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Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success

“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” —Lao Tzu

“Kindness in words creates confidence” was such an important part of Coach Wooden’s communication style, which was effective in helping his players develop confidence and pride in what they did. It is also true that being demeaning, derogatory on a personal level or condescending in words does not create confidence, and Coach was never any of these things.

In his book Coach Wooden’s Leadership Game Plan for Success, he put it this way:

I was often critical of players, but I tried hard to avoid personal attacks, embarrassment or demeaning comments, which would make them less likely to take my criticism to heart.

Doug McIntosh, a former player and a member of the 1964 and 1966 National Championship teams, described Coach this way: “He was strict, but there was no sense of fear of him by players. We knew there was nothing personal in his criticism or comments.”

Coach’s words of kindness were impactful because they were sincere, not excessive. In his book Wooden on Leadership, he expanded on the idea:

Positive words become meaningless when offered habitually and excessively. I avoided the phrase, “That’s great.” Instead, I would say, “Good, very good, getting better.” I kept in mind that how I conveyed information was often as important as the information itself. My tone was measured and my demeanor controlled.

About 85% of Coach’s communication was simply instructive. His players were not distracted by undue criticism or undeserved compliments from his communication.

As a result they were able to focus on the instruction he was giving and build confidence in themselves.

This formula works equally well on and off the court.

Photo by GaudiLab/

Craig Impelman
As Coach Wooden’s grandson-in-law, Craig Impelman had the opportunity to learn Coach’s teachings firsthand and wrote about those lessons for his site, He is a motivational speaker and the author of Wooden’s Wisdom, a weekly “e-coaching module” that is distributed to companies nationally.