Secrets of Success from the Wizard of Westwood


Truth be told he didn’t want the job, his goal was to coach at Wisconsin. When Wisconsin’s didn't respond he accepted the job to coach basketball at UCLA. A school which at the time didn’t even have a basketball court the team could use.

It was a challenge no doubt, one with plenty of growing pains, but eventually UCLA would be known as a dynasty.  In a span of 12 years, UCLA basketball won 10 national championships. During that run was a streak of an unheard of 7 consecutive national titles. For comparison no other team has ever won more than 3 in a row.

At the helm of this feat was Coach John Wooden, the first person to be inducted into the hall of fame as a player and coach, and also a mans whose teachings have been monumental in my own growth as a coach.

While his accomplishments are grand, what stands out most about Coach Wooden wasn’t what he did, but how he did it.  Wooden was a driven but empathetic man whose background as a teacher allowed him to poetically articulate his ideas. The short, simple and inspirational messages that persist to this day are affectionately called “woodenisms”.

Today I’d like to share a few of these messages and how they're applicable to your own workouts and training.

“Never mistake activity for achievement”

I see plenty of people come to the gym, get into their workout, sweat like an 80’s aerobics video and continue on their way.

Several months later I see the same people still bouncing around on an elliptical with no difference in their physique.

To see progress it’s not enough to just work hard. Unless that effort is directed towards a goal no change will be made.

It’s important that we redefine what a good workout is and that we clearly define progress.

"Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be"

This is a great follow up to the last point. If you are someone who has failed don’t get down on yourself. The statistics for those who succeed and stick to a workout or diet regime are anemic. Failure doesn’t mean the end. Every day is a new day to try again and another opportunity to succeed. However, failure to learn from your mistakes and make changes means you’re destined to be in the same position again.  There's a similar quote by Einstein where he says that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

"If you're not making mistakes, then you're not doing anything. I'm positive that a doer makes mistakes"

The best way to learn is to do. Once you're out there you’ll learn what’s important and what you're lacking. You’ll make mistakes but that’s ok. My own training career is full of mistake. It’s why I aim to help others like yourself so you can avoid making those same mistakes. In fact, every great coach I know has a resume decorated with mistakes. Our failures teach us more than our successes so spend less time thinking of what to do and more time doing it.

I’ll make one final notes on mistakes. Mistakes are alright, however, the key is to not make the fatal mistakes. Approach new task with caution and be smart. It’s fine to practice new exercises but you should do so under safe conditions. No one wants an injury.

"If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?"

This may be my favorite Woodenism and I think it’s one that is poignant for the fitness world. We all want to get results, and in our culture faster is better. At every turn is someone selling a better, easier, and quicker way to get results. Some of them work, and a person will lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks but at the end of the intervention they gain it all back and then some.

The truth is that the quicker you get results the quicker you lose them. The reason is that when you take the shortcut you fail to learn the skills needed to achieve your goal. At Fitness Made Clear these foundational skills are a part of everything we teach. For example, losing weight and keep it off requires skills: it requires knowing how to listen to your body and not overeat, knowing how to prepare your food, or planning for possible challenges. Only when the foundation is built can results be sustained. Whatever money or time you have, its best spent building the foundation.

“You can make mistakes, but you are not a failure until you blame others for those mistakes. When you blame others, you are trying to excuse yourself. When you make excuses, you cannot properly evaluate yourself. Without proper evaluation, failure is inevitable.”

In the words of Navy Seal Jocko Willink - cultivate Extreme Ownership. If you make a mistake - own it. For example, If I come home and eat a pint of ice cream I have two options - I can blame my girlfriend for bringing it home and sabotaging me or I can take accountability for my actions. The first scenario makes me feel better but gets me no closer to my goals. Instead, it leaves me resenting my girlfriend. In the second scenario, I can take responsibility. I ate the ice cream because I didn’t have good willpower. I ate it because I didn’t prepare an alternative. I ate it because I didn’t have the social skills to express the importance of my goals and the importance that she does not bring the ice cream home.

There is no growth in excuses. It can be hard to be brutally honest and take responsibility for our actions, but it’s the only way that we can learn, adapt and overcome obstacles. By acknowledging the areas I could have done better I have given myself several areas to work on and improve.

Stephen GriffithComment