[Book Summary] Coach Wooden: The 7 principles that shaped his life and will change yours By Pat Williams & James Denney


John Wooden was a basketball coach at UCLA. When he finished his eighth grade, his father gave him a handwritten card and said: “Son, try to live up to this.” On the card, his dad had written 7 simple but profound life principles. These principles were the key of Coach Wooden ’s greatness. He actually lived out these 7 principles and has inspired many people in his entire life.

Here are 7 principles that shaped Coach Wooden ‘s life and maybe will change yours:

  1. Be true to yourself
  2. Help others
  3. Make each day your masterpiece
  4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible
  5. Make friendship a fine art
  6. Build a shelter against a rainy day by the life you live
  7. Pray for guidance and counsel, and give thanks for your blessings each day

Be true to yourself

“It’s a command to be faithful to your highest self, to your values, your honor, your integrity, the reputation you wish to maintain. Be faithful to your commitment to be a person of character, courage, commitment, devotion, perseverance, and diligence. Refuse to compromise yourself. Never sacrifice your principles. Refuse to betray your values. If you remain true to be the best that is within you, you will never be false or disloyal to any other person.” Coach Wooden

Be the best you can be

“Don’t try to be better than somebody else, but never ease trying to be the best you can be. You can control over that. The other you don’t.”

“To be the best, you’ve got to be self-disciplined and self-controlled. If you are not maintaining self-controlled, then you are not being true to yourself. You are letting your circumstances or your emotions or the actions of other people control you. To be true to yourself, you have to be in control of yourself. If you can’t control yourself, others will do it for you. And if you are not controlling yourself, you’re not helping the team.”

If you are true to yourself, you must invest in development and improvement of your own character. If you take time to develop your character, when the tests of life come, you’ll do it right.

In addition, to be true to yourself, you have to be true to your potential and your principles.

Be true to yourself-to your highest self, your values, your character, your honor, and your integrity. Be true to yourself, and you’ll never be false to anyone else.

Help others

 “You can’t have a perfect day without helping others with no thoughts of getting something in return.” Coach Wooden

Coach Wooden viewed helping others as his life’s calling. He believed he was born to influence and serve young people. That was his life purpose and he tried to fulfill his calling every single day.

Givers and Takers

 Success is not about what you’ve done or accomplished for yourself. It’s about what you’ve done for others. And as Danny Thomas said: “There are two kinds of people in this world: Givers and Takers. The takers may eat better but the givers sleep better.”

 The Dirty Shoulders Principle

 “All great people are having dirty shoulders. People of true greatness are always lifting others up and letting them stand tall on their own shoulders. They don’t care who get the credit. They don’t mind if their own shoulders get dirty. They just want to lift other people up.” Gil McGregor

Make each day your masterpiece

Life is too short and I believe that each person coming to the Earth has his/her own purpose and mission in life. We are the painters of our lives, and each day we live, we can choose to make a masterpiece.

Devote a portion of each day to preparation

For whatever you want to do in life, spend some time to prepare. As Benjamin Franklin once said: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Besides, Coach usually encouraged his players to be quick, but don’t hurry.

He explained that: “You are more prone to make mistakes when you rush things. You must never allow yourself to be panicked or stampeded into going faster than your own tempo, but your tempo must be quick, or you won’t get things done. I always found that quickness comes from preparation. If you have practiced and prepared well, quickness comes naturally.”

Set goals to make each day your masterpiece

 “All you can control is today. Yesterday is gone, and the future has not arrived yet. When you make the most of today, tomorrow will automatically be better.” Coach Wooden

You never know the next day will bring, so make today the best it can be. By focusing on excellence from the moment you wake up in the morning till you go to bed at night, you will find that every day of your life is an experience of excellence and you will feel truly fulfilled and meaningful. That is a day of masterpiece.

Make each day your masterpiece by living wisely, living effectively, living joyfully, and living to invest each day of your life in the people around you.

Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible

Bill Bennett learnt from Coach Wooden: “Life is about continuous learning. If you’re not learning, you’re not living. If you’re wasting your learning opportunities, you’re wasting your life. Reading is one of the most learning-intensive activities you’ll ever do. It doesn’t matter if you’re reading poetry or a great novel or a Shakespeare play or a book of history or biography-it’s going to be a learning experience. It’s going to enrich you and make you wiser.”

