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“You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for someone without thought of repayment.”

This was one of Coach Wooden’s favorite quotes. It represented his daily approach to life. He eagerly approached each day with the goal of trying to help as many people as he could.

There are numerous stories about Coach that recount how he would sit and talk basketball and life with anybody who solicited his input.

Denny Crum, a former assistant coach, described Coach Wooden this way:

He often talked about the importance of doing something nice for someone every day. It didn’t have to be anything material. It could be just a kind word, a smile or a pat on the back. It was a way of life for him.

Here are a few short verses Coach Wooden found inspirational on the subject of giving:

“If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.” –Emily Dickinson

“Have you had a kindness shown?
Pass it on.
‘Twas not giv’n for thee alone,
Pass it on.
Let it travel down the years,
Let it wipe another’s tears;
Till in Heaven the deed appears,
Pass it on.” –Henry Burton

“I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where….
And the song, from beginning to end,
I found again in the heart of a friend.” –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“There is a destiny that makes us brothers; none goes his way alone. All that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own.” –Edwin Markham

In his book A Game Plan for Life with Don Yeager, Coach describes the influence Mother Teresa had on him:

We all share the same goal—we want to offer a word of kindness and a hand of love to people who have no means to repay us.

This is the most central lesson I can take from Mother Teresa’s life of service: You should never expect a reward in return. The gift is reward enough for the giver.

I remember, in fact, making a resolution after reading another story about Mother Teresa’s work that I would strive to do one kind thing each day for someone who could never return the favor.

If we agree with Mother Teresa that a life not lived for others is not worthwhile, then a day lacking just one simple deed for others is certainly not a complete day.

May all your days be complete.

Related: The Simple Truth of Serving Others

Photo by Angkana Sae-Yang/

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.