we have to do is learn to rise to every occasion, give our best effort, and make those around us better as we do it. — John Wooden

I never yelled at my players much. That would have been artificial stimulation, which doesn’t last very long. I think it’s like love and passion. Passion won’t last as long as love. When you are dependent on passion, you need more and more of it to make it work. It’s the same with yelling. — John Wooden

I’ve never stopped trying to do what’s right. I’m not doing it to earn favor with God. I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do. — John Wooden

The best competition I have is against myself to become better. — John Wooden

Time lost is time lost. It’s gone forever. Some people tell themselves that they will work twice as hard tomorrow to make up for what they did not do today. People should always do their best. If they work twice as hard tomorrow, then they should have also worked twice as hard today. That would have been their best. — John Wooden

Basketball is not the ultimate. It is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. There is only one kind of life that truly wins, and that is the one that places faith in the hands of the Savior. Until that is done, we are on an aimless course that runs in circles and goes nowhere. — John Wooden

Do not permit what you cannot do interfere with what you can do. — John Wooden

Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are. — John Wooden

Earlier in life, I put family in front of faith. I’ve fixed that. But I always tried to keep work fourth on the list. I was proud when [my wife] Nellie told an interviewer, ‘I never could tell whether John had a good practice or a bad practice, because he never brought it home.’ — John Wooden

I discovered early on that the player who learned the fundamentals of basketball is going to have a much better chance of succeeding and rising through the levels of competition than the player who was content to do things his own way. A player should be interested in learning why things are done a certain way. The reasons behind the teaching often go a long way to helping develop the skill. — John Wooden

Let’s face it, we’re all imperfect and we’re going to fall short on occasion. But we must learn from failure and that will enable us to avoid repeating our mistakes. Through adversity, we learn, grow stronger, and become better people. — John Wooden

Happiness begins where selfishness ends. — John Wooden

Some of my greatest pleasures have come from finding ways to overcome obstacles. — John Wooden

Earn the right to be proud and confident. — John Wooden

We’re all imperfect and we all have needs. The weak usually do not ask for help, so they stay weak. If we recognize that we are imperfect, we will ask for help and we will pray for the guidance necessary to bring positive results to whatever we are doing. — John Wooden

We can plan a roadtrip or a workday down to the last detail but the unexpected will always arise. If we are not malleable, we will get left behind. — John Wooden

If I am through learning, I am through. — John Wooden

Failure is not fatal, but failure to change can be. — John Wooden

The man who is afraid to risk failure seldom has to face success. — John Wooden

Remember, results aren’t the criteria for success — it’s the effort made for achievement that is most important. — John Wooden

Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today. — John Wooden

Each of us has a huge capacity to learn and to achieve. Being ever alert makes the task of becoming all we are capable of becoming so much easier. — John Wooden

It is what you learn after you know it all that counts. — John Wooden

You may be better than the rest, but you are not a success until you have made the effort to become the best you can be. — John Wooden

Goals achieved with little effort are seldom worthwhile or lasting. — John Wooden

Players with fight never lose a game; they just run out of time. — John Wooden

Be most interested in finding the best way, not in having your own way. — John Wooden

If we fail to adapt, we fail to move forward. — John Wooden

As long as you try your best, you are never a failure. That is, unless you blame others. — John Wooden

I grew up on a farm. We learned that there was a season to plant, a season to water, and season to harvest. The planting and watering could be laborious, but without those stages, there would never be a harvest. — John Wooden

Tell the truth. That way you don’t have to remember a story. — John Wooden

As I grow older, I appreciate things that I didn’t appreciate much when I was younger. I am thankful more than I used to be. I’ve been reasonably healthy, and I feel blessed. And each morning I can think, this is going to be a good day! — John Wooden

If we magnified blessings as much as we magnify disappointments, we would all be much happier. — John Wooden

Much can be accomplished by teamwork when no one is concerned about who gets credit. — John Wooden

A leader’s most powerful ally is his or her own example. — John Wooden

Never make excuses. Your friends don’t need them and your foes won’t believe them. — John Wooden

