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Issue 3 - Be True to Yourself

Woodens Wisdom
Wooden's Wisdom - Volume 1 Issue 3
Craig Impelman Speaking |  Championship Coaches |  Champion's Leadership Library Login


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A core part of Coach Wooden's philosophy is based on a card that his father gave him and his brothers when they graduated from grammar school. As depicted below, on one side of the card was a verse by the Reverend Henry Van Dyke, and the other side was titled "Seven Things To Do," which Coach later dubbed his “Seven Point Creed.”

Four things a man must learn to do
If he would make his life more true:
To think without confusion clearly,
To love his fellow-man sincerely,
To act from honest motives purely,
To trust in God and Heaven securely.

~ Reverend Henry Van Dyke

Seven Things To Do

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

This issue of The Wooden Way is devoted to the first item on his list of seven things to do, “Be true to yourself” – that is, be loyal to your core values no matter the situation. Being true to one’s self is different for each person although in practice it requires the same principles for everyone, and may often produce similar results.

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One of the core values that was central to Joshua Wooden’s value and character was his gentleness with all living creatures, a trait that young John Wooden grew up admiring in his father. Coach has often spoken about the gentle and loving way that his parents interacted, and the fact that his father’s favorite Abraham Lincoln quote was, “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”

Coach has also told many stories about his father’s gentleness in different situations on the farm. For example, the family kept two plowing mules named Jack and Kate, the latter of which had a tendency to lying down in the field and refusing to work. No matter how rough or frustrated young John got with Kate, she would not budge. Joshua, however, would walk over until he was within earshot of the mule, and simply say, “Kate.” This alone would be enough to spur the animal back into action. In his father’s example, Coach learned over time that even an obstinate mule could be persuaded with gentleness.

As he grew older, Coach Wooden realized that his father’s gentleness came from the peace of mind he achieved through confidence and contentment with himself. His serenity seemed to extend beyond himself and influence anyone and anything in his presence. Fierce dogs lick his father’s hand when he reached out to pet them; wild colts bucking in the barn become docile after his father spent just a few moments speaking to them in his firm, gentle voice. Coach learned from his father that one should never mistake gentleness for weakness; in fact, quite the opposite is true. Joshua Wooden proved the famous words of Han Suyin, “There is nothing stronger in the world than gentleness.”

Though such a calm approach to life is not a trait in everyone’s personality, the self control to conduct one’s self in a consistently assured and confident manner is something towards which we can all strive. Coach Wooden credited a large part of his own happiness and fulfillment to the fact that he tried every day to be true to his core values. The choices he made about how he spoke, the way he interacted with people, and the approach he took to coaching were all consistent with his deepest and dearest beliefs. As a result, people were naturally drawn to Coach in the same way that people and animals alike responded to his father’s contagious serenity.

That peace of mind stems directly from knowing that every decision is consistent with one’s own values. Being true to one’s self breeds confidence, and is one of the fundamental traits of effective leadership.


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Yours in coaching,


Craig Impelman

Twitter: @woodenswwisdom


Application Exercise





“This work by Rudyard Kipling
when applied to athletes has much meaning and depth of

purpose.” ~ John Wooden



If you can keep your head

when all about you

Are losing theirs

and blaming it on you;


If you can trust yourself

when all men doubt you

and make allowances

for their doubting too;


If you can wait and not be

tired of waiting

Or being lied about,

don't deal in lies

Or being hated,

don't give way to hating

And yet don't look too good,

nor talk too wise;


If you can dream,

and not make dreams your master;

If you can think and

not make thoughts

If you can meet with

Triumph and Disaster,

And treat these two imposters

just the same;


If you can bear to hear

the truth you've spoken

Twisted by knaves

to make a trap for fools,


Or watch the things

you gave your life to, broken,

and stoop, and build them

up with worn-out tools;


If you can make one

heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn

of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss;


If you can force your

heart and nerve

and sinew

To serve your turn long

after they are gone,


And so hold on

When there is nothing in you

Except the Will

which says to them:

"Hold on!"


If you can talk with crowds

and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings--

nor lose the common touch--


If neither foes

nor loving friends

can hurt you,

If all men count with you--

but none too much;


If you can fill

the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,


Yours in the Heart

and everything that's in it

And--which is more--

you'll be a Man, my son!

~ Rudyard Kipling




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