Nothing Will Work Unless You Do – An Inside Look At My Early Mentor, Coach John Wooden



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Life Area: Personal  
Topic: Mentorship – Coach John Wooden

Nothing Will Work Unless You Do


For those of you who don’t know how I came to be mentored by Coach John Wooden, I offer up the short version: As a basketball player growing up in the LA suburb of Burbank during the UCLA Wooden coaching era I had the opportunity to attend the Wooden Basketball Camp held in nearby Thousand Oaks. Not only was I privileged to attend once but for many sessions in the summers in my junior high and high school years. It is there that he and I forged a friendship. I would see him on occasion at different LA spots and darned if he didn’t remember my name each time…that show off. Later as a downtown LA real estate executive, I was reacquainted with Coach when he was honored by the Jonathan Club. It was there that I met his granddaughter and grandson-in-law, Craig Impleman, of my same age (pictured above with Coach and a younger-me).  Craig and I hit it off and would go on to host a basketball camp together bringing in Coach on Wednesday of the week long camp. I would visit Coach at his townhouse in Encino and we’d spend time together, talking life and me absorbing every morsel of Wooden Wisdom and his Pyramid of Success. This was a common occurrence at Coach’s townhome and his favorite Ventura Boulevard restaurant booth with the likes of former players and NBA stars including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton, and many many others. Coach was a mentor extraordinaire to so many. Why so? Well, as Coach put it to me, “Because you asked.” Here’s an inside look at the man voted by past and present living collegiate coaches as the greatest college coach of all times (of all sports) as told by Craig:


The Early Years

When Coach John Wooden coined his definition of success in 1934, he was a high school English teacher (“Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable”), his philosophy was clear: He had defined the goal for which he wanted his students to strive.


When Coach began building his Pyramid of Success, he chose “Industriousness” as one of the cornerstones. Although many other blocks were moved and redefined in the next 14 years while he developed the Pyramid, industriousness was never moved nor did its definition change: “There is no substitute for work. Worthwhile results come from hard work and careful planning.”


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



Industriousness has two parts: planning and work. Here I’ll focus on work. Coach Wooden understood the value of hard work growing up on a farm in Indiana. He rose early every morning before going to school to help milk the cows and do other required chores. When he arrived home from school, there were always more chores to do as well as completing his homework. His father always required that the farm work and school work were completed before any other activities.


“Nothing Will Work Unless You Do.” – Coach John Wooden

“Nothing will work unless you do,” Coach often remarked later—it was a mantra by which he lived his life. The summer before his senior year of high school, Wooden hitchhiked to Kansas to work in the wheat fields, but when he arrived in Lawrence, he learned that the crop was not ready for harvest. With no harvesting job available, Coach got a job pouring concrete for the University’s new football stadium instead. He slept on the floor of the campus gymnasium.

While attending Purdue University and earning All-American honors three times for basketball, Coach also found time to publish and sell the official Purdue program. During football season, he worked in the training room helping tape ankles and painting the football stadium for 35 cents an hour.


During his first season as head basketball coach at UCLA, Coach Wooden worked from 6 a.m. to noon as a truck dispatcher for a local dairy company. Upon arriving on campus with his morning job completed, his first duty was to mop the gym floor so it would be ready for practice in the afternoon.


“There Is No Substitute For Work.” – Coach John Wooden

“There is no substitute for work,” Coach was fond of saying. “If you’re looking for the easy way, the shortcut, the trick, you may get something done for a while, but it will not be lasting and you will not be developing your ability.”


And even after the basketball season ended each year, Wooden didn’t coast off his team’s victories; he turned his mind to the next season. Asked once about his off-season regimen, he described in detail how he filled his downtime in coaching: “About two weeks after the season is over, I would choose a basketball or coaching technique to research. It might be the fast break, rebounding, the jump shot, free-throw shooting, defensive footwork, zone attack, zone defense; it might be anything. So about two-to-three weeks, no set time, after the season, I would go through all the issues of Scholastic Coach and Athletic Journal and single out all articles on that topic. I’d also go through all the articles and books on basketball that I could find and concentrate on the selected topic.


“Once I selected the appropriate literature, I’d take ideas out of every one. Then I’d start a process of crossing out and making a composite list. Toward the end of summer, I’d have a pretty good composite theme on the topic.


“If someone has something that’s been very good, let’s say free-throw shooting, I’d try to talk to that individual and get further information as to his ideas. If some coach seemed to attack zones really well, I’d contact him. If all coaches agree on one thing, it must be pretty good. If someone has done real well in a specific area, why were they successful? I want to know. I did that for I’d say about 20 of my 27 years at UCLA. I took a different topic every year.”


Throughout his life (he died just 4 months short of his 100th birthday), from the time he was a boy until his retirement from coaching, hard work was a cornerstone of not only Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success, but his own successful life.




Download this FREE Resource, the Pyramid of Success Worksheet for your own virtual mentorship by Coach John Wooden.



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