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Is Your Way the Best Way?

“Be most interested in finding the best way, not in having your own way.” –John Wooden

Coach Wooden believed a person would need a certain way of thinking if they wished to gain the cooperation of others in any endeavor.

In his book with Steve Jamison, Wooden on Leadership, he put it this way:

As a leader, you must be sincerely committed to what’s right rather than who’s right.

It is often difficult for a strong-willed leader to incorporate cooperation, because listening to others, evaluating—embracing—their opinions and creativity may seem to suggest uncertainty and doubt about your own judgment and convictions.

An effective leader understands that it is a sign of strength to welcome honest differences and new ways of thinking, from those on your team as well as from others.

Progress is difficult when you won’t listen. Cooperation is impossible if we refuse to consider the merits of contrary opinions.

I recently came across an article by former North Carolina Coach Dean Smith, a Hall of Fame coach and person, which provided a great example of a coach who was most interested in finding the best way, not in having his own way.

The topic of the article was the invention of the run and jump defense in 1952, a basketball strategy that’s elements are now utilized by basketball coaches all over the world at all levels.

Coach Smith described it this way:

The “Run and Jump” is a rotating man-to-man defense.

It all began, as far as I am concerned, back in the 1952-53 season at the University of Kansas. We were in true pressure defense, as outlined by Dr. Phog Allen, our head coach, and assistant, Dick Harp.

One of our players during those years was an extremely competitive athlete by the name of Al Kelley.

It was in practice that I remember Al guarding a defensive man one pass away from the ball. A guard began dribbling in his direction. Al left his man completely to take the ball away from the dribbler about 10 feet away.

Of course, the man guarding the dribbler automatically reacted by picking up Al’s man, although he was probably upset with Al for not doing what he was supposed to do.

However, Dick Harp, the assistant coach, actually congratulated Al for making things happen, even though he fouled the ball handler when he surprised him.

It became part of our basic man-to-man pressure. This is how the “Run and Jump” came into being, as far as I can remember.

Sixty-one years later, a key strategy invented by a player and supported by a coach who was more interested in the best way rather than his own way, still influences basketball around the world.

What key ideas from your team members have you implemented to improve performance?

Related: It’s What You Learn After You Know It All That Counts

Photo by ESB Professional /

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.