News Articles

FIRST-PERSON: John Wooden, the Christian

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)–John Wooden died on Friday, June 4. Throughout the following weekend sports channel ESPN paid homage to the coaching legend. Wooden was heralded as a great coach, dedicated husband, wonderful family man and a person who possessed sterling character.

During the tributes occasional mention was made that Wooden was a “religious man.” However, the man who coached at UCLA from 1948 to 1975 and led the Bruins to ten national championships — including seven in a row from 1967 to 1973, was more than just a “religious man.” He was a devout follower of Jesus Christ.

It was his adherence and application of Christian principles that laid the foundation for Wooden’s “success.” And according to the man known as the Wizard of Westwood, “Success is peace of mind that is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.”

Wooden put his success at UCLA in perspective once by saying, “Championships were never the cake; they were the icing. Doing our best was the cake.”

In order to achieve his definition of success, Wooden developed what he called the Pyramid of Success. The Pyramid was a carefully thought-out formulation of principles and character traits he believed were essential for personal and organization success.

The bottom tier, or foundation, of the Pyramid is made up of five principles: industriousness, enthusiasm, friendship, loyalty and cooperation. The second tier consists of the principles of self-control, intentness, alertness and initiative.

The next tier is made up of three principles: condition, team spirit and skill. The fourth tier pose consists of the principles of poise and confidence. The Pyramid is topped by one principle — competitive greatness.

Holding the entire Pyramid together, like “mortar around each layer”, are 10 character qualities. They are ambition, sincerity, adaptability, honesty, resourcefulness, reliability, fight, integrity, faith and patience.

It was integrating the Success Pyramid into every facet of life that Wooden believed enabled him to become the best he could in his life both personally and professionally.

In 2005, Wooden co-authored a devotion with Jay Carty designed to teach the Pyramid. Carty was on Wooden’s staff at UCLA in the late 60s and later founded an evangelistic ministry. The title of the book is “Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building Blocks For A Better Life.”

In the book Wooden makes it clear that each component that makes up the Pyramid of Success is anchored in God’s Word. “I believe in absolute truth and absolute sin,” Wooden wrote, “and the Bible is my standard for determining those absolutes.”

In “Pyramid of Success” Wooden provides a scriptural reference and support for each principal and every character trait.

In “Pyramid of Success” Wooden also wrote about his personal faith, “I’ve trusted Christ and I’ve tried to live as He would have me live.” He continued, “I’ve studied His word and I’ve prayed a great deal. I have faith He will do what He’s promised.”

When asked in an interview late in his life about whether or not he was afraid to die, Wooden said, “I’m not afraid to die. Death is my only chance to be with her [his wife] again.” In “Pyramid Of Success” he wrote, “I’m ready to meet Him [the Lord] and I’m eager to see my wife, Nellie…”

During his life Wooden wrote that some Christians criticized him for not being more vocal about his faith. “I served as a basketball coach at a public institution; therefore I never felt it was appropriate. I always had a Bible on my desk and I intentionally led by example based on Christ’s teaching.”

Wooden continued, “Some evangelical Christians thought of me as liberal because they disagree with my decision to let my life speak for my faith. At the same time, liberals consider me to be way too conservative.” He added, “I know you can’t please everyone, so on this issue I haven’t tried. I have only wanted to please God.”

Jack Arnold played at UCLA from 1954 to 1956 and went on to found Equipping Pastors International. He wrote about his former coach, “The unique thing about Coach Wooden is that he is a faithful and steady Christian without the trappings of professional religion.”

Arnold continued, “He is a man who reads his Bible and prays, knowing that without these he can do nothing that will count for time and eternity.”

Willie Naulls played for Wooden at UCLA from 1953 to 1956 and later stared in the NBA. He is now a minister. Naulls wrote a poem in conjunction with the release of the “Pyramid of Success.” It is titled, “Is He or Is He Ain’t — A Saint?” It reads:

“I’ve been asked over the years

“Is Coach Wooden a believer

“Or just a country-boy overachiever?

“Coach’s Pyramid of Success is out

“Now all Christian doubters can shout

“JOHN ROBERT WOODEN is a believer!

“And Christ through Him is the Achiever.”

Famed sportswriter Grantland Rice once wrote, “For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name, he writes — not that you won or lost — but how you played the game.” Those who knew Wooden best believe the Great Scorer has marked “well done” by his name.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

    About the Author

  • Kelly Boggs