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careful planning

“There is no substitute for work. Worthwhile results come from hard work and careful planning.” –John Wooden

This quote by Coach Wooden represents the cornerstone of his approach to coaching and life.

In his book The Essential Wooden with Steve Jamison, Coach listed three of his assets and three of his liabilities:

Three of my Assets

  1. I am meticulous.
  2. I am organized and very good at time management.
  3. I do not feel pressure, because my dad taught me not to measure myself in comparison to others but rather on the quality of my efforts to improve.

Three of my Liabilities

  1. I’ve had to work hard at being patient.
  2. I’ve had to work hard on self-control of my emotions.
  3. I’ve had to work hard on seeing shades of gray rather than only black and white.

Coach recognized he had to balance his attention to detail, hard work and careful planning with patience.

In his book Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court with Steve Jamison, Coach describes his planning process for practice:

I would spend almost as much time planning a practice as conducting it. Everything was listed on 3 x 5 cards down to the very last detail.

Everything was planned out each day. In fact, in my later years at UCLA, I would spend two hours every morning with my assistants, organizing that day’s practice session (even though the practice itself might be less than two hours long).

I kept a record of every practice session in a loose-leaf notebook for future reference. I kept notes with the specifics of every minute of every hour of every practice we ever had at UCLA.

When I planned a day’s practice, I looked back to see what we’d done on the corresponding day the previous year and the year before that.

By doing that, I could track the practice routines of every single player for every single practice session he participated in while I was coaching him.

Coach recognized that while he had great attention to detail and careful planning as part of his DNA, he needed to make things simple for his players and not stifle their initiative.

In his book Wooden on Leadership, Coach discussed a change he made to his approach to NCAA tournament play after the 1962 season that he felt was important in his later success:

My notes showed that in preparation for the NCAA tournament, I added new plays and piled on more information. Instead of staying with what had worked during the regular season—a clear and uncomplicated strategy—I unintentionally made things complicated.

I resolved that in the future I would keep it simple going into postseason play, just as I did during the regular season.

The change was effective.

It all began with attention to, and perfection of, details. Details. Details. Develop a love for details. They usually accompany success.

Photo by Peshkova/

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.