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role models

Young people need good models more than they need critics.

This was a cornerstone of Coach Wooden’s approach to coaching and teaching. In his book Wisdom of Wooden, Coach explained the idea:

In the 1940s, I wrote this reminder to myself of the responsibilities I assumed as a coach, English teacher and mentor at South Bend Central High School in Indiana.

My teachers made me a better person. After my father, my teachers had the most profound impact on my life. I relished the opportunity to do for others what they had done for me.

No written word or 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.

Coach recognized it was the example of his role models—his father, his grade school coach Earl Warriner, his high school coach Glenn Curtis and his college coach Piggy Lambert—that shaped his philosophy.

Coach described the example of Earl Warriner:

Earl Warriner became a lifelong friend, but before that he was the principal and my very first basketball coach at Centerton Grade school. “There are some things more important than winning a game,” he cautioned me as I was sent to the bench. “No single player is more important than the team.” I learned my lesson and taught that lesson to my own teams in later years: The star of the team is the team.

In a Game Plan for Life, Coach described the example of Glenn Curtis:

I learned from Coach Curtis that the coach should try to keep players from being emotional in basketball. If emotions such as anger, frustration or overblown pride get in the way of control, the game is in trouble. He set the example by seeming to be completely unrattled by the noise around him. Coach Curtis rarely, if ever, seemed to lose his composure.

Maintaining emotional balance became an essential trait for Coach Wooden.

In The Wisdom of Wooden, Coach described the example of Piggy Lambert:

My college coach, “Piggy” Lambert, was superb in working with those under his supervision. He had an acute understanding of human nature and was the primary model for my own approach to coaching (although it took many years to fully incorporate his skills).

Coach Lambert was a tough disciplinarian. He could be stern, but he never stooped to letting it get personal, never embarrassed or humiliated those he coached. Tough, but fair. Those were his watchwords. I tried to make them mine.

As a youth, Coach was lucky to have good role models that shaped his thinking. We all in some way have the opportunity to provide a good model to our youth each day.

Related: 10 Traits of an Effective Teacher

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.