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Knowledge + Preparation + Attention to Detail = Skill

Preparation and attention to detail that is not preceded by knowledge results in activity without achievement, not skill.

As Coach liked to say, if you’re a great teacher and don’t have any knowledge, what are you going to teach?

Knowledge is based on personal experience, research, what we learn from others and, most importantly, proof.

Quantifying whether a teacher in any endeavor is truly knowledgeable in a particular field or simply acting on their opinion (self-concluded thought or untested information they received from somebody else), is a challenging but important distinction to make.

Ronald Gallimore and Roland Tharp, UCLA psychologists, attended 15 practices during Coach Wooden’s 1975 season. There, they recorded and codified 2,326 Wooden teaching acts during 30 hours of practice into 10 discreet categories (Psychology Today January 1976 and The Sports Psychologist 2004).

They were a little surprised by some of the data. Here is an excerpt from the study:

In direct contrast to the techniques advocated by many behavior modifiers, praise is a minor feature of Wooden’s teaching methods.

Total positive reinforcements, verbals and nonverbals, constitute 6.9% of total acts. But scolds add up to 14.6% (total of scolds 6.8% and scolds/reinstruction 8%). Wooden scolds twice as much as he rewards.

Before drawing a conclusion from this, I would recommend you read the entire study. A little bit of knowledge is dangerous.

I regard Paul Hoover as knowledgeable on shooting technique. Paul and his staff analyzed 10,000+ video clips of professional and college players (men and women) shooting and broke down the common components all great shooters have in their shot.

Their study encompassed almost every NBA player. Like Thorpe and Gallimore, Hoover’s results were surprising:

  • None of the great shooters square their shoulders to the basket. They all have their feet turned (to varying degrees) and have their shooting shoulder turned toward the basket.
  • None of the great shooters go straight up and down. All the great shooters have their feet move forward slightly and their shoulders slightly back creating a sway at the release point.
  • On three point shots, all the great shooters bring the ball down (dip) before they bring it up, creating rhythm and hand speed.

Like Thorpe and Gallimore, Hoover’s conclusions are based on data not opinion.

Coach Wooden established his practice routine for free throws after thorough research, questionnaires to the top free throw shooters and coaches, and a complete statistical analysis.

He acquired knowledge before embarking on repetition.

When you are presented with information and wish to know if it is knowledge, ask the presenter the five magic words: How do you know that? 

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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.