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Coach John Wooden Pyramid of Success

How to Set a Good ExampleCoach Wooden established four essential components of being a successful coach: the coach as a philosopher, as an example, as a teacher and as a leader. Let’s talk about what it means to be a teacher.

Related: John Wooden’s Leadership Legacy

An important characteristic of being an effective teacher is setting a good example. Consistent behavior provides an example, and it can only be produced if we have a philosophy that governs our actions. Without a philosophy, our actions will lack consistency because they will simply be reactions to the behaviors of others.

Coach’s philosophy guided his personal behavior. That created the example he set, which was his greatest teaching tool as a coach. One of Coach Wooden’s favorite poems summarizes this idea:

No written word
Nor spoken plea
Can teach our youth
What they should be.

Nor all the books
On all the shelves.
It’s what the teachers
Are themselves.

In his book Practical Modern Basketball, Coach Wooden discussed the coach’s role as a teacher in the following manner:

“Since the most important responsibility of a coach in regard to the actual playing of the game is to teach his players properly and effectively to execute the various fundamentals of the game, he is, first of all, a teacher.”

Coach continued by explaining the laws of learning:

“A fundamental must be explained and demonstrated, the correct demonstration must be imitated by the players, their demonstration must be constructively criticized and corrected, and then the players must repeat and repeat the execution of the proper model until the correct habit has been formed to the point where they will react instinctively in the correct manner.”

Related: 5 Essential Lessons You Can Learn From Basketball

The work environment following the laws of learning can be beneficial. Sometimes we hurriedly give a team member an assignment with a deadline and walk away. We are disappointed when the work product does not meet our expectations. This delegation technique can be described as “drop and run,” and it is a methodology that does not always produce desirable results.

Coach would caution us: “Be quick but don’t hurry.”

“If you do not have the time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

The first step in the laws of learning explanation is communicating the purpose of the task, and sometimes how it fits in the big picture. This communication helps transform an employee into a team member. In the delegation/teaching process, it is helpful to feed our team members the corporate breakfast of champions: facilitate feedback. The simple question, “What are your thoughts?” will further energize the team members as they begin to understand that they are truly working with you, not for you.

The steps of demonstration, imitation of demonstration and constructive criticism of the imitation are critical as they ensure that you and the team member are both on the same page.

The extra five minutes you spend in following the laws of learning when assigning a task may seem like a lot in today’s fast-paced business environment. But the value of taking the extra time is encapsulated in one of Coach’s favorite quotes: “If you do not have the time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

Confucius provided a student’s perspective on the art of learning: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

As Coach liked to say: “You haven’t taught until they have learned.”

Related: John Wooden’s Legacy Is a How-To Guide for a Successful Life

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.