John Wooden: The Legendary UCLA Coach's Top 20 Quotes

Ryan ReschContributor IIIFebruary 19, 2012

John Wooden: The Legendary UCLA Coach's Top 20 Quotes

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    John Wooden (1910-2010), the legendary coach of the UCLA Bruins, is considered by some to be the greatest coach of all time.

    Nicknamed the Wizard of Westwood, Wooden won 10 national championships (seven in a row) over 12 years. On top of that, he recorded an 88-game winning streak and was named national coach of the year six times.

    Yet, it was not only his coaching record that established Wooden’s legacy in sports history, but his messages as well.

    The following is a collection of John Wooden’s top 20 quotes of all time.

    More information on coach Wooden, including his famous Pyramid of Success, can be found at his website

The Seven Point Creed

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    Before the quotes are listed, here is John Wooden’s Seven Point Creed, given to him by his father at a very young age:

    Be true to yourself.

    Make each day your masterpiece.

    Help others.

    Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.

    Make friendship a fine art.

    Build a shelter against a rainy day.

    Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day. 

How to Live

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    "Be quick, but don't hurry."

    A statement that can be taken on and off the basketball court. 

Two Keys to Success

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    “Be prepared and be honest.”


    There is little doubt that this was just one of the many Woodenisms that John Wooden used to lead his team to success.

    One would be hard pressed to find someone who did not think that Wooden prepared his team each and every season after his establishment at UCLA.

A Perfect Day

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    “You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”

    It was no secret that John Wooden did not think that basketball should run someone's life.

    As such, he lived by creeds like this one in order to remind himself and his players that there is always more to life than the game. 

Learn Change

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    “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”

    The sheer difficulty of winning one national championship is evident in the fact that not many coaches can claim one.

    John Wooden did not focus on his failures in the 15 season before his first championship, but learned what it would take to hold the trophy.  

The Responsibility of Discipline

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    “Discipline yourself and others won't need to.” 

    There is no need for a coach to teach his players discipline, unless the players cannot learn it themselves. 

    John Wooden's players knew what he expected of them and knew that any lack of discipline was unacceptable.

Never Linger on Weakness

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    “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

    John Wooden never let his weaknesses get in the way of his success, and it was this mentality that he taught to his players. 

The Perks of Practice

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    “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

    John Wooden taught his men that failure is acceptable, so long as they learn from it. 

    There is no excuse for repeated failure if one has worked to correct it. 

The Problem with Perfection

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    “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.”

    As the old cliche goes, nobody is perfect. 

    John Wooden understood this, but took it to another level. This time the perception of mistakes has been altered to that of an accomplishment, rather than failure. 

The Victory Streak

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    “Winning takes talent, to repeat takes character.”

    To win an unprecedented 12 national championship is not easy. 

    John Wooden had the talent, but it was the character that he taught that brought home the titles. 

The Importance of Finishers

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    “It’s not so important who starts the game, but who finishes it.” 

    One of the many statements regarding star players, John Wooden knew that he could have the most talented lineup on the floor to start the game, but it was the players who had the heart to finish it that would be the most successful. 


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    “The main ingredient of stardom is the rest of the team.”

    Egoistic attitudes are never the way to win. 

    As such, John Wooden consistently reminded his squad that one man does not make a team.

    There is a reason basketball is played with five men on the court. 

How to Deal with Critics

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    “You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.”

    Many coaches remind their players that they should not get caught up in what the critics have to say.

    Not many tell their players to ignore the praise. 

    In the end, praise can be just as cancerous as criticism. 

True Success

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    “Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

    For John Wooden, the real prize was not in how many trophies he could win, but in what he instilled in those around him.

    When the seasons ended earlier than expected for the Bruins, he reminded them the season could still be called a success if they did all they could to succeed. 

Appreciate Everything

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    “Talent is God-given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.” 

    Do not be afraid to use your talents, but learn to appreciate what they can bring and be wary of their results. 


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    “Success is never final; failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.”

    John Wooden knew never to be afraid of what can be learned through failure. 

    As former player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said, "He wanted to win, but not more than anything." 

Reputation Versus Character

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    “Reputation is what others perceive you as being, and their opinion may be right or wrong. Character, however, is what you really are, and nobody truly knows that but you. But you are what matters most.”

    For John Wooden, what a man thought of himself was more important than what the entire world thought of him. 

    We have control over our character and it is for that reason we should focus on perfecting it. 

The Advantages of Opposition

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    “Adversity is the state in which man most easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.”

    Critics and opposition come with the spotlight, but do not underestimate the power of what solidarity through opposition can bring. 

    John Wooden taught that this time should be used to its fullest and most positive extent. 

The Best of Us

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    “The people who turn out best are those people who make the best out of the way things turn out.”

    Failure happens and weaknesses appear, but the man who uses such things for his own betterment will always be above even the strongest of opposition. 

How to Be a Coach

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    “A coach is someone who can give you correction without causing resentment.”

    This is the lesson that coaches of the modern era need to remember.

    A successful coach is one who the players want to continue a relationship with throughout the years, but also one who can mold a talent into the best it can be. 

Sports Are Not Life

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    “What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player.”

    The ultimate lesson taught by John Wooden.