The Fire Service Pyramid of Success Part 1

Fire station success has nothing to do with your arm patch, your fire chief, years of service, how many firefighters or fire stations your department has, or how many alarms your department responds to. Fire station success has everything to do with...

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Take a moment to read Wooden's success definition again. Did you notice that he does not equate success with winning or with championships? Wooden never coached a team to "beat" an opponent. The Pyramid of Success has nothing to do with wealth or power. Success at UCLA was about being the best you can be and helping others be the best they can be -- both on and off the court. That is leadership. Wooden never tried to be better than another team or another coach. He focused on controlling the only thing he and his players could control: themselves. (Parents and coaches of youth sports could benefit from embracing these principles.) This is powerful stuff.

Between 1948 and 1975, John R. Wooden served as head basketball coach at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Among Wooden's achievements are the following:

  • 620 wins, 147 losses as UCLA head coach
  • Four perfect 30-win/zero-loss seasons
  • 88 consecutive victories
  • 38 consecutive NCAA tournament victories
  • 149 wins, two losses at the Pauley Pavilion (UCLA's home court)
  • 19 PAC 10 championships
  • 10 NCAA national championships
  • Seven consecutive NCAA national championships
  • Six-time NCAA Basketball Coach of the Year
  • 1970 Sporting News Sports Man of the Year
  • 1973 Sports Illustrated Sports Man of the Year
  • 95% of his players graduated (a rate far better than the entire UCLA student population!)
  • The first of just two individuals enshrined in the Hall of Fame both as a player and as a coach (the other is Lenny Wilkens)
  • 1964 California Father of the Year (married to his high school sweetheart, Nellie Riley, together they had a son and a daughter)
  • 1974 California Grandfather of the Year (seven grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren)
  • Winning percentage of .813 during his 40-year coaching career (885 wins, 203 losses)
  • Served four years as a full lieutenant in the U.S. Navy
  • 1999 named by ESPN the Greatest Coach of the 20th Century

Wow. The man was -- and is -- remarkable. Born Oct. 14, 1910, in Martinsville, IN, John Wooden is 97 years old and still attends many UCLA home games.

If you are to understand the value of the Pyramid of Success, there are a few things you should know about Wooden and his basketball dynasty. Wooden never gave pep-talks to his teams; Wooden didn't like artificial (and temporary) emotional highs. He believed that his teams should have a focused and consistent level of intensity that is achieved through mental and physical preparation.

UCLA practices were 90 minutes, not 100 minutes and not 95 minutes. It didn't matter if it was the middle of the season or preparing for an NCAA championship game, practices were 90 minutes. Each of those 90 minutes was planned in detail. Practices were fast and furious with each player moving and working constantly. Each 90-minute practice included a degree of pressure and intensity. Down by one point with two seconds left on the clock? Not a problem, because UCLA was accustomed to pressure and intensity, and because they were so well prepared, they were able to keep their cool and remain focused.

Before big games and during the NCAA playoffs, future opponents rarely scouted the Bruins or looked at film. There was no reason to. There were no secrets, no tricks, no new schemes and no complex plays. Wooden's playbook was simple and short. Wooden's teams relied on physical conditioning, mental toughness and flawless execution of the basics. UCLA would often full-court press an opponent for the entire game. Wooden's Bruins would literally wear opponents down both mentally and physically. No other college basketball team in history has exhibited the character, the conditioning, the poise, and the confidence of Wooden's UCLA Bruins.

Philosophical Smoke & Mirrors

There are all kinds of self-help books on acquiring health, wealth, and success. Most of them are nothing more than marketing smoke and mirrors akin to the exercise devices sold on television infomercials that promise quick results with minimum effort. If you've read any of these books you are aware that long-term application of the "success package" is difficult. If these books and programs actually worked, our troubles would be over, we would all be in a permanent state of health, wealth and happiness.

Often, the only people that acquire wealth and happiness from these books are the authors and the publishers. A good example is The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. Although his basic philosophy is well conceived, programs like The Seven Habits never seem to stick. Many organizations spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in an attempt to hang their future on what amounts to an organizational ThighMaster that will soon collect dust next to the organizational Abdominator. Wouldn't it be great if there was a too-good-to-be-true philosophy that not only works, but would endure? The key difference between organizational philosophy and organizational fluff is purpose and application.