By now we have seen many wonderful anecdotes and comments about legendary UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden, who died recently at age 99. Through all of the testimonials, it finally struck me why I am so eternally grateful to this successful and upstanding man.

Every time I saw Wooden referred to as a life coach by athletes who had played under his tutelage, it gave me pause. But what made the most impact, I realized, was the positive connotation of the term ‘life coach’ as it appeared in story after story.

It is so rare to see this term used in the media without sarcasm-laced quote marks around it. As in, Jennifer Aniston has hired a “life coach” to help her do this or that. Or conversationally we hear snide comments about how someone “needs” a life coach.

Like any other profession, mine has its share of spacey folks or hardcore salespeople or whatnot, but for the most part this is a profession filled with people who want others to make the most of their lives. It is noble, at the very least. And most of us are open to what else we can learn to better ourselves and our clients.

That brings me back to Wooden. With so many people singing his praises, what can our profession learn from his life?

I believe it all comes back to his seven-point creed:

  • Be true to yourself.
  • Make each day your masterpiece.
  • Help others.
  • Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
  • Make friendship a fine art.
  • Build a shelter against a rainy day.
  • Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.


Do you see the words “basketball” or “winning” in there? Anyone?

It’s a funny thing about sports. After nearly 15 years as a sports writer/columnist, I saw coaches who knew how to win but did not necessarily teach life lessons, I saw coaches who couldn’t post a winning record but taught valuable life lessons, and pretty much everything in between.

Wooden amassed a record of 664 wins and162 losses and won an NCAA-record 10 national championships in his tenure at UCLA. That is crazy good. But it only served to bring attention to what was ultimately his overarching message: living a “total” life.

I came across a piece on by Larry Miller, the chief academic officer of Snead State Community College, that was so telling in this regard. While a grad student of geography at UCLA, he recalls having breakfast with some fellow grad students when Wooden came along and asked to join them. He inquired about each of them and their studies.

“This man, at the peak of his success as a coach, had taken the time to visit with us,” Miller writes. “He was genuinely interested in each one of us.”

Months later, Miller was sitting with a different group and Wooden approached that table as well. Miller was stunned when the coach asked him how his research on conservation was coming.

“I began to pay even more attention to this great man,” Miller writes. “He had transcended in my view from an athletic coach to a life coach.”

That from someone not on the basketball roster.

Eschewing Webster’s definition of success (see his TED talk) around materialism, wealth or position, Wooden created his own: Success is peace of mind which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.

That is where we ideally steer our clients – to use their gifts to full potential and live life fully in the process. That’s not a bad check to do on ourselves regularly, is it? As we review the work we’re doing with clients, how much emphasis are we helping them put on well-roundedness and self-satisfaction? That is so key.

Then again, are we in that place ourselves? Are we looped in a cycle of materialism and workaholism or are we walking our talk of being present and focusing on what matters most to us?

John Wooden was consistent in how he lived and what he taught. That’s why the term life coach keeps coming up around him without the quote marks.

I am ever grateful to him for that.

Nancy Colasurdo is a practicing life coach and freelance writer. Her Web site is Please direct all questions/comments to