Climb the pyramid of success

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The late John Wooden, a legend from US basketball, built his coaching career on 15 personal qualities. Use his five foundation blocks to help take your own team to his pinnacle of “competitive greatness”…


We know that a “hard work” ethic underpins any successful team, but John Wooden takes this further. His cornerstone of success is relevant hard work, not work for the sake of it.

Umpteen press-ups or up and down passing drills won’t create a winning side. Each unit of training needs to be focused on moving the player and team forward.

We often split our team up to work on unit skills, say forwards mauling and backs passing. So be position-specific with fitness sessions too. For instance, get props to work on their pushing strength whilst wings concentrate on their speed.

A good coach will create a good work ethic that includes players understanding the benefits of their work and why it makes a difference. This improves the intrinsic motivation of players, and so their industriousness.


Wooden recognises the power of friendship as a glue that binds teams together, but not at the expense of distance and respect for the coach.

You’re going to create an environment of mutual respect and comradeship. It’s not about affection but about building goodwill, where each person will go a little further for a team-mate.

The way this environment develops stems from the way you treat the players. Show them respect and take time to work for each individually.


At the centre of the Wooden pyramid of success is loyalty. And it starts with you. Are you loyal to your own values and goals? Compromise those and it’s difficult to inspire loyalty in others. You should be clear and precise in what you want and repeat your values to yourself and the team.

It would be difficult to imagine, say, Warren Gatland saying he didn’t want to win the Six Nations. Now think about the style and manner in which you want to achieve these goals.


To have a team that cooperates is to have a leader who listens. Good cooperation within the group starts from the top. You must be able to make changes based on what your players say and not just on what you say.

Wooden tells us not to concentrate on who is saying the right thing but on what is the right thing. That means you’re not the sole owner of all the right answers.


Wooden defines enthusiasm – the right corner of his pyramid – as energy, enjoyment, drive and dedication. These will stimulate and inspire your players.

Think of how you deal with setbacks. A coach who can attack each new problem with vigour will let the team know that you care about them and want them to move on with you. Don’t look for excuses, look forward to solutions.


At the start of each season, John Wooden would show his university basketball team how to put on their socks. “Check the heel area for wrinkles,” he would say, “wrinkles will give you blisters and they’ll make you lose playing time…”

The lesson wasn’t about socks, of course. It was about doing the basics right and taking care of the details. About looking after yourself and the team.

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