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Issue 60 - If You Sacrifice Principle You End Up Pleasing No One

Woodens Wisdom
Wooden's Wisdom - Volume 2 Issue 60
Craig Impelman Speaking |  Championship Coaches |  Champion's Leadership Library Login



This maxim of Coach Wooden’s is a great reminder of a key principle Coach Wooden learned from his father: “Be true to yourself”.

In the book Coach Wooden by Pat Williams, two of Coach Wooden’s former players commented on what they took away from this idea in their lives:

Dave Meyers (UCLA: 1971-75), former NBA star and currently a teacher, summarized his lessons this way:  “If you are not maintaining self-control then you are not being true to yourself. You are letting your circumstances or your emotions or the actions of other people control you. To be true to yourself, you have to be in control of yourself. When I played for Coach Wooden, he used to tell the team, ‘If you can’t control yourself, others will do it for you. And if you’re not controlling yourself, you’re not helping the team.’

Andy Hill (UCLA: 1969-73), who became an accomplished television producer and author of the  book: Be Quick but Don’t Hurry, shared this insightful perspective: Those players who fought with John Wooden the hardest ultimately became his most outspoken advocates. That’s because he let them fight. He wasn’t intimidated by a player who had his own opinions. Coach was totally secure in who he was.

I believe these are valuable lessons to share with our young people, because they are sometimes in difficult social situations due to peer pressure. Rather than “going along to get along” they should have a value system that will guide them to make the right decision. Doing the right thing is more important than meeting the expectations of their peers.

The following two stories powerfully illustrate Coach Wooden's consistency in being true to his life guiding principles.

As was detailed in Issue #18; Coach Wooden, in his first year as a college coach, refused an invitation to the 1948 NAIA National Championship tournament because Clarence Walker, an African-American player, would have been prohibited from participating solely because of his race.

Again, from the book Coach Wooden, Pat Williams recounts a meeting Coach Wooden participated in, prior to his last season as a college coach:

In 1974, Coach Wooden and his assistant coaches were called to the office of UCLA athletic director J. D. Morgan. “We just received an offer from one of the television networks,” Morgan said. “The network has offered UCLA a lot of money if we will play North Carolina State as the opening game of the upcoming season.” Just a few weeks earlier, the N.C. State Wolfpack had stunned the heavily favored UCLA Bruins in the opening round of the Final Four. The network thought that opening the season with a rematch between the two teams would be a ratings sensation. But as Morgan laid out the terms of the offer, there was one big hitch: The game would be scheduled on a Sunday, the day Coach Wooden set aside as a day of rest. Coach and his wife, Nell, never missed a Sunday attending church in Santa Monica. After church, their children and grandchildren usually came over for Sunday dinner. Would Coach be willing to forego his weekly ritual for this opportunity? Morgan asked the two assistant coaches, Gary Cunningham and Frank Arnold, what they thought of the offer? Both assistants said they would prefer not to play on Sunday but would do what they had to do. But they both knew it wasn’t their opinion that really counted. Morgan turned to Coach Wooden for his response. “Well, Coach? What do you think about the offer?”

“J. D.,” Coach said gently, “if you want to schedule that game on Sunday afternoon, go right ahead. But I won’t be there.” With that, the discussion was over. There would be no Sunday game.

In his first season and his last season nothing had changed. John Wooden remembered: If you sacrifice principle trying to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.

Yours in coaching,


Craig Impelman



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Application Exercise

Favorite Poetry


I have to live with myself and so
I want to be fit for myself to know,
I want to be able as days go by,
To look at myself straight in the eye.
I don't want to stand with the setting sun
And hate myself for the things I've done.

I don't want to hide on a closet shelf
A lot of secrets about myself,
And fool myself as I come and go
Into thinking that nobody else will know
What kind of man I really am;
I don't want to dress myself in sham.

I want to go with my head erect,
I want to deserve all men's respect
And in this struggle for fame and wealth
I want to be able to like myself.
I don't want to look at myself and know
That I am a bluster and empty show.

I cannot hide myself from me;
I can see what others can never see;
I know what others can never know,
I cannot fool myself, and so

Whatever happens, I want to be
Self-respecting and conscience free.

Edgar A. Guest





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