Here are some tips that help you become a more effective reader

  • Schedule a daily reading time, preferably an hour a day or more
  • Be a discriminating reader
  • Keep books handy wherever you are
  • Don’t just read books, interact with them
  • Furnish your home with good books
  • Set aside a portion of your vacation time for a reading sabbatical
  • Share your reading experiences with other enthusiastic readers
  • Use what you learn
  • Widen your reading horizons
  • Encourage reading in others, especially the young

Make friendship a fine art

“Don’t take friendship for granted. Friendship is giving and sharing of yourself… Someone is not a good friend because he/she does good things for you all the time. It’s friendship when you do good things for each other. It’s showing concern and consideration… The first and most important step in friendship is to be a friend.” Coach Wooden.

As Swen Nater once said: “Friendship is a matter of give-and-take. If you only give or only take, the relationship become unbalanced and out of bounds. The fine art of friendship is not a one-way street. Good friends know how to go through tough times together. They know how to give and how to receive.”

Besides, good friends are good listeners. When you need them, they are always there for you to listen to your problems and help you overcome the challenges no matter how busy they are. True friends are also the ones who always try to lift you up rather than drag you down.

Build a shelter against a rainy day by the life you live

 Life is a series of sunny days and rainy days. To overcome the storms of life, you need to build a shelter for yourself. That shelter is not really about the material things but about a certain kind of person you will become such as the values and character traits you want to develop, self-discipline & self-control, or a deep relationship with your family and friends. These possessions will help you overcome the rainy days of life.

A shelter of values and character

“Your character and your values are like vegetables that grow in the sunshine, which you can store away in the cellar of your soul. They will always there to feed on in the lean times, the rainy seasons of life.”

Building strong values and character helps us to make the right decisions to get through the tough times. As Walt Disney’s brother and Roy O. Disney once said: “It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” Some examples of values and character traits that boost us against the stormy days in life are integrity, a strong work ethic, and persistence.

A shelter of self-discipline

 Discipline is doing what you know needs to be done, even though you don’t want to. For example, waking early in the morning, doing exercise regularly, or reading books everyday are the things you know that they are good for you, but you are too lazy to do them regularly.

As Lou Holtz once said: “ Without self-discipline, success is impossible, period.” Self-discipline is a bridge between where you are now and where you want to go in the future.

A shelter of faith

 “Build your knowledge through good books. Have the discipline to take care of your health. Above all, develop faith and patience.”

A shelter of friends

 “We all need a shelter of people who will be close to us and available to us throughout our lives, in both the good times and the tough times.”

We can’t deny the importance of friends in our lives. Friends are the ones who are not only with us in the good times, but they also care & share with us the difficulties in life. And a deep friendship is a good shelter to help us overcome the rainy days in life.

 A shelter of family

 Life is tough. And home is the place where we can return after the tired days and then feel relaxed and have the inner peace. No matter where we live, family is always there to care and support us and it is the strong shelter for us against the tough times.

“Build a shelter against a rainy day by the life you live, and you never have to fear the storms of tomorrow.”

Pray for guidance and counsel, and give thanks for your blessings each day

An attitude of gratitude

 “Gratitude is a key to happiness. Grateful people are happy people. They learn to look for pleasure in simple blessings. They find something to be grateful for even when things don’t go their way. They focus on what they have instead of what they want.”

Count your blessings

 Counting your blessings can be practiced through some ways below:

  •  Keep a gratitude journal
  • Practice saying thank you and mean it
  • Send thank-you notes
  • Use gratitude and praise to build people up

Besides, I highly recommend The Magic book by Rhonda Byrne if you need a guidance to practice gratitude every day. Through 28-day practices, you will see how magical life can be if you express your gratitude for every single thing happening in life.

Based on 7 principles given to John Wooden by his father, this inspirational book will encourage, challenge, and motivate readers to build these principles into their own lives.


Published by Oanh Nguyen

Be kind. Be happy. Be present.

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