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The Pursuit of Wisdom

Wisdom, like the wind, blows on unused, except for those who know the art of sailing.

This reflects advice John Wooden received from his father, Joshua: You’ll never know a thing you didn’t learn from someone else.

Coach Wooden received much wisdom from his deep study of Abraham Lincoln, taking after his father. Joshua was a keen admirer of the president and well read on the subject, which inspired Coach’s own curiosity. And President Lincoln himself gained much of his wisdom from his own in-depth study of the writings of Thomas Jefferson.

Related: Words of Wisdom: UCLA Legend John Wooden

When it came to basketball, Wooden gained a lot of his insight on conditioning, skill and team spirit by observing and studying his college coach, Ward “Piggy” Lambert. And he learned how to structure a detailed, well-executed practice plan when he was a high school coach by observing the practices of the great Notre Dame football coach Frank Leahy.

The wisdom of Joshua Wooden, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Piggy Lambert and Frank Leahy were only valuable to Coach Wooden because he sought it out and used it. Just like the wind is only valuable to the sailor who seeks it out and knows how to sail.

In the wonderful book You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned by Ronald Gallimore and Swen Nater, Coach’s pursuit of basketball wisdom is described this way:

“Coach Wooden employed an organized research and development system, which allowed him to make substantial improvements each year on how he taught basketball.

“At the conclusion of each basketball season, his self-improvement research began. He chose only one topic for each off-season study (for example, defensive rebounding, free throw shooting, etc.) The goal was to uncover all he could learn about a specific subject, draw conclusions and apply it to his teaching.

“Coach Wooden’s premise was the assumption that all the essential truths about each topic existed ‘somewhere,’ but scattered across many sources. Some of the truths were in books, some in the thoughts of successful coaches and athletes, and others were, perhaps, in places he never considered. Some ideas were his own but needed testing, refinement and elaboration.”

What follows in the book is a detailed description of this process, including but not limited to reading all the material available on the subject, researching and contacting the coaches of teams and players who had the most success in the particular area, developing and sending them a survey to express their ideas, and processing the data to reach conclusions which could be applied to help his team.

Coach did all of this before the internet existed.

Imagine how much wind is available in your area of interest today. Happy sailing!

Related: On a Quest for Knowledge? Collect These 11 Wise Quotes

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.