Approval is a greater motivator than disapproval, but we have to disapprove on occasion when we correct. It’s necessary. I make corrections only after I have proved to the individual that I highly value him. If they know we care for them, our correction won’t be seen as judgmental. I also try to never make it personal. — John Wooden

Never be disagreeable just because you disagree. — John Wooden

Be slow to correct and quick to commend. — John Wooden

Be more concerned with what you can do for others than what others can do for you. You’ll be surprised at the results. — John Wooden

Being true to ourselves doesn’t make us people of integrity. Charles Manson was true to himself, and as a result, he rightly is spending the rest of his life in prison. Ultimately, being true to our Creator gives us the purest form of integrity. — John Wooden

Don’t permit fear of failure to prevent effort. We are all imperfect and will fail on occasions, but fear of failure is the greatest failure of all. — John Wooden

I believe we are most likely to succeed when ambition is focused on noble and worthy purposes and outcomes rather than on goals set out of selfishness. — John Wooden

Being average means you are as close to the bottom as you are to the top. — John Wooden

You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for another without thought of something in return. — John Wooden

I wanted my players to always be searching, especially for truth. I wanted them to know what they believed and be able to defend it. Truth will always stand the test of scrutiny. — John Wooden

If I did only what I wanted to do, I would not be obedient to the Creator. Sometimes He wants us to do certain things that we may not feel like doing. When it comes to what God asks of us, we need more than good intentions — we need to follow through fully. — John Wooden

There is no substitute for work. Worthwhile results come from hard work and careful planning. — John Wooden

We almost have to force or drive ourselves to work hard if we are to reach our potential. If we don’t enjoy what we do, we won’t be able to push as hard as we need to push for as long as we need to push to achieve our best. However, if we enjoy what we do and if we’re enthusiastic about it, we’ll do it better and come closer to becoming the best we can be. — John Wooden

Make no mistake, I always want to win, but I never fight with an opponent. My fight is within me — it is the struggle to be the best I can be at whatever I do. — John Wooden

Kindness makes for much better teamwork. — John Wooden

We can become great in the eyes of others, but we’ll never become successful when we compromise our character and show disloyalty toward friends or teammates. The reverse is also true: No individual or team will become great without loyalty. — John Wooden

Concentrate on what you do have, not on what you don’t. — John Wooden

Regarding balance — it’s the most important component in basketball and it is a very important part of life. We must always keep things in perspective so that we can maintain emotional control. — John Wooden

Time spent getting even would be better spent getting ahead. — John Wooden

We are all equal in that we can all strive to become the best we are capable of becoming. We can always improve but we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others. We get in trouble when we start trying to measure up to someone else. — John Wooden

Don’t let making a living prevent you from making a life. — John Wooden

I felt that if [the players] were prepared, we would do just fine. If we won, great — frosting on the cake. But at no time did I consider winning to be the cake. Winning has always been the frosting that made the cake a little tastier. — John Wooden

There is nothing stronger than gentleness. — John Wooden

Sincerity may not help us make friends, but it will help us keep them. — John Wooden

We can give without loving, but we can’t love without giving. In fact, love is nothing unless we give it to someone. — John Wooden

In life, worthwhile accomplishments and acquisitions take time. Usually the better the reward, the more time it takes to acquire it. — John Wooden

We should never let ambition cause us to sacrifice our integrity or diminish our efforts in other areas. However, we need to remember that we never reach a serious goal unless we have the intention of doing so. — John Wooden

The person who is afraid to risk failure seldom has to face success. I expected my players to make mistakes, as long as they were mistakes of commission. A mistake of commission happens when you are doing what should be done but don’t get the results you want. — John Wooden

When we aren’t alert, we miss opportunities to improve ourselves. We should always watch for circumstances or situations that can help or harm us and be eager to learn from these encounters. — John Wooden

I believe it’s impossible to claim you have taught, when there are students who have not learned. With that commitment, from my first year as an English teacher until my last as UCLA basketball teacher/coach, I was determined to make the effort to become the best teacher I could possibly be, not for my sake, but for all those who were placed under my supervision. — John Wooden

