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Issue 6 - Drink Deeply From Good Books

Woodens Wisdom
Wooden's Wisdom - Volume 1 Issue 6
Craig Impelman Speaking |  Championship Coaches |  Champion's Leadership Library Login


Click here to watch video clip of Coach Wooden

 This issue of The Wooden Way is devoted to the fourth item of Coach Wooden’s seven point creed, “Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.”

Coach had a great love for reading, as he understood that poetry, biographies and other great books would enrich his life. He would often comment on this in speeches he gave after retirement from coaching, saying “Familiarize yourself with Lloyd Douglas’ The Robe and The Magnificent Obsession. Read Shakespeare, Tennyson and other great authors. They can make you a little better than you are.”


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Coach’s love of reading was instilled in him as a child by his father, who would read the Scriptures and poetry to his children each evening. Over his lifetime, Coach read countless books, including more than forty books each about his favorite historical figures, Mother Theresa and Abraham Lincoln. His interest in Lincoln was another gift from his father, who had read many of Lincoln’s works himself, and often quoted Lincoln’s wisdom. Through his own study of Lincoln, Coach learned the important lessons of overcoming life’s obstacles and moving quickly past failure. By taking every opportunity to learn from the greatest historical figures such as Lincoln, Coach was able to use their wisdom to enhance and expand his own wisdom and philosophies.


One example of how Coach Wooden applied the wisdom of a great historical figure is demonstrated in how he viewed disagreements with his assistant coaches. One of Coach’s favorite books was Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. The book documents Lincoln’s decision to appoint several of his former political opponents to fill important posts in his presidential cabinet. Lincoln felt that by not surrounding himself with “yes-men,” his ideas would receive honest criticism and inspire spirited debate that would help to make his policies more balanced and well-reasoned.


Whenever Coach Wooden had a disagreement with a member of his coaching staff, he applied what he learned about Lincoln’s approach to disagreement, and he would embrace the conflict. Coach liked being challenged by his assistant coaches because it helped improve his decisions and demonstrated that his assistant coaches were equally passionate about the team’s success. Coach actively encouraged his staff to voice contradictory opinions; after getting everyone’s input and debating their suggestions, he would decide the best course of action. Then, they would all commit to it and move forward.


“Drink deeply from good books,” does not necessarily have to be applied exclusively to books, for the universal concept behind it is learning from others. Coach Wooden's father used to say, “You'll never know a thing without learning it from someone else.” In the video clip accompanying this issue, Coach speaks briefly about how he studied and learned from his competition. Each summer after basketball season, Coach would choose a different topic, such as the jump shot, free throw shooting or attacking the zone, and then would create an improvement study project. He would develop a questionnaire, send it out to coaches and players who excelled in the given discipline, and follow up with a personal call. He was fully engaged in studying and learning from others how to teach and improve his team’s ability to better execute that particular skill. He continued this practice through his very last season of coaching.


As usual, Coach gave us some insightful maxims to help convey his feelings on the benefits of reading, and by extension, learning:

“If I am through learning, I am through.”


“It is what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

“The worst thing about new books is they keep us from reading the old ones.”


The block on the Pyramid of Success that best exemplifies the importance of drinking deeply from good books is Condition, which is defined as: “Mental-Moral-Physical. Rest, exercise and diet must be considered. Moderation must be practiced. Dissipation must be eliminated.” Indeed, reading good books and constantly learning from others are great ways to condition one’s mind.


 Click here for personal development exercise

Yours in coaching,


Craig Impelman


Twitter:  @woodenswisdom

Application Exercise

Favorite POETRY

Beyond the festive caps and gowns,
Beyond the PhDs,
Beyond the books that filled the minds
Of those who earned degrees,
A greater knowledge will commence,
For those who heed the call--
What counts the most is what you learn
After you know it all.

All graduated pedagogues,
When teaching, find in turn,
Those books on what to teach had failed
To show how children learn.

And they will soon discover that
Each child who owns a name
Is different and unique, and so,
They all don’t learn the same.

The class roomed coach
who learned, the boys
Are Xs and are Os,
Become adept at leadership
The moment that he knows,

Those boys need teacher-shepherds who
Will guide their little lambs
To execute the truths of life
Beyond the diagrams.

Oh decorated graduate,
Once past that college wall,
What counts the most is what you learn,
After you know it all.

~Swen Nater

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