Wooden Wednesdays: Intentness

Note: this is the ninth of a series of posts investigating the leadership style of John Wooden and its applicability to choral music education.

John Wooden’s fourth and final block in the second tier of his Pyramid of Success is INTENTNESS.

Wooden says, “This personal quality may be as important as any within the Pyramid. It is the ability to stay the course even when that course is most difficult and the obstacles seem insurmountable. You do not quit: Intentness.”


I use a different word when I think about this: grit. Angela Duckworth’s TED Talk and book address in compelling detail the importance of teaching and encouraging this skill in students. It goes to show that Wooden was dealing with timeless concepts and his pyramid, completed in 1948, focused on concepts that remain relevant to us all.

I’ve written about grit and perseverance before, and I’ll avoid repeating myself, except to say this: viewing failure as a temporary setback, not a permanent condition, seems to be a core part of developing grit. Additionally, intentness is is skill, not an innate ability. It can be encouraged, enhanced, even taught.

Wooden says, “Be persistent. Be determined. Be tenacious. Be unrelenting. The road to achievement is rocky, hard, and long. Things easily achieved are rarely long-lasting or significant.”

How do you teach intentness? We can take steps to encourage it, but I don’t think it’s a skill that develops quickly. In fact, that might be an argument for music class as a prime place to learn it. The simple fact of teacher continuity across four or more years enables students to really internalize the lesson of intentness.

We can of course teach by example: by leading the charge of struggle through the hard times, the tough rehearsals, the out-of-tunes problem spots. By seeing us struggle and overcome obstacles, our students will internalize this as the normal process.

Second, we teach by explanation. Clear communication about what constitutes failure, and strategies for moving past temporary failure, must be a regular part of our in-class discussions. Giving our students the means to think about failure as a vital part of the process, empowering them to have the INTENTNESS to overcome that failure, and sharing with them the tools to move forward: these are our responsibilities as teachers, far more than any specific musical skill we might teach.

As Wooden says, “If you have Intentness and your ability warrants it you will eventually reach the top of the Pyramid.”

Regardless of the particular pyramid you want to conquer, intentness is necessary to get you there. It’s true in basketball, it’s true in choir, it’s true in politics, law, medicine, and every other career you might pursue.