Marketers Could Learn A Lesson or Two from Coach Wooden

Some say John Wooden is the most influential, if not the greatest coach of the 20th century. At 98, he is definitely one of the oldest living coaches from the 20th century.

Mr. Wooden is most notable for his success as the coach of UCLA’s championship basketball teams from 1948 to 1975 (from 1946-1948 he was the coach of Indiana State, where he racked up a 44-15 record). Under his guidance, the Bruins won 81% of their games and set all-time records with four perfect 30-0 seasons, 88 consecutive victories, 38 straight NCAA tournament victories, 20 PAC-10 championships, and 10 national championships – seven of them consecutive.

What else… oh yeah, since 1977, one of the four college basketball player of the year awards has been named the John R. Wooden Award. And two annual doubleheader men’s basketball events called the “John R. Wooden Classic”and “The Wooden Tradition” are held in Wooden’s honor.

The 95,000 square foot John Wooden recreation center on the UCLA campus for student intramural athletics is named after legendary basketball coach John Wooden.

On July 23, 2003, John Wooden received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. On November 17, 2006, Wooden was recognized for his impact on college basketball as a member of the founding class of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. And UCLA celebrates John Wooden Day every February 29.

If you didn’t know better, you would think this guy was pretty special. But really, he’s just a farm boy from Hall, Indiana… a farm boy who became so successful that he created The Pyramid of Success, a philosophy for winning at basketball and at life.

At the heart of his success formula are four building blocks: Enthusiasm (doing what you enjoy and enjoying what you do), Industriousness (because success in any endeavor takes hard work), Patience (because success sometimes takes a while) and Faith (for those times when you are not having fun, don’t feel like working hard and you get tired of waiting for success).

But here is the really intersting thing: Coach Wooden does not define “success” as winning championships or making money. In his view:

“Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.”

Sounds a lot to me like something my dad would say.

According to Coach, defining success is a lot like differentiating between your character and your reputation. Your reputation is what people think you are. Your character is who you really are. And what you really are – your character – is what really counts.

At a time in the world when “reputation management” is looked upon as a noble act, marketers could do worse than to take a lesson from Coach John Wooden. Consider all those companies who just a few months ago were considered industry leaders and now are standing in the Government soup line looking for handouts.

The next time a client tells you they want to be perceived as in industry leader, tell them to focus on character, not reputation. If they are leaders, the marketplace will know it. If they are not leaders, they will eventually be recognized as the frauds they are.

And remember that success derives from knowing you gave it your best shot as the best professional you are capable of being. Hard work, enthusiasm, patience, faith.

Jim Sweeney


Jim is a veteran of the agency industry and the founder of Sweeney. He is uncommonly passionate about the idea of creating and implementing insanely great marketing campaigns that achieve insanely great results. He pioneered the full-service, full-circle agency model and continues to forge new ideas in an ever-changing industry. And he is accessible to everyone about anything, seemingly all the time, serving as a mentor to all agency personnel and clients.