Wooden Wednesdays: Competitive Greatness

Note: this is the fifteenth of a series of posts investigating the leadership style of John Wooden and its applicability to choral music education.

We have reached the peak of John Wooden’s Pyramid of SuccessThe personality trait he places atop his pyramid is COMPETITIVE GREATNESS.

Wooden says, “Competitive Greatness is having a real love for the hard battle knowing it offers the opportunity to be at your best when your best is required.

“The great competitors I have played for and against, taught and admired all shared a joy in the struggle itself – the journey, the contest and competition. The tougher the battle the better.”


I’ve gone around and around with his ideas about Competitive Greatness, and especially what it means for us in the choral music world. Certainly we do not consider competition in the same way as a basketball coach does. Many of us, rightly, question whether competition should ever be a part of arts education. That’s a big question for another day.

However, Wooden isn’t really talking about competition, per se, as much as the opportunity to practice all the other skills we build as teammates. Aspiring to higher levels of musicianship – whether in local venues, adjudicated festivals, State or National conferences, or opportunities like the World Choir Games – and achieving these levels in performance is what Competitive Greatness is all about.

It is absolutely true that Competitive Greatness doesn’t appear overnight. Again, basketball teams are blessed with a season full of chances to prove their mettle, learning this skill.

I think, at heart, that Competitive Greatness is a philosophical mindset as much as anything. It’s a way of entering into a performance with the right outlook and the right spirit, on top of the right preparation.

Wooden says, “A leader must convey this to those you lead: a tough fight can bring forth Competitive Greatness. The hard battle inspires and motivates a great competitor to dig deep inside. That’s why I relish the challenge a worthy competitor presents. You are tested. When properly prepared you will rise to your highest level and achieve Competitive Greatness.”

We are positioned to teach this skill by planning our performance calendar to teach our student to achieve this mindset. In pre-concert discussion and post-concert reflection, we can guide our students to develop the discipline they need to perform at the highest level.

This concludes the fifteen building blocks of John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be outlining a few skills that I think might be missing from his pyramid.