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dignity and respect

Treat all people with dignity and respect.

This phrase represents a key instruction that John Wooden received from his father, and it later became a cornerstone of his own philosophy—advice that he insisted his basketball teams follow.

Related: John Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: ‘Help Others’

Dignity is defined in the dictionary as, “the quality or state of being worthy, honored, or esteemed.”

Coach went out of his way to make everybody he met feel this way. In How to Be Like Coach Wooden: Life Lessons from Basketball’s Greatest Leader by Pat Williams, Mike Tschirret, former high school coach, athletic director and principal in Florida, recounted an encounter he had with Coach Wooden:

In 1974, I made a trip to the Final Four in Greensboro, North Carolina. I was eating breakfast with some other high school coaches on the Saturday of the semifinals, in which UCLA would be playing.

All of a sudden, John Wooden walked over to our table and asked, “Do you mind if an old man joins you?”

We ended up talking with him for about 90 minutes, about basketball, life in general, religion and all sorts of things.

At one point I asked, “Coach, don’t you have anything better to do than talk to a bunch of high school coaches—especially when you have to play such an important game today?” He just smiled and said, “I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.”

Coach was more interested in other people than himself. He made them feel important.

That’s treating people with dignity.

Whether it’s a busboy at a restaurant, a bagger at a supermarket, an elderly neighbor or a homeless person, we all have that same opportunity every day.

Respect has been defined in part as, “an act of giving particular attention or consideration.”

Respect for everyone is a core value that Coach learned from his father Joshua. In his book with Don Yeager, A Game Plan for Life, Coach described his father’s influence this way:

“Remember this,” he used to say to us. “You’re as good as anybody. But never forget you’re no better than anybody, either.”

He stressed the balance between pride in oneself and humility of spirit. “Don’t look down on anybody. Don’t look down on them,” he’d say.

I remember his exact words because his adherence to them never wavered. My father’s spirit of gentleness came to be one of the trademarks of my coaching. He never yelled, never grew angry and treated everyone with respect.

In interviews, I was inevitably asked about why I sat on the bench with a rolled-up program in my hand rather than pacing the sidelines, hollering out directions to the players and objections to the referees.

The answer to that is simple: I did what my father would have done.

Every day we have the opportunity to treat all people with dignity and respect. It will make those we meet feel better, make us feel better and set a good example for all who observe us.

It is very contagious!

Related: The Qualities of a Humble Leader

Photo by Gutesa/

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.