John Wooden’s Favourite Maxims for Life

Posted on 06/09/10 6 Comments

Many of the following quotes are from John himself, others he mentions as favorites of his but are not from him directly (I credited the author of those). When I put this list together I started to bold the ones that had meant the most to me. It seemed ridiculous as almost all of them ended up bolded!

  1. Happiness begins where selfishness ends.
  2. Earn the right to be proud and confident.
  3. The best way to improve the team is to improve ourselves.
  4. Big things are accomplished only through the perfection of minor details.
  5. Discipline yourself and others won’t need to.
  6. Ability may get you to the top but character will keep you there.
  7. I will get ready and then, perhaps, my chance will come.
  8. If I am through learning, I am through.
  9. If you do not have the time to do it right, when will you find the time to do it over.
  10. The smallest good deed is better than the best intention.
  11. The man who is afraid to risk failure seldom will have to face success.
  12. Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.
  13. Time spent getting even would be better spent trying to get ahead.
  14. It is what you learn after you know it all that counts.
  15. Consider the rights of others before your own feelings and the feelings of others before your own rights.
  16. There is nothing stronger than gentleness.
  17. You discipline those under your supervision to correct, to help, to improve; not to punish.
  18. Goals achieved with little effort are seldom worthwhile or lasting.
  19. Make sure the team knows they are working with you not for you.
  20. Be most interested in finding the best way not in having your own way.
  21. What is right is more important than who is right.
  22. You handle things, you work with people.
  23. As long as you try to your best you are never a failure; that is unless you blame others.
  24. Tell the truth, that way you don’t have to remember a story.
  25. Don’t let making a living prevent you from making a life.
  26. If I were ever prosecuted for my religion I truly hope there would be enough evidence to convict me.
  27. Although there is no progress without change, not all change is progress.
  28. If we’d magnified blessings as much as we magnified disappointments we would all be much happier.
  29. The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.
  30. The worst thing that you can do for another person is the things they can and should do for themselves.  Abraham Lincoln
  31. It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely help another without also helping himself. Ralph Waldo Emmerson.
  32. Do not permit what you cannot do to interfere with what you can do.
  33. Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation.  Character is what your really are; reputation is merely what you are perceived to be.
  34. Love is the greatest of all words in our language.
  35. Much can be accomplished by teamwork when no one is concerned who gets credit.
  36. Never make excuses; your friends don’t need them and your foes won’t believe them.
  37. We don’t have to be disagreeable just because we may disagree.
  38. Be slow to criticize and quick to commend.
  39. Be more concerned with what you can do for others than what others can do for you; you’ll be surprised at the results.
  40. The more concerned we become over the things we can’t control the less we will do with the things we can control.
  41. Don’t permit fear of failure to prevent effort; we are all imperfect and will fail on occasion but fear of failure is the greatest failure of all.
  42. Being average means you are as close to the bottom as you are to the top.
  43. The time to make friends is before you need them.
  44. We are many but are we much?
  45. Never be thrown off stride in how you behave or what you believe in because of outside events.
  46. Nothing can give you greater joy than doing something for another.
  47. Material things are not gifts but apologies for gifts, the only true gift is a portion of thyself.  Ralf Waldo Emerson.
  48. We cannot live a perfect day without doing something for another without the thought of something in return.
  49. Do not mistake activity for achievement.
  50. You can do more good by being good than any other way.
  51. Forget favours given, remember those received.
  52. Make each day your masterpiece.
  53. Make friendship of fine art.
  54. Learn as if you were to live forever; live as if you were to die tomorrow.
  55. Treat all people with dignity and respect.
  56. Acquire peace of mind by making the effort to become the best of which you are capable.
  57. Be fast but do not hurry.

In one of the last interviews that John Wooden gave he was asked what he would like God to say to him when they met at the peril gates, John’s reply was “well done.”
Actually John I am pretty sure you got more than that, He likely had the whole place do the wave as you entered.

Below is Johns famous pyramid of success.  If you click on it, it will open in it’s own window so you can see it without my overlapping blog sidebars. I have a copy in my office and another one in our dog training building. It is worth the re and re-read and re-read.

Today I am grateful for the contributions of John Wooden. If, in my lifetime, I could contribute to others even 1% of what this great man did in his, then I truly would have lead a life “well done.”


  1. robert says:
    Wednesday, February 24, 2016 at 6:12pm

    The Grandfather I never had but embraced him as if he were and allowed his wisdom to make a difference in my life and those around me.


  2. Laura says:
    Thursday, June 10, 2010 at 12:03pm

    What an awesome man. I seem to remember reading that pyramid in the washroom at Say Yes. 😉


  3. Mary M says:
    Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 10:08pm

    Thanks for sharing! Would you mind if I copied these (gave credit to coach wooden) and shared them with my team at work?



  4. Teri says:
    Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 6:16pm

    These are worth saving. Thanks for putting them together.


  5. Diane says:
    Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 1:51pm

    Really good post Susan! A keeper. Sometimes when we get caught up in things we forget the simple principles of life which are many of the points above….

    BTW – on a totally different note… I know you are a hockey fan soooo
    GO BLACKHAWKS! :))))


  6. Stephanie says:
    Wednesday, June 9, 2010 at 11:27am

    Coach Wooden was the best ever. As you point out, his wisdom transcended not only basketball but life in general. Thanks.


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