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Issue 43 - The Coach as a Teacher - Part 5 (Just Three Rules)

Woodens Wisdom
Wooden's Wisdom - Volume 1 Issue 43
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The Coach as a Teacher - Part 5 (Just Three Rules)

In order to be effective in our discipline (teaching, not punishing) we must have rules and suggestions.


This issue will focus on Coach Wooden’s view of rules. In an interview with Marv Dunphy for his dissertation: “John Robert Wooden: The Coaching Process”, Coach Wooden describes the evolution of his approach to rules:


In my early years of coaching I had a lot of rules and a few suggestions. In my latter years of coaching I had a lot of suggestions and few rules. I also had fixed punishment if they did this or that. If they were caught smoking, they were off the team for good. As time went by and I moved to the college ranks, my ideas changed on a lot of things, although I still feel the athletes shouldn't smoke, for example, yet I know plenty of them do.


I don't drink and I don’t smoke, but I can't say “don't do it because I don't.” That's not the answer for your children or anyone under your supervision; that has nothing to do with it. In my latter years I would suggest that there be no drinking at all, but if they were to partake in any way and get unruly or did anything that would bring discredit upon UCLA or our basketball team, severe action would be taken. Most of my rules were general and I didn’t specify what action or severe action would be if they deviated from the guidelines that I set.


In “John Wooden, A Life In Basketball”, Coach describes an incident that sparked the shift in his view of rules and suggestions.


One of my greatest failures, I think, was when I was teaching in high school. I had an outstanding player and I had an absolute rule of no smoking. It was dismissal from the squad immediately. There were no second chances. I saw no gray area at all. It was either black or white to me. I had this youngster, a fine basketball player, outstanding, my best player easily, but I caught him smoking right face-to-face and I dismissed him from the squad. Later on I would not have done that. I would've probably worked it out in some other way. I didn't know this but he quit school. He never graduated. He wouldn’t have had the money to go to college on his own but he was certain to get a scholarship. At that particular time, scholarships were being given for athletes. He would've received one but he didn't finish school. I feel that that was my failure because I had this blind spot in a sense, no gray area, and I think I learned from that; but that is one of my great disappointments.


Coach did not believe that it was fair to treat each player the same. He believed the fair thing to do was to treat each player with the respect they earn and deserve.


His policy of not having a lot of team rules with specific penalties allowed him to deal with each situation individually.


Ultimately he had just three rules. Be on time, no profanity and never criticize a teammate.


This was a system he came up with after many years and it served him well as a teacher.



Yours in coaching,



Craig Impelman


Twitter: @woodenswisdom



Watch Video

Application Exercise

Favorite Poetry

“There are little eyes upon you
and they're watching night and day.
There are little ears that quickly
take in every word you say.
There are little hands all eager
to do anything you do;
And a little boy who's dreaming
of the day he'll be like you.
You're the little fellow's idol,
you're the wisest of the wise.
In his little mind about you
no suspicions ever rise.
He believes in you devoutly,
holds all you say and do;
He will say and do, in your way
when he's grown up just like you.
There's a wide-eyed little fellow
who believes you're always right;
and his eyes are always opened,
and he watches day and night.
You are setting an example
every day in all you do;
For the little boy who's waiting
to grow up to be like you.

Edgar Guest

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