Tag Archives: Wooden on Leadership

Conditioning + Fundamentals + Unity – Coach John Wooden’s Formula for Success

• “Success is peace of mind which is s direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

• For Coach Wooden, 10 national championships are summed up in the simplicity of an elegant formula:
10 = C + F + U
(Conditioning + Fundamentals + Unity).
John Wooden, Wooden on Leadership


I have recently revisited the book Wooden on Leadership (I presented my synopsis of this book for the first time back in March, 2006).  John Wooden was the coach of the unequalled UCLA Men’s basketball Team.  He led them to 10 national championships, (number two on that list is a tie between Adolph Rupp and Mike Kryzewski, with four each.  Look at that number again – the two #2 coaches have four titles each, Coach Wooden has ten!).  His other records are almost too numerous to list.  So, in other words, in Men’s Basketball, there is Coach Wooden, and everyone else…

Coach John Wooden receiving the Medal of Freedom from President Bush

Recently, President Obama announced that the great Women’s Basketball Coach Pat Summitt would receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor bestorwed by a president.  Pat Summitt may be the only true peer to Coach Wooden (or, maybe, Coach Wooden may the the only true peer to Coach Summitt).  She won 8 national championships with the Women’s team at Tennessee, but, sadly, her career was cut short with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.  When she receives her honor, that will increase the number of basketball coaches on the list to two – Coach Summit and Coach Wooden.  (President George W. Bush awarded the medal to Coach Wooden in 2003).

In revisiting Wooden on Leadership, I learned again that what matters is basic, simple…  His pyramid is legendary, but his approach is pretty fully revealed in that simple formula above.

Conditioning + Fundamentals + Unity. 

Pretty good advice for all of us.

Conditioning:  Coach Wooden wanted his player to still have their energy and focus in the last minutes of each game.  That required conditioning.

We are not a very fit nation.  Obesity is on the rise.  And every extra pound lowers our stamina just a bit.  And lower stamina means  a little less energy to do our work, and definitely makes it harder to maintain our focus.

Coach Wooden ran tight practices, planned to the minute.  He believed that a two hour practice, well-planned and run, was more valuable than any longer practice that was not organized well.  From his book:

You “expand time” with proper organization and execution – an hour becomes longer than 60 minutes.  A well-organized leader can get more done in two hours than a poorly organized coach gets done in two days.

Fundamentals:  what are the basics?  For Coach Wooden, he literally started every season with a meticulous lesson/demonstration on how to put on your socks.  Without learning this true fundamental, players developed too many blisters.  (And his former players would remember this, and refer to it, for a lifetime).   The question “What are the basics?” needs to be revisited time and time again.

In a recent presentation of this synopsis to a group of leaders within an organization, I began with Peter Drucker’s three foundational questions:

What is your business?
Who is your customer?
What does your customer consider value?

And then, I referred to the process of answering these three questions as the business basics – the business fundamentals.

Unity:  No matter how talented any one player is, when that person undermined team unity, the team suffered.  Coach Wooden wrote:

The star of the team is the team.
It takes ten hands to score a basket.

Team unity, organizational unity…  these are critical.  Any threat to such unity must be dealt with, and quickly…

I have read a lot of books on leadership.  But this one should be close to first on any leadership reading list.  It reminds us all of the starting point, the basics, the true essence of leadership.  Read it.  I think it will make you want it be a better leader, and a better person.


Take a good luck at Coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success.  It provides quite a life-long agenda…

Click on image for larger view

Reinforcement for that 10,000 hour rule and the Power of Deliberate Practice (from Coach Wooden, Gladwell, Colvin, and Levitt & Dubner)

I first learned of the 10,000 hour rule — it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at/to truly master any skill –from reading Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  Then I learned more about how to spend the 10,000 hours in “deliberate practice” from Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin.

Here’s more.  In Superfreakonomics, Levitt and Dubner refer back to the “father” of the 10,000 hour rule, K. Anders Ericsson.  And yesterday, at a lunch gathering, I presented my synopsis of Wooden on Leadership, by the great, legendary, best-ever-coach John Wooden.  Though he does not refer to the concept directly, he provided the true “deliberate practice” model, with each session of his practices planned to the minute…

So — here are a few reminders from each of these authors, with brief comment a time or two:

From Wooden:
Have a definite practice plan – and follow it.
The coach must never forget that he is, first of all, a teacher.  He must come (be present), see (diagnose), and conquer (correct).  He must continuously be exploring for ways to improve himself in order that he may improve others and welcome every person and everything that may be helpful to him.
You must have patience and expect more mistakes, but drill and drill to reduce them to a minimum.

From Gladwell:
The people at the very top don’t work just harder or even much harder than everyone else.  They work much, much harder.

In my synopsis of Outliers, I added these reflections:
• centerpiece to this book is the 10,000 hour rule… — with much intentional practice!
• “Practicing:  that is, purposefully and single-mindedly playing their instruments with the intent to get better”
• Some “observations:
1.              It really does take a lot of hard, hard work – the 10,000 hour rule really is close to an actual rule!
2.              Hard work requires much intentional practice.
3.              Success is the result of “accumulative advantage.”

From Colvin:
There is absolutely no evidence of a ‘fast track’ for high achievers.
Deliberate practice is above all an effort of focus and concentration.  This is what makes it “deliberate,” as distinct from the mindless playing of scales or hitting of tennis balls that most people engage in.  Continually seeking exactly those elements of performance that are unsatisfactory and then trying one’s hardest to make them better places enormous strains on anyone’s mental abilities.

From Levitt and Dubner:
If you don’t love what you’re doing, you are unlikely to work hard enough to get very good at it.
“Deliberate practice has three key components: setting specific goals; obtaining immediate feedback; and concentrating as much on technique as on outcome.”  (K. Anders Ericsson)

(I wrote this in a blog post about Ken Robinson’s The Element:  How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything a while back:
So — here is the question that we each need to ask: What do I care deeply enough about that I am willing to put in significant time, over the long haul, to get better at it? Even if the time I put in is not necessarily fun.

So, we’re always back to this challenge — where are you investing your 10,000 hours?