Basketball and the Night Watch.
Basketball for the New Age
“In the case of human beings, the state of the person’s mind is itself their environment.”
"Coaches who can outline plays on a blackboard are a dime a dozen. The ones who win get inside their players and motivate."
“He not busy being born is busy dying.”
The concept of wave/particle duality basically says that before they become material, subatomic particles exist as waves of energy with the potential to become whatever the observer chooses to see them as, and it is only when they are being observed that the field of potential collapses.
Crazy? No doubt. So crazy that it is said that even Einstein had to rub his eyes in disbelief at the thought of it. It is the paradoxical nature of quantum physics that probably explains why science and everyone else, for that matter, seems to be lagging on explaining what this means to people like you and I.
As a coach, it means one thing. Ignore the implications of quantum mechanics and get left behind as others start to learn about them as use them to their advantage. Explore their meaning and adapt your coaching and you will leap, make that quantum leap to the head of the pack. Make no mistake about, quantum physics is going to change everything about how we look at the world and this includes coaching basketball.
In recent years there has been a plethora of books written on the theme of positive coaching techniques, mental toughness, and positive thinking. They all refer in some way or the other to brain and performance studies and generally do a good job of pointing out how to use positive thinking techniques to benefit both the individual and the team.
However, by limiting their supporting evidence to brain and performance studies they have also limited their appeal to the average coach. Most good coaches will try anything to win, but they also still hold on tightly to the tried and true, the old ways of doing things that have produced results in the past. These coaches acknowledge that increasing mental toughness is something to be desired, but it is still the physical skill set that matters most, and it is the mastery of those skills that produce the necessary mental toughness.
Most people do not fully understand that science has now gone much further than this. It is like the old saying at the beginning of the Star Trek; it has gone “ where no man has ever gone before.” In fact, in can be argued that because of the implications of quantum mechanics (the laws that govern the actions of subatomic particles), science has gone to some places where it has gotten very uncomfortable being.
Newtonian determinism, or the mechanistic way of looking at the universe, that has reigned since science began has been pretty soundly refuted, and this fact will change the way they we look at everything including the way we teach, coach, parent, etc.
In the book The Divine Code of Life by renowned geneticist Dr. Kazuo Murakami, the author gives a science-based argument about how living a “positive” lifestyle can activate the DNA to help people activate the part of their genetic make-up that would allow them to become the best version of themselves possible. I think it helps to explain the purpose of our existence on this planet. Simply put, we are here to be the best version of ourselves.
Strangely enough, Jesus’s parable of the talents has exactly the same meaning.
In the story, a master goes away and leaves each of three servants a certain amount of money. When he returns, he summons each of the servants forward to give an account of what they did with the money. Two of servants reported the return of the original sum or only a partial increase. These servants were rebuked and sent away by their master. It was the third servant, who increased the original sum by 100% who was rewarded and praised.
How is the meaning of this parable different from what recent scientific discoveries prove? I had used the parable in the locker room in order to stress the importance of not giving less than an 100% effort, I now understand it to mean much more than that. The message is the fundamental truth that underlies human existence.
We are genetically wired to be the best that we can be. That is what we are meant to do. It simplifies our choice of action in that we should always do things that make us into the best version of ourselves and avoid anything that doesn’t. As Dr. Murakami says, “ We are all born with the potential to become human miracles.”
The most obvious concept concerns something that many coaches have instinctively known and employed as long as there has been competitive athletics. This is the idea that positive thinking produces positive results.
In Dr. Murakami’s book, he states that it is possible to access the better part of our DNA by keeping the “switch on”. He asserts that this is done by constant exposure to things that are positive, motivating, creative, humorous, and thankful in nature. It has also been shown that even stress and pressure, when handled correctly, can produce positive outcomes. Individuals conversely keep the switch in off position when they are exposed to a constant bombardment of negative influences such as hatred, anger, frustration, or other forms of discordant information.
The research into this realm of genetics is getting more and more support from other scientists, not only those who study the brain, but also those who study quantum physics and who have proven that we are not living in a huge machine- determinism-as it was once believed, but in fact inhabit a universe where outward reality is created by inward reality..
What this means in a coaching sense is that up unto this point, we have only been paying what amounts to lip service to the idea that our thinking can determine the outcome of a sporting event; it can guarantee success, and it can guarantee failure. Whereas, most coaches would argue that they already value both the idea and results of positive thinking, most have had no idea how important it really is.
