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Issue 62 - A Good Place to Find a Helping Hand is at the End of Your Arm

Woodens Wisdom
Wooden's Wisdom - Volume 2 Issue 62
Craig Impelman Speaking |  Championship Coaches |  Champion's Leadership Library Login



After the 1961-62 season, John Wooden embraced this idea with regard to the way that he approached coaching his basketball team. It led to the greatest dynasty in the history of college athletics.
Prior to the 1961-62 season, Coach Wooden had been at UCLA for 13 years. His teams had been in the NCAA tournament three times. In 1950 they lost in the opening round to BYU 83-62. In 1952 they lost the opening round to Oklahoma City 55-53. In 1956 they lost in the opening round to University of San Francisco 72-61.
Given the strict academic requirements and antiquated facilities at UCLA, Coach Wooden felt he was limited in how much he could accomplish.
In his book Wooden on Leadership with Steve Jamison, Coach described his outlook:
At the beginning of the 1961-62 season, I’d been coaching basketball at UCLA for 13 years in conditions I would describe as harsh. Perhaps they were as bad as any major university in the country. Our practice facility, the Men’s Gym, was cramped and poorly ventilated. It was often jammed with student-athletes participating in other sporting activities during our basketball practices. There was constant commotion and distraction—hardly a place to teach or learn the finer points of basketball. Additionally, the seating area for fans was so limited that it was declared a fire hazard and “home” games were subsequently played at other local schools. The facility also hurt us when it came to attracting players with exceptional talent. Many, no doubt, chose programs that offered decent facilities.
I was confronted with this situation immediately upon my arrival at UCLA and soon concluded it was virtually impossible to achieve my teaching goals under such conditions. It also had an impact on my assessment of the possibility of winning a national championship; specifically, in the back of my mind, I just felt there was no chance that UCLA would ever be able to go all the way.
The results of the 1962 NCAA tournament were a surprise for Coach’s UCLA team and caused a change in his approach. Coach described it this way:
Much to the complete surprise of everyone, our unheralded 1961–1962 UCLA basketball team advanced all the way to the Final Four before we lost 72–70 to Cincinnati in the final seconds of the game.
Our near-victory was a revelation to me. Much to my surprise, UCLA had nearly won the 1962 NCAA basketball championship. Suddenly—shockingly—it became clear that our inadequate basketball facility, the Men’s Gym, did not mean we couldn’t win the national title.
If I had been using the Men’s Gym as a rationale for poor performance in past NCAA playoff appearances—I couldn’t use it any more. A subconscious barrier had been removed; a light went on. No longer could I tell myself “no”; no longer could I be comfortable with the status quo. I now knew what I should have understood long before, namely, UCLA could go all the way to the top despite the Men’s Gym. It was up to me to to figure out how to do it.
 There would be no excuses in the future, only a ceaseless search for solutions.
Following that startling breakthrough in 1962, I began an intense and comprehensive review of what I was doing and how I could do it better. Meticulously, I began searching for changes that would allow UCLA to consistently be more competitive in postseason play with the sure belief that the answers would take us to the next level. Soon enough, I found them.
In 1964 and 1965 with the Men’s Gym as its practice facility UCLA won its first two national championships.
Is there a “Men’s Gym” that’s holding you back? The key to unlock its door might be "at the end of your arm”.
Yours in Coaching,
Craig Impelman
Twitter: @woodenswisdom



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Application Exercise

Favorite Poetry

The Champ

Conditioned for the task supreme

Confident in coach and team;

Courageous when the going's rough,

Champions never say “enough”!


Heart, to meet the games that break;

Heads, to know just what it takes;

Hands, that work through thick and thin;

Honest champions play to win.


Ambitious to develop now

Abilities that God endows,

Aiming high to meet the test

A champion wants to be the best.


Marked and watched where’re they go;

Model traits they have to show.

Mulish, if in defeat,

Modest in the victor’s seat.


Practice, practice, ever on the move,

Plugging daily to improve.

Perfection? That they'll never see,

Peerless champs just try to be.


C. M. Cosh

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