“You Haven’t Taught Until They’ve Learned”

Posted by

quote-you-haven-t-taught-until-they-ve-learned-john-wooden-53-81-75I came across this quote the other day that was attributed to the great American basketball coach John Wooden (I’ve written about him here).  I like this quote for two reasons.  Firstly it is true.  Secondly, and in all honesty, I figured this one out for myself.  When I began coaching, I was embarrassingly bad at it.  There were a number of reasons for it, one of which was that I fell into the trap I am sure many young coaches fall into.  I thought that effecting change was simple.  It was a source of enormous annoyance to me, that after hearing my words of wisdom the players didn’t immediately see the errors of their ways and integrate this new information seamlessly into their games.  I was even more annoyed when my wonderfully designed drills didn’t instantly translate into improved performance.  Often I was not shy with sharing my annoyance.  I was completely stunned to discover that didn’t work very well either.

At some moment I had the realisation that was probably the most important one I have had.  In the overwhelming number of cases, the players actually want to improve.  They want to do the things you tell them to do.  They do not want to be shouted at.  They do not want to do some kind of physical punishment.  So we were at an impasse.  Between my plans and the players performance there was a disconnect.  In that case there are only two possibilities.  It is either my fault or the players fault.  Sadly, I think many coaches (including professional coaches) choose the second possibility.  Happily, I believe, I chose the first.  If the players were not able to do what I asked them, then I must be asking them wrong.  Either my explanations weren’t clear enough and / or my drills didn’t train what they were designed to train.

This simple realisation is incredibly valuable.   Learning only occurs in the presence of feedback and here is perfect feedback on my coaching performance.  The feedback from the players through their daily performance provides the coach with a daily opportunity to learn and to improve.  All he has to to do is to be open to it.  That is not to say that there is no frustration, or even annoyance, at the pace of progress but ultimately if they haven’t learnt you haven’t taught.

There is even a book about it.

The collection of Coaching Tips can be found here.

Read about the great new Vyacheslav Platonov coaching book here.


  1. That reminds me of a saying, I think it’s German. Tell the people what you are going to tell them. Tell it to them. Tell them, what you told them. It’s the same topic. Only because you are telling your players why they should do this or that, doesn’t mean that they got it.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s