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The Most Important Thing Is Love

Love as an action has many dimensions. One is being nice to people even if they are not being nice to you.

This sentence is a summary of Coach John Wooden’s philosophy and how he lived his life.

The most important thing I learned from his example was to respond with love to everybody and every situation. “RWL” became a cheer. I asked the team I was working with to make a list of all the people and situations they were angry or upset about and determine how to respond with love to all of them.

Coach Wooden’s philosophy started with his father, who, in the evenings after the chores were done, on the porch of their farm, would read the Bible to his sons, followed by poetry.

The following passage from the Bible became one of John Wooden’s favorites:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.

His father reinforced this value when he gave Coach a little card when he graduated from middle school. On one side, he had copied down a poem that he loved by Henry van Dyke:

Four things a man must learn to do
If he would make his record true:
To think without confusion clearly,
To love his fellow man sincerely,
To act from honest motives purely,
To trust in God and Heaven securely.

Coach described the impact this way: Over the years, the poem’s message made more and more sense: seek clarity of thought, fill your heart with love and compassion for others, be honest and fair, and trust in the good Lord.

Related: Coach Wooden’s Life Lessons: The 4 Things a Man Must Learn to Do

The evening before he passed away, Coach was visited in the hospital by Dudley Rutherford, who would be conducting his memorial. Coach had selected Scriptures for the service:

  • Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.
  • Love your neighbor as yourself.

Dudley asked Coach, “Do you still want the same Scripture for your service regarding love?”
Coach had not spoken much that day and nodded his head.
Dudley then asked, “Coach, are these two things, loving God and loving your neighbor, things you believe you have done in your life?”
Coach replied quietly, “Working on it.”
Dudley said, “Which one are you working on now, Coach?”
Coach replied, “Loving God.”

Coach Wooden started and finished his life the same way: with love.

In this great world, we get the chance to keep working on both.

PHOTO BY @scenesnapper via Twenty20

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.