Wooden Wednesdays: Team Spirit

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

John Wooden’s final block in the third tier of his Pyramid of Success is TEAM SPIRIT.

Wooden says, “This block of the Pyramid addresses a most important characteristic: selflessness which is the opposite of selfishness. I mean by this that you are eager to sacrifice personal glory or gain for the greater good, namely, the welfare and success of your organization, your team, your group.”

The willingness to sacrifice for the team is, I think, more natural for choir members than for basketball players – but it’s important for them to know and acknowledge that sacrifices are being made, and that they have value.

In choosing his team, Wooden says, “I was constantly searching for that player who would make our team ‘great’ rather than a someone who was just a ‘great player’. There is a big difference and that difference is what constitutes Team Spirit.”


Team Spirit is caring about balance more than your own parts.

Team Spirit is auditioning for a solo and happily accepting any outcome – caring more about the success of the music than about winning the solo.

Team Spirit is doing personal practice on your weak spots, so that you can better support the choir in rehearsal.

Team Spirit is knowing that successful rehearsal requires everyone in attendance, so never missing a rehearsal.

Team Spirit is never ostracizing team members.

I once heard a renowned youth choir director described as saying, “I look for the smart ones – I can teach them the rest.” This is how I feel about Team Spirit. If you prioritize Team Spirit in your auditions, you will find ensembles that work harder and achieve greater heights.

And I think, like Wooden, you’ll find the talented ones eager to join you on your team’s journey. I have had talented ensembles and spirited ensembles; I would pick the spirited ones every single time.

How do you teach Team Spirit? I think it’s something we’re focused on every day. Asking our students to listen, building capacity with team building games, talking about the value in presence. As I said, choirs are built to encourage Team Spirit over individual success in a way that athletic teams are not – it’s one place that musical ensembles have a clear advantage over sports teams.

There are only a few key characteristics left in Wooden’s Pyramid of Success – the peak of the triangle!