The Definition Of A Great Coach

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Tagged – John WoodenCoaching Lessons

Nearly 40 years ago now a couple of education researchers decided that the next step in education research was to go out of the laboratory and study actual ‘masters of teaching’ in the classroom.  To identify a ‘master of teaching’ is not such a simple task but they eventually decided that the long term success of UCLA basketball coach John Wooden recommended him as such a master.  The subsequent paper they produced was a seminal study into coaching that did a lot to define good coaching and was destined to be studied by student coaches the world over (including me).

Some of the findings they presented were:

– He very rarely, if ever, interrupted the flow of practice to speak . His comments were instant and short.

– Over 75% of his feedback in practice were Instructions of some kind.

– He used a particular method the authors found to be so unique that they called it a ‘Wooden’ whereby he would scold a player then remodel the desired outcome.

– Compared with the literature of the time, there were remarkably few instances that could be interprered as ‘Praise’.

I recently came across a follow up study that the authors did where they took their original study and reassessed on the basis of subsequent research and some follow up interviews with former players and with John Wooden himself.  They found that:

– Wooden himself called ‘Woodens’ the ‘Sandwich Method’ and they were a conscious part of his technique.

– Wooden’s use of praise was conscsious in terms of general proportions.  They discuss this in some detail.

– The background of his whole feedback method was planned.  Everything, down to the exact words he and his assistants used, was preplanned.

For me that last point is the key point of the article.  Some passages from the article addressing this topic.

“It is now clear Coach Wooden’s economical teaching that we observed was the product of extensive, detailed, and daily planning based on continuous evaluation of individual and team development and performance. His developing and planning of lessons many now argue are keys to effective teaching. He studied each individual very carefully so he could anticipate what his students would do—or fail to do—and he was primed and ready to instantly respond with one of those brief, information-packed instructions.”

“Down to the specific words he used, his planning included specific goals both for team and individuals. Thus, he could pack into a practice a rich basketball curriculum and deliver information at precisely the moments it would help his students learn the most.”

“Earlier that morning he had created a “lesson plan” of important instructions to deliver as “teaching moments” arose in the flow of practice. One bounce of that dribble, and Wooden was ready.”

As always, you shouldn’t take my word for it.  Read the originals.  Or any of John Wooden’s books.


  1. Mark, Many thanks for the kind words. There a few other papers we wrote about Coach Wooden. Is there a way I can send you the PDFs? There is also book that one of Coach’s former players, Swen Nater, and I wrote.


    Gallimore, R. (2006, March 1). What John Wooden Can Teach Us: Was the ‘greatest coach of the 20th century’ a crafty wizard, or a master teacher? Education Week, 25, 25, 30.

    Gallimore, R. (2014). Commentary: Coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: A Comparison to the Sport Psychology Literature. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 9, 1, 103-105.

    Gallimore, R., Gilbert, W., & Nater, N. (2013). Reflective Practice and Ongoing Learning: A Coach’s Ten Year Journey. Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, DOI: 10.1080/14623943.2013.868790

    Gallimore, R., Ermeling, B. A., & Nater, S. (2012). Timeless Lessons. Athletic Management, XXIV, 2, , 43-47.

    Gilbert, W., Nater, S., Swik, M., & Gallimore, R. (2010). The Pyramid of Teaching Success in Sport: Lessons learned from applied science and effective coaches. Journal of Sport Psychology in Action, 1, 86-94.

    Nater, S. & Gallimore, R. (2005). You haven’t taught until they have learned: John Wooden’s teaching principles and practices. Morganstown, West Virginia: Fitness International Technology, Inc.


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