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“Rings and jewels are not gifts but apologies for gifts. The only true gift is a portion of thyself.”

This quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson was a favorite of Coach John Wooden’s, as the idea is central to successful leadership.

The three key components of a good relationship between a leader and the team—friendship, loyalty and cooperation—can only be developed if the leader gives of himself or herself.

When Coach Wooden coached basketball at UCLA, practice began every day at 3 p.m. The players knew that Coach would be sitting courtside every day at 2:30 p.m. He was there in case they wanted to discuss anything personal, academic or athletic. They knew he would listen intently and with an open mind. He gave his opinion only if asked and was never judgmental. They knew he cared about them beyond how many points they could score.

Friendship begins when you can count on the other person always being there.

Loyalty begins when the other person knows you are interested in them beyond what they can do for you.

Cooperation begins when they know you will listen with an open mind.

These three things cannot be paid for with money; they require a true gift as Mr. Emerson said—a portion of thyself.

Coach set a great example by giving of himself to all with whom he came in contact, not just his basketball teams.

In the book by Pat Williams, How to Be Like Coach Wooden, a junior high coach, Bruce Brown, recounted his experience with Coach after hearing him speak at a coaching clinic in Seattle:

I found myself last in a long line of coaches. I waited, growing more nervous as the line shortened. When it came my turn to talk to Coach Wooden, I introduced myself as “Bruce Brown, a coach at Hyak Junior High, Bellevue, Washington.”

In the excitement of the moment, I do not remember much else of what I said, except something about using his Pyramid of Success for our football and basketball players. He seemed genuinely interested and sincere during the short conversation.

The entire interaction could not have lasted more than two minutes.

About two weeks later, I received a letter addressed to “Bruce Brown, Hyak Junior High, Bellevue, Washington” with a UCLA return address. Inside the envelope was a copy of the Pyramid of Success signed, Best Wishes, John Wooden.

What a great lesson in humbleness from the greatest coach of all time. This lesson has stayed with me through three decades of working with young people.

There is no price tag that can be put on us giving of ourselves, and as Mr. Emerson said, it is a true gift.

Related: The ‘Working With You, Not for You’ Principle

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.