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tell the truth

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.” –Mark Twain

Coach John Wooden’s father used to give him similar instructions: If you always tell the truth, you will not have to remember what you said.  

It is a great self-reminder when we are asked a question that we are expected to know the answer to but don’t. If we think about this idea, we will be very comfortable simply saying those three words that develop trust: I don’t know, rather than making something up that “sounds good.”

It is also a great reminder that prevents us from exaggerating things in an attempt to impress somebody else to get a desired result in the short run.

This simple tell the truth approach was a cornerstone of Coach Wooden’s communication when he was recruiting prospective student athletes. In his book with Don Yaeger, A Game Plan for Life, Coach described it this way:

Hand in hand with consistency come honesty and trust. When a teacher or a coach or any kind of mentor is consistent in his or her principles, it creates trust between the mentor and the people he or she is mentoring.

I never tried to talk a student into coming to UCLA. I tried to show him what was there and what to expect, and I never told him he was going to play; I told him he would have the opportunity to play, and if he was good enough, then he’d be able to.

Instead, I would tell each student that if he did choose to attend UCLA—and I hoped he would—that he would be very unhappy his first year.

“You’re going to be away from home and your parents and all the things you’ve known for a number of years,” I’d explain. “It’s going to be very different academically and you’re going to wish you had gone someplace else.

But let me tell you this: If you had gone someplace else, it would be the same thing and you’d wonder what would have happened if you’d gone to UCLA. So there you go. Think it over.”

Coach Wooden had very few players over the years that transferred to other schools because they were disappointed with their playing time.

They stayed, in part, because they had a great relationship with Coach Wooden, which had started with the strongest of all foundations: the truth!

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.