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Never Criticize Others

You cannot truly be judged by what others say about you, but you can be judged by what you say about others.

This was an important part of Coach Wooden’s personal philosophy. Don’t be overly concerned about what others say about you, and never say an unkind word about another person.

One of Coach’s great qualities was never speaking ill about somebody else; it was something he learned from his father. In his book with Steve Jamison, The Essential Wooden: A Lifetime of Lessons on Leaders and Leadership,Coach described his father’s example:

I never—not once—heard my father say an unkind word about another person. This is hard to do, but he accomplished it. He believed that saying bad things about others is a bad habit.

For all the shortcomings I see in others, I keep in mind that my own failings are many. Tempting as it is to count up and call out when others stumble and fall in their behavior—to shake my head and wag a finger—I attempt to follow Dad’s example.

In his book with Don Yaeger, A Game Plan for Life,Coach expanded on how his father’s example impacted the way he talked about his players:

I would never publicly criticize a player for poor performance. Even in moments of extreme frustration, I would check myself because it just didn’t seem right—because it didn’t seem like something my father would have done.

I admired my father’s refusal to speak badly about others, but I don’t think I necessarily set out to make that a rule for myself. I imagine I considered that to be too lofty a goal. Yet as time went on, I found it was a practice that had etched itself onto my soul, so that if I ever slipped up on that matter, I felt pain rather than satisfaction.

Coach’s practice of keeping it positive was also something he insisted his players do. One of his three rules for practice was never criticize a teammate. If a player violated this rule, he was subject to being kicked out of practice for the day.

Sometimes when people say negative things about others, they are doing it to strike back or get even for something negative that was said about them. Coach liked two great quotes that summarized why he thought such a reaction was not a good use of our time and energy: “Time spent getting even would be better spent trying to get ahead.”

We have all heard the comment, “I never heard him or her say a bad word about anybody,” given about somebody as a compliment. I think that would be a great thing to hear about ourselves, as well.

Related: Why You Should Always Look for the Best in People

Photo by Monkey Business Images/

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.