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John Wooden: The Difference Between Winning and Succeeding (Transcript)

But I didn’t like it, I didn’t agree with it. I wanted to come up with something I hoped could make me a better teacher, and give the youngsters under my supervision, be it in athletics or the English classroom, something to which to aspire, other than just a higher mark in the classroom, or more points in some athletic contest.

I thought about that for quite a spell, and I wanted to come up with my own definition. I thought that might help. And I knew how Mr Webster defined it, as the accumulation of material possessions or the attainment of a position of power or prestige, or something of that sort, worthy accomplishments perhaps, but in my opinion, not necessarily indicative of success.

So I wanted to come up with something of my own. And I recalled — I was raised on a small farm in Southern Indiana, and Dad tried to teach me and my brothers that you should never try to be better than someone else. I’m sure at the time he did that, I didn’t — it didn’t — well, somewhere, I guess in the hidden recesses of the mind, it popped out years later. Never try to be better than someone else, always learn from others. Never cease trying to be the best you can be — that’s under your control.

If you get too engrossed and involved and concerned in regard to the things over which you have no control, it will adversely affect the things over which you have control.

Then I ran across this simple verse that said, “At God’s footstool to confess, a poor soul knelt, and bowed his head. ‘I failed!’ he cried. The Master said, ‘Thou didst thy best, that is success.'” From those things, and one other perhaps, I coined my own definition of success, which is: Peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you’re capable. I believe that’s true.

If you make the effort to do the best of which you’re capable, trying to improve the situation that exists for you, I think that’s success, and I don’t think others can judge that; it’s like character and reputation — your reputation is what you’re perceived to be; your character is what you really are.

And I think that character is much more important than what you are perceived to be. You’d hope they’d both be good, but they won’t necessarily be the same. Well, that was my idea that I was going to try to get across to the youngsters. I ran across other things.

I love to teach, and it was mentioned by the previous speaker that I enjoy poetry, and I dabble in it a bit, and love it. There are some things that helped me, I think, be better than I would have been. I know I’m not what I ought to be, what I should be, but I think I’m better than I would have been if I hadn’t run across certain things.

One was just a little verse that said, “No written word, no spoken plea can teach our youth what they should be; nor all the books on all the shelves — it’s what the teachers are themselves.” That made an impression on me in the 1930s.

And I tried to use that more or less in my teaching, whether it be in sports, or whether it be in the English classroom. I love poetry and always had an interest in that somehow. Maybe it’s because Dad used to read to us at night, by coal oil lamp — we didn’t have electricity in our farm home. And Dad would read poetry to us. So I always liked it.

And about the same time I ran across this one verse, I ran across another one. Someone asked a lady teacher why she taught, and after some time, she said she wanted to think about that. Then she came up and said, “They ask me why I teach, and I reply, ‘Where could I find such splendid company?’

There sits a statesman, strong, unbiased, wise; another Daniel Webster, silver-tongued. A doctor sits beside him, whose quick, steady hand may mend a bone, or stem the life-blood’s flow. And there a builder; upward rise the arch of a church he builds, wherein that minister may speak the word of God, and lead a stumbling soul to touch the Christ.

And all about, a gathering of teachers, farmers, merchants, laborers — those who work and vote and build and plan and pray into a great tomorrow. And I may say, I may not see the church, or hear the word, or eat the food their hands may grow, but yet again I may.

And later I may say, I knew him once, and he was weak, or strong, or bold or proud or gay. I knew him once, but then he was a boy. They ask me why I teach and I reply, ‘Where could I find such splendid company?’ And I believe the teaching profession — it’s true, you have so many youngsters, and I’ve got to think of my youngsters at UCLA — 30-some attorneys, 11 dentists and doctors, many, many teachers and other professions. And that gives you a great deal of pleasure, to see them go on.

I always tried to make the youngsters feel that they’re there to get an education, number one; basketball was second, because it was paying their way, and they do need a little time for social activities. But you let social activities take a little precedence over the other two, and you’re not going to have any very long.

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