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The Words of John Wooden: 100 Years of Inspiration

by Legacy Staff

John Wooden was revered just as much for his philosophical musings as for his basketball championships. We share some of his most inspirational quotes.

Basketball coach John Wooden was known as “The Wizard of Westwood.” The legendary coach won an unprecedented 10 NCAA Championships during his 12-year tenure at UCLA, including seven in a row from 1967 through 1973. The first person to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2003. In 2009 he was named “The Best Coach of All-Time” by The Sporting News.

Wooden’s interests ranged beyond the hardwood though, and he is as revered for his philosophical outlook and inspirational words of wisdom as for his accomplishments on the basketball court. Wooden won games by winning hearts and minds, and was less interested in complicated defensive schemes than in shaping young men’s lives. As one former player put it, “he might have been more like a Methodist minister than a basketball coach.”


On the 100th anniversary of his birth — Oct. 14, 1910 — here are some memorable John Wooden aphorisms.


“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”


“Flexibility is the key to stability.”


“Be quick, but don’t hurry.”


“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”


“It’s about what is correct, not who is correct.”


“Adversity is the state in which man mostly easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.”


“Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights.”


“You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.”


“Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”


“The people who turn out best are those people who make the best out of the way things turn out.”


“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”


“Never mistake activity for achievement.”


“Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.”


“Never make excuses. Your friends don’t need them and your foes won’t believe them.”


“The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”


“Don’t let making a living prevent you from making a life.”


“Talent is God given. Be humble. Fame is man-given. Be grateful. Conceit is self-given. Be careful.”


“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”


“Make each day your masterpiece.”

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