What is Success?

I was wrong.


I recently argued with the other coaches on our coaching staff about what the main objective is in practice, games, and coaching. I contended that winning is the main objective. Everything we do is to prepare us to win as many games as we can, ultimately finishing the season as champions. We practice shooting to make more shots so that we have a better chance of winning. We practice defensive technique to help us better stop our opponents from scoring so that we have a better chance to win. We hold practice, open gyms, film study, etc…. for the purpose of developing competitive advantages in the pursuit of winning.


So, in my mind, winning was always the main objective. What else could it be?


My colleagues argued that that is a terrible view of success because sometimes your team just isn’t going to be good enough to win a lot of games or compete for a championship. Which is true. And if winning is probably not in the cards for a particular team, is there no possibility of success? Good question.


Surely there must be a better view of success than winning! They argued that success should be viewed as whether or not our team reached its realistic potential. Did we become the best that we are capable of becoming? I don’t necessarily disagree, but I felt that that could be viewed as settling for less than our best.


And who gets to decide what is realistic for someone anyway? Part of the human condition is striving to find the limits of what we are capable of and we don’t find outer boundary unless we strive for the highest levels possible.


Enter John Wooden’s definition of success:

“Success 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.”

John Wooden, Basketball, Success, Winning, Win,
The great John Wooden. He might know a thing or two about success.

It is not about winning, per say, and it’s not about reaching our individual or team potential. It’s about the peace of mind that comes from the effort made in pursuit of excellence. Did you give it your best effort in the pursuit of excellence? This definition seems to be a blend of striving for excellence and focusing on one’s individual or team potential. It’s about the effort made in the journey toward the destination. So, thank you to my friends and to John Wooden for helping me clarify what success actually means.


And like John Wooden says,

“I have… found that accepting this philosophy dramatically improves the probability of winning the race - the by-product all competitors seek. But first you must commit yourself – and your organization - to a goal beyond merely beating others. You must define success as making the complete effort to maximize your ability, skills, and potential in whatever circumstances…”

What is your definition of success? How does it align or differ from John Wooden's definition? Why? Take some time to think and write about it. Who knows.... you might just be wrong.