John Wooden certainly earned the title of “champion.” His basketball teams at UCLA won 10 national championships. The next most successful coach won five.

I never watched any of his teams. After he retired, I encountered several people whose character I admired, and who were inspired by Wooden. I began reading about his philosophy.

He had a unique view of champions. His aspiration was that everyone on the team would deliver their best. Outscoring opponents was secondary. UCLA’s wins pleased the players, students, and alumni. Wooden knew some teams would be stronger or faster or more skilled or maybe just luckier.

His wisdom was that each player would know in his heart whether he had performed to his potential. The true champion was the person who did his best. This great coach valued striving above scoring. He believed pursuing excellence was a more worthy goal than beating the competition.

Each person can do their best. Not every person can win the contest. Wooden’s vision was broader. He focused on what was controllable, our effort, not what was beyond our control, the competition.

You and I are imperfect people, not superheroes. We lose sometimes. People who never fail are not picking worthy objectives. Wooden knew everyone loses occasionally. Likewise, no mortal can always deliver his best. Neither view demands perfection.

Initially I discounted the distinction between effort and victory. I noted, but didn’t adopt, his “do your best; ignore the outcome” idea. Upon reflection Wooden’s definition of a champion has deeper appeal. It seems wiser … hard, but wiser.

How about you? How do you define a champion?


Terry Moore, CCIM, is the author of Building Legacy Wealth: How to Build Wealth and Live a Life Worth Imitating. Read his “Welcome to My Blog.

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