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“The worst thing you can do for those you love is the things they could and should do for themselves.” –Abraham Lincoln

In his book A Game Plan for Life with Don Yaeger, Coach provided the following commentary on Lincoln and this key idea:

One of the first things that stood out to me about Lincoln’s life was the way he handled adversity.

His mother died while he was still very young. He didn’t have consistent access to schooling, so he taught himself. He was defeated in his first attempt at public office. He filed for bankruptcy. He was unlucky in love. He lost three times in his bid for the U.S. Senate.

But he persevered. Because he had not been spared the harsh realities of life—the heartaches and the disappointments—he could deal with the larger trials that awaited him down the road.

Lincoln himself once said, “The worst thing you can do for those you love is the things they could and should do for themselves.”

He fiercely believed in self-sufficiency, and in the maturity and character that struggles and hardships can bring.

This lesson is so important for teachers and parents. It is only natural for us to want to shield our students and our children from anything that might possibly cause them hurt or to suffer or even to be uncomfortable.

But some degree of pain is necessary for a person to become suited for the responsibilities that lay ahead.

We, as parents, I think, deprive our children (the ones we love the most and want to help the most) of the development of initiative by making decisions for them too long in certain areas.

Give them the opportunity to fail. Let them learn from it so they won’t make that same mistake over again when you are not there, telling them what or what not to do.

Related: Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Failure

In the same book, Bob Vigars, a mentee of Coach’s, a special education teacher, describes how he applies this idea with his students:

Often, my students come to my class discouraged because they have been told they aren’t smart enough to learn in a regular classroom.

I always remind them that it’s not that we can’t learn; it’s that we learn differently. And here I turn to the quote that I probably rely on more than anything else: “Nothing will work unless you do.”

It is essential to my teaching that my students have a sense of ownership and responsibility in their own education.

Sometimes my students will get wrapped around a particularly challenging lesson and want me to just fill in the answer rather than walking them through the steps of solving it.

“I can’t pick up your pencil,” I tell them. “If I do that you’re not learning anything. Doing the work makes the difference between learning and not learning.”

Related: Nothing Will Work Unless You Do

Photo by Anna Samoylova / Unsplash

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.