Coaching Resource: Bigger than Coaching, Jerry Wainwright

Clare Ansberry, Wall Street Journal (


Good coaches inspire their players, but Jerry Wainwright takes it a step further. Mr. Wainwright, a longtime Division I college basketball coach, sends about 300 to 500 handwritten notes each week to former players, as well as many coaches and managers. He’s been doing it for 30 years.

It would be easier and cheaper to email or text. But Mr. Wainwright, 68 and now associate head coach at California State University, Fresno, says he prefers to hand-write his notes, which often accompany a carefully chosen quotation. Writing takes time, which is the point. “I love getting a personal letter because I know what went into sending it,” he says. “It’s such a great compliment.”

Courtesy of Jerry Wainwright
Courtesy of Jerry Wainwright

“I’ve kept them all,” says Mr. Rohrssen, who met Mr. Wainwright at a basketball camp decades ago. Mr. Rohrssen recently filled a second 1,000-page binder with Wainwright notes and posts some on the locker-room door for his team.

When the players or Coach Wainwright moved on, the notes continued and ended up in offices, gyms and locker rooms across the country. A few years ago, Scott was visiting high schools in North Carolina to recruit players for a community college. He walked into the office of a coach he had never met and saw four of his dad’s letters taped to the wall.

Courtesy of Jerry Wainwright

Mr. Wainwright wakes early, sometimes at 3:30 a.m., and spends about 1.5 hours a day writing to keep up his correspondence, which has mounted over the years. When his team is on the road, he brings along stationery, envelopes, stamps and addresses. If he knows someone recently lost a family member or is going through a divorce or illness, he looks for an appropriate passage in his big three-ring binders, which are divided into subjects including “leadership” and “loss.” He dashes off notes to some people daily. Others might receive big envelopes every few weeks with a dozen or more articles and notes he has been putting aside for them. Occasionally, people write back. More often, they call or text.

He benefits, too. The day he was fired as head coach from DePaul in 2010, he says he received about 300 phones calls, many from the people who receive his letters. They repeated the same advice he sent them: Don’t forget the worst way to feel is to feel sorry for yourself. “It’s not about winning. It’s about who you are when you win and lose.”

Soon thereafter, he was diagnosed with cancer. It was a difficult time and he found that the quotes he was reading and sending to others were messages that he himself needed to absorb about the importance of maintaining perspective.

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