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Thursday, February 02, 2006


Each new year I always like thinking about goals and success. While all of us want to be successful, most people differ on what constitutes being a success. It's especially important when working with kids to help them define for them what their goals for success should be. When your child comes home with an "B+" on their math test, are we happy or do we ask them why they didn't get an "A"? As we've discussed, statistically none of our kids are going to be professional athletes, let alone the next Michael Jordan, Nolan Ryan or Peyton Manning, but can they still be successful in sports? In school, in sports and in life, each of us can be a huge success if we are working with the right definition. Therefore, this month we'll define success, look at Coach John Wooden's "Pyramid of Success" and apply these lessons to our kids.

Definition of Success

Coach John Wooden is the benchmark against which all other coaches are measured and judged. After all, he led UCLA to 10 NCAA basketball championships in 12 years and was elected to the College Basketball Hall of Fame as both a coach and a player. At 95 years of age, Coach Wooden is still vibrant and very giving of his time; he signs autographs at every UCLA home game which is equally thrilling for the kids, their parents and their grandparents. Yet, in spite of all his unbreakable records, John Wooden would be appalled by the statement that he is a measuring stick that others use to judge their own success.

Coach Wooden's definition: "Success is peace of mind that is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you gave your best effort to become the best of which you are capable". This is a completely different measure of success than most people and it means that success actually comes from within. If you do your best to be your best, then you should feel good about yourself and that "success" should give you peace of mind. This is very simple, profound and elegant. If we measure success only against "the best" then we are all destined to fail. For example, if you consider financial success to be something of importance, then Warren Buffett would be a failure compared to Bill Gates, but successful compared to everyone else in the world. Is Warren Buffett a failure? He might be under John Wooden's definition while any one of us may be far more successful than Buffet based on our effort.

What Coach Wooden teaches us is that all of us can be successful by putting in the effort to be the best of which we are capable. If we always do our best, but we never put in the time practicing and preparing to be our best then we haven't succeeded. Regardless of the outcome of any activity, if a person puts in the effort then they should feel the self-satisfaction that only comes from that realization that they have done their personal best. Coach Wooden never talked about winning any game. Instead, he stressed personal effort and achievement. The key is that you never compare yourself to others, but instead strive to reach your own standards of competency. Only in this way can every person, whether a star UCLA player like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or the last player on the bench, be a contributor to the team and a huge success.

The Pyramid of Success

If the apex of the pyramid is "success", how do we get there? Coach Wooden constructed a roadmap for us to follow that he called the "Pyramid of Success". Like a true building, each of the 15 blocks supports those above it. You can't reach your own personal success without accomplishing each of the blocks below and understanding the relationship of each to all the other blocks. Coach Wooden's 15 blocks are:

1.Industriousness - A cornerstone of the pyramid is the willingness to work hard for your goals.

2.Friendship - Part of the foundation is the mutual respect and self esteem derived from being and having friends.

3.Loyalty - A component of self esteem and a key element of turning individuals into a team.

4.Cooperation - In order for any group to reach its potential, it is imperative to cooperate.

5.Enthusiasm - The second cornerstone requires that you like what you're doing because it will allow an individual to put forth complete effort.

6.Self-Control - Emotional maturity allows for discipline and consistency in key activities.

7.Alertness - Being alert is important to personal achievement because it allows us to see weaknesses, learn and improve.

8.Initiative - This block is to help alleviate the fear of failure by overcoming inertia and taking the action to "make things happen".

9.Intentness - The ability to finish what you start and remain intent on accomplishing the goal.

10.Condition - The physical, emotional and personal morality that is required to make your best effort.

11.Skill - The very center of the pyramid deals with having the ability and actual skill needed to do all aspects of the job properly.

12.Team Spirit - Being the ultimate team player is not just the willingness, but the eagerness to sacrifice personally for the benefit of the team.

13.Poise - Requires the understanding and self-confidence to realize that you are only trying to accomplish and meet your own expectations.

14.Confidence - Believe in yourself and others will believe in you. Requires total preparation and is a result of learning all the other blocks.

15.Competitive Greatness - The ability to be your best when it is needed. This means that you don't run from a challenge, but are instead drawn to it.

Making Kids Successful

Kids like what they're good at and often won't even try things that they're not good at. This is the corollary to Coach Wooden's definition of success and deals with the expectations of others instead of understanding the goals for each individual for achievement. As soon as a kid compares themselves to a peer, or even worse, a sibling, they are destined to move away from the goal of "peace of mind that is a direct result of self satisfaction in knowing they gave their best effort to become the best of which they are capable".

Therefore, when our kids come home with a "B+" the most important question is how they feel about that grade. Did they do their best to be prepared for the exam? Is this the best result that they're capable of achieving? If so, then they should be rewarded and feel good and especially to be satisfied with their own satisfaction and peace of mind. If they didn't prepare at all for the test and got a "B+" then they should not be satisfied with their effort and we shouldn't be as a parents.

This is also true in sports. Not every player will be the best in the league or even the best on their team. However, if they put forth their best effort, play and practice with enthusiasm and put their team first, that's a great outcome - regardless of if they win or lose any game or how well they played.

By re-defining the way we all view success, each of us can head into the new year with a different approach to the goals and resolutions that we set. Furthermore, as we talk to our kids about what they would like to accomplish this year, and in life, the focus should be on each child obtaining the peace of mind that can only come from the self-satisfaction derived by doing their best to be the very best that they are capable of.


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