Greg Hayes | Coach Wooden’s Advice for Politicians

John Wooden was selected as the greatest coach of all time by ESPN. A big reason was his impact on the lives not only of his players but also on people from all occupations and ways of life.

I was blessed and honored to spend meaningful time with Coach Wooden as a young coach at UCLA and during 12 years coaching at his summer camps. Not once did I hear Coach talk politics and I knew nothing of his political affiliation. 

He was never one to criticize or complain about anyone, and that included politicians. The only time I heard him say anything about politicians was during his famous Pyramid of Success talk. 

He said if politicians and world leaders had more consideration for each other and their people that we would have fewer problems and the problems that we do have would be less severe.

Coach was known for his wise basketball maxims. “Be quick but don’t hurry” is perhaps the most famous one. 

However, many of Coach Wooden’s maxims offer wise advice for politicians and the American electorate. 

Politics, elections and public policy obviously affect life in many significant ways. Wise decisions and choices flow from the individual core character of each citizen. Coach Wooden inspired countless people with his maxims regarding character.

His maxims that apply to today’s contentious political climate:

“Be more interested in finding the best way than having your own way.”

“It is so easy to be quick to judge when possessed by only a few facts.”

“Learn to disagree without being disagreeable.”

“Be slow to criticize and quick to commend.”

“You cannot antagonize and influence at the same time.”

“It is much easier to be a critic than a model.”

“It is easy to see the faults of others and so difficult to see your own.”

“Time spent getting even would be better spent getting ahead.”

His maxims on ethical behavior:

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation. Your reputation is what others perceive you to be; your character is who you really are.”

“There is no pillow as soft as a clear conscience.”

“You accomplish more good by being good than by any other way.”

His “Two sets of 3’s” apply as well: “Never lie, steal or cheat. Don’t whine, complain, or make excuses.”

Maxims regarding humility:

“When you are through learning, you are through.” 

“It is what you learn after you know it all that matters.” 

“Do not mistake activity for achievement.” 

“We are many, but are we much?”

“Do not measure yourself by what you accomplished but by what you should have accomplished.”

“Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

“Pray for guidance and give thanks for your many blessings each day.” 

Towards cooperation:

“What is right is more important than who is right.”

“Be more interested in finding the best way, not in having your own way.”

“It is amazing how much can be accomplished by teamwork if no one cares who gets the credit.”   

“Kindness makes for much better teamwork.”

“There is nothing stronger in the world than gentleness.”

“You must give to receive.” 

“Politeness is a small price to pay for the goodwill and affection of others.” 

“Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights.” 

“Practice the Golden Rule.”

On love and compassion:

“Love is the greatest of all words in our language.”

“Love is the medicine that can cure all the ills of the world.”

“You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for another without the thought of receiving something in return.”

Finally, as to the debate about America’s greatness or lack of:

“Never try to be better than others but never cease to try to be the best that you can be.”

“Real success is not the accumulation of wealth or status but rather is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to become the best of which you are capable.”

Coach Wooden’s maxims show that if we take care of our individual character, civil discourse will follow. 

We can then work together to solve the pressing issues of the day while showing respect, humility, grace, and love towards all. This is truly great advice from a truly great American.

Greg Hayes is the author of “Camp with Coach Wooden” and a teacher at West Ranch High School.

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