15 Lessons from Coach Wooden’s Ted Talk: The Difference between Winning and Succeeding.


I love Ted Talks, a series of short, powerful talks, all less than 18 minutes long, on a variety of topics that are always informational and often inspirational. If you are feeling sluggish or uninspired one day, take a few minutes to watch or listen to a Ted Talk and it will most certainly rev up your day.

I love John Wooden. The legendary UCLA basketball coach who, while known for his remarkable ten NCAA championships in twelve years (seven of which were consecutive), is also known for his impeccable character, remarkable wisdom and deep commitment to a teacher-coach model that placed the development of the player’s character and intellect ahead of his utility on the basketball team.

So, when a Ted Talk is combined with Coach Wooden? Well the combination is better than peanut butter and chocolate—and that is saying something!

These are my 15 takeaways from this inspirational teacher-coach’s speech:

  1. We are all average in some areas, and there is no fault to be assigned or shame in this. “They thought a C was all right for the neighbors’ children, because the neighbors children are all average. But they weren’t satisfied when their own — would make the teacher feel that they had failed, or the youngster had failed. And that’s not right.”
  2. Be the best version of YOU. “Never try to be better than someone else, always learn from others. Never cease trying to be the best you can be — that’s under your control. If you get too engrossed and involved and concerned in regard to the things over which you have no control, it will adversely affect the things over which you have control.”
  3. Success is not about the outcome rather it is about the journey. “Success: peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable.”
  4. Nothing is instant. “And I say to you, in whatever you’re doing, you must be patient.”
  5. Past performance is irrelevant to future success. “The shining trophies on our shelves can never win tomorrow’s game.”
  6. Respect time. “Never be late. We start on time. We close on time.”
  7. Unless you are the coach, do not comment on the performance of an athlete. “Never criticize a teammate. I didn’t want that. I used to tell them I was paid to do that. That’s my job. I’m paid to do it.”
  8. There is a difference between belief and hope. “I believe that we must believe, truly believe. Not just give it word service; believe that things will work out as they should, providing we do what we should. I think our tendency is to hope that things will turn out the way we want them to much of the time. But we don’t do the things that are necessary to make those things become reality.”
  9. In the last analysis, it’s all about doing your best. “Don’t whine. Don’t complain. Don’t make excuses. Just get out there, and whatever you’re doing, do it to the best of your ability. And no one can do more than that.”
  10. Winning is irrelevant; don’t speak of it. “You never heard me mention winning. Never mention winning. My idea is that you can lose when you outscore somebody in a game. And you can win when you’re outscored.”
  11. A good sport behaves consistently whether the game is won or lost. “I used to say that when a game is over, and you see somebody that didn’t know the outcome, I hope they couldn’t tell by your actions whether you outscored an opponent or the opponent outscored you.”
  12. The lesson for the athlete in competition is for them to measure their effort to being the best they can be. “It’s getting the players to get that self-satisfaction, in knowing that they’d made the effort to do the best of which they are capable.”
  13. Practice is where the work happens; the game is just a measure of the effectiveness of the work that week. “I liked our practices to be the journey, and the game would be the end. The end result. I’d like to go up and sit in the stands and watch the players play, and see whether I’d done a decent job during the week.”
  14. While your best effort may not yield the results you wanted, that’s okay because the purpose is to give your best effort regardless of the outcome. “That’s what really matters: if you make effort to do the best you can regularly, the results will be about what they should be. Not necessary to what you would want them to be, but they will be about what they should, and only you will know whether you can do that.”
  15. Successful players are not necessarily the stars, but rather those who develop their skills to their maximum capacity. “They [Conrad Burke and John MacIntosh] came close to — as close to reaching possibly their full potential as any players I ever had. So I consider them to be as successful as Lewis Alcindor or Bill Walton, or many of the others that we had.”