Each of us must make the effort to contribute to the best of our ability according to our individual talents. And then we put all the individual talents together for the highest good of the group. … Understanding that the good of the group comes first is fundamental to being a highly productive member of a team. — John Wooden

I believe correcting is the positive approach. I believe in the positive approach. Always have. — John Wooden

When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur…. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don’t look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That’s the only way it happens — and when it happens, it lasts. — John Wooden

The close games are usually lost, rather than won. What I mean by that is games are mostly won because of the opponent making mistakes during crucial moments. — John Wooden

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail. — John Wooden

There are little details in everything you do, and if you get away from any one of the little details, you’re not teaching the thing as a whole. For it is little things which, together, make the whole. This, I think, is extremely important. — John Wooden

Be quick but don’t hurry. — John Wooden

Make each day a masterpiece. — John Wooden

You are no better than anyone else and no one is better than you. — John Wooden

Have character; don’t be one. — John Wooden

Do not mistake activity for achievement. — John Wooden

You can do more good by being good than any other way. — John Wooden

Acquire peace of mind by making the effort to become the best of which you are capable. — John Wooden

You discipline those under your supervision to correct, to help, to improve — not to punish. — John Wooden

The more concerned we become over the things we can’t control, the less we will do with the things we can control. — John Wooden

Perfection is what you are striving for, but perfection is an impossibility. However, striving for perfection is not an impossibility. Do the best you can under the conditions that exist. That is what counts. — John Wooden

You can always look back and see where you might have done something differently, changed this or that. If you can learn something, fine, but never second-guess yourself. It’s wasted effort…. Does worrying about it, complaining about it, change it? Nope, it just wastes your time. And if you complain about it to other people, you’re also wasting their time. Nothing is gained by wasting all of that time. — John Wooden

Many athletes have tremendous God-given gifts, but they don’t focus on the development of those gifts. Who are these individuals? You’ve never heard of them — and you never will. It’s true in sports and it’s true everywhere in life. Hard work is the difference. Very hard work. — John Wooden

Don’t measure yourself by what you’ve accomplished, but rather by what you should have accomplished with your abilities. — John Wooden

We get stronger when we test ourselves. Adversity can make us better. We must be challenged to improve, and adversity is the challenger. — John Wooden

Leadership is the ability to get individuals to work together for the common good and the best possible results while at the same time letting them know they did it themselves. — John Wooden

Knowledge alone is not enough to get desired results. You must have the more elusive ability to teach and to motivate. This defines a leader; if you can’t teach and you can’t motivate, you can’t lead. — John Wooden

Practice self-discipline and keep emotions under control. Good judgment and common sense are essential. — John Wooden

Cultivate the ability to make decisions and think alone. Do not be afraid of failure, but learn from it. — John Wooden

Be at your best when your best is need. — John Wooden

Profound responsibilities come with teaching and coaching. You can do so much good–or harm. It’s why I believe that next to parenting, teaching and coaching are the two most important professions in the world. — John Wooden

Are there any other Wooden quotes you enjoy that aren’t posted here? Share in the comments!

  • http://twitter.com/Bluedogsports Bluedog Sports

    Great men make great comments. bluedogsports.com

  • Enang Law

    Studying your quotes and practicing them is like been in the same banquets hall with the Wise Man discussing and Dinning.

  • Brian

    I have heard a quote attributed to Coach Wooden but can’t remember it exactly and can’t find the source. To paraphrase it is something like “Success comes from practicing the fundamentals and doing what works. Too many people want to do what is new.” Do you know this one?

    • http://www.hoopsu.com Tony Alfonso

      I haven’t seen that one before nor have I seen it attributed to him. Could be, but I couldn’t find it either. Closest to that that I have seen is “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

  • blah

    “Don’t whine, Don’t complain, Don’t make excuses!”

  • Wm Price

    I heard a quote attributed to Coach that went something like ” The worst thing you can do for those that you love is what they can and should do for themselves.” Have you ever heard that before?

    • http://www.hoopsu.com Tony Alfonso

      I have seen it attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Could be one of those quotes attributed to many people! Either way, it’s a good quote!