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Issue 54 - Never Make Excuses

Woodens Wisdom
Wooden's Wisdom - Volume 2 Issue 54
Craig Impelman Speaking |  Championship Coaches |  Champion's Leadership Library Login




Coach Wooden's father Joshua had given John Wooden and his brothers  " Two Sets of Three". The second set of three was: “Don't Whine, Don't Complain, Don't Make Excuses”. As described in a previous issue Joshua Wooden had modeled this behavior by his reaction when he had lost his farm, his wife’s inheritance and life savings as a result of being sold a bad vaccine for his hogs.

In his book with Steve Jamison, My Personal Best, Coach Wooden describes the impact of his father's example:

He believed you should do your best, and if the results were unsatisfactory, keep quiet about it and work harder next time. As instructive as it was to hear him recite the two sets of threes, seeing him abide by them as he lost the farm had a most powerful effect on me. That's where I came to see that what you do is more important than what you say you'll do. People say they'll do all kinds of things.

One of his players that Coach Wooden admired the most was his great All-American center Kareem Abdul Jabbar, formally known as Lewis Alcindor. In My Personal Best, Coach explains why:

During his playing days at UCLA, Lewis was subjected to treatment I had never seen or heard before, even in the old Jim Crow days when we traveled to Kansas City with Clarence Walker for the NAIB tournament. Lewis bewildered people; his extreme height, color, athletic ability, and celebrity along with UCLA's dominance of college basketball at the time were just more than some could handle. Their comments reflected an opinion that Lewis was a spectacle, "some thing" rather than someone, an object and not a man. On one occasion, a woman seeing Lewis for the first time pointed her finger at him and said within earshot, "Will you just look at that big, black freak!" as if he was a creature in the zoo. I explained to him the cruel comment—and others—was not racist, but simply shock, amazement, and awe. Lewis understood there was more to the woman's comment than just shock. He knew racism in a way I couldn't. Through it all—the crude comments, the racial invectives, the physical pounding officials allowed opponents to give him, the discomforts of being extraordinarily tall (airplane seats, hotel beds, doorways, chairs, clothes, showers, cars, phone booths, taxis, classroom desks—nothing was sized for a seven footer, and everything became a source of minute-to-minute aggravation). Lewis Alcindor never complained, whined, or made excuses. This was true on small issues as well as big ones.

In his book A Game Plan for Life with Don Yaeger, Coach Wooden summarized his admiration for Kareem:

Like my father, Lewis never complained or made excuses, no matter the situation… Despite the things others said or did, he always managed his own behavior in ways that would make any parent—or mentor—proud. There are not many people I’ve compared favorably to my father, but I know he would be proud to have Lewis on that list.

I suspect Kareem's mental approach had a lot to do with his amazing consistency and was certainly a great example of one of my favorite Wooden's Wisdoms:

Complaining, whining, making excuses just keeps you out of the present. That's where self-control comes in. Self-control keeps you in the present. Strive to maintain self-control.


Yours in coaching,



Craig Impelman




Watch Video

Application Exercise

Favorite Poetry

“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 Earth

and everything that's in it

And--which is more--

you'll be a Man, my son!

~ Rudyard Kipling

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