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Issue 22 - Intentness

Woodens Wisdom
Wooden's Wisdom - Volume 1 Issue 22
Craig Impelman Speaking |  Championship Coaches |  Champion's Leadership Library Login



The fourth block in the second tier of the Pyramid of Success is Intentness.


While not a word we generally encounter in everyday conversation, “intentness” is a concept that Coach Wooden felt was an essential part of personal success. He chose to direct his definition of “intentness” at the individual by urging him or her to: “Set a realistic goal. Concentrate on its achievement by resisting all temptations and being determined and persistent.”


Coach once summarized this concept as “patience with action” —that is, having the determination, stamina, and resolve to stay the course when things aren’t going well. Armed with persistence and realistic goals, a person embodies intentness by the manner in which he or she pursues each ambition.


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Unlike some motivators who tout the idea that goals should be astronomically high, Coach took a far more practical perspective. “There is a tendency at times to set goals that are so idealistic that they are unattainable and thus become counterproductive,” he once said. “I think goals should be difficult to achieve because things easily achieved or attained usually aren't meaningful, don't last too long or are not truly worthwhile. So goals should be difficult, but in the realm of possibility.”


Intentness is the thing that keeps a person reaching for the next achievement, to make each possibility a reality. Coach added this thought about striving toward goals: “Realizing that the road to their achievement could be difficult and certain adversity may force you to change the method of attack, you may have to go around, under, over, backup and look the situation over. Try a different method. But you must not quit. Be intent, persistent and determined to reach your realistic objective.”


In 1959 Coach Wooden had the poorest season of his UCLA career winning 14 games and losing 12. Coach liked to say that: "Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.” He was determined not to hang up his hat. Instead, he rolled up his sleeves and set about trying to determine what he needed to change about his approach to coaching.


Four years later, in 1963, UCLA lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Wooden had been coaching at UCLA for 15 years and made it to the NCAA tournament five times while posting a tournament record of three wins and nine losses - the worst record of any of the coaches that participated in the tournament that year.


But again he attacked the next season with deliberate intentness, determined to make improvements to his coaching techniques and setting a goal of improving his team’s final standing. In 1964, Coach Wooden won his first national championship. He would go on to win an unprecedented 10 national championships in his last 12 years of coaching at UCLA and in 2009 was voted by Sporting News as the greatest coach in the history of American athletics.


It was a journey that displayed the ultimate in intentness. The point is further illustrated by one of Coach Wooden’s favorite handouts to share with people struggling to grasp intentness:


Failed in business 1831 Defeated for the legislature 1832

Again failed in business 1833

Elected to the legislature 1834

Sweetheart died 1835

Had a nervous breakdown 1836

Defeated for Speaker 1838

Defeated for Elector 1840 

Defeated for Congress 1843

Elected to Congress 1846 

Defeated for Congress 1848

Defeated for Senate 1855 

Defeated for Vice President 1856

Elected President 1860 

This is a brief summary of the life and trials of Abraham Lincoln.

Without intentness, the other qualities in the second tier of the pyramid are meaningless. It is intentness that gives us the stamina and determination to execute the other traits properly over the long haul in the face of adversity.


Yours in coaching,



Craig Impelman


Twitter:  @woodenswisdom



Application Exercise

Favorite Poetry

Nothing in the world can
take the place of persistence.
Talent will not;

Nothing is more common
than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not;

Unrewarded genius
is almost a proverb.
Education will not;

The world is full
of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination
alone are omnipotent.

Calvin Coolidge
(30th President of
the United States)

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