Science now seems to suggest that it might even be as important as the physical aspects of teaching sport. Or, more probably, that we need to reach an understanding that there is no division between the mental and the physical aspects. We now need to develop a coaching philosophy that embraces both as a whole.
These are essentially the same ideas and techniques that have been taught in martial arts. They are also some of the same ideas that the ancient religions and mythologies have taught for centuries.
There been many books recently written on the mind/body connection. The disparity between what is and what it needs to be, however, can be proven by a visit to any bookstore that has a section on different sports. There might be one or two books about mental training for every 10-15 about plays, drills, tactics, or coaching philosophy. (This has changed for the better since I started writing this.)
What is different now, is that science is finally coming around with the proof why the focus on the inner being works. The belief that the subconscious is this important has never quite gained the full and widespread acceptance of the scientific community. The Freudian view of the subconscious, which the average person is probably most familiar, treats it as something that is not quite savory.
The mind-body connection needs to be somehow included in every aspect of not just coaching sports, but in education and life in general.
The science of nuclear physics and the wisdom of the ages, what team could compete against that starting tandem?
Most of the coaches I know wouldn’t pick a book with this title to begin with, and they wouldn’t keep reading past the introduction once they learned what it was about. That’s understandable. It’s also a shame.
I understand this mentality because I thought like that myself. Although I had bought a few books on the mental aspect of coaching, I much preferred books and articles that gave me something more substantial like zone quick hitters, practice drills, and defensive strategies.
It is a shame because the coaches who follow that line of thinking are missing the boat, and they could very well end up in the same predicament as Noah’s neighbors, haplessly waving good-by to the Ark as the flood waters inundate once fertile farmland. The mental aspect of basketball is as important as the physical skills involved and/or the strategies and plays!
This year, my team’s free throw shooting flat-lined. My team started out shooting free throws under 50% and they finished the year shooting under 50%. I couldn’t understand the lack of growth. We were using the same drills and techniques that had produced championships in the past, but weren’t getting the same results. Most of our losses this season, make that the last two seasons, were because of our inability to shoot free throws.
Then frustration made me do something very stupid. After a loss that insured we would be playing on the road in the play-offs, I asked them how many times they had shot free throws on their own. The glazed over look I got in reply only increased my frustration level and caused me to tell my players that, in the past, when we were winning championship games, the players fixed their free throw problems on their own. I then went on to publicly question their will to win.
Later, I came to understand by phrasing it the way I did, I had only made things worse. Where I thought I was telling them how to fix the problem, what they heard was that they had disappointed me once again.
The next day, I had an epiphany, a moment of insight that helped me understand what was going on and to figure out what to do about them. The insight came after I was reading a book that explained the difference of the ordinary outside world consciousness and the inner consciousness. The author was explaining that man perceives everything through the outer world including the sacred, and that this explained why we have such a hard time relating or understanding the sacred.
I saw a mental picture of man with his back to a wall looking outward. The thought came into my head, “Turn around. The wall behind you is false.” This was my way of grasping that there is no real difference between the outer world and the inner world.
I did not know it at the time, but I had just made the most important leap of understanding in my life. I had grasped just how important the subconscious actually is. I actually had been foolishly reversing the size of the material world and the size of the subconscious world. The inner world is huge.
Our brain deals with 11,000,000 bits of information per second while our conscious is only capable of dealing with around 50 bits per second. The subconscious handles the rest of the information including that which deal with the most basic functions of life. As Leonard Mlodinow states in his book Subliminal, “While most nonhuman animals can and do survive with little or no capacity for conscious symbolic thought, no animal can exist without an unconscious.”
The disparity between how much of a workload the subconscious bears compared to conscious awareness is indicative of the overwhelming importance of the subconscious. This was an eye opener.
The author also addresses the issue of just how misunderstood the role of the subconscious is in the decision making process. Mlodinow discusses the results of a now famous taste test between Pepsi and Coke where in the blind taste test Pepsi won, but when the brand names were revealed, the people who had voted for Pepsi in the blind test switched their votes. This and similar tests suggest that the power of subconscious in decision-making has been greatly underestimated by most people (excluding, of course, those who work in advertising).
A big part of the problem is the fact that for the last 400 years we have been conditioned by Newtonian determinism to think of our universe as a big machine with every aspect of our life as being subject to logic and rational thought. This way of thinking has created a bias against things that do not fit between the lines. And as Dr. Murakami says, “Everything in this world is not rational.”
Determinism, according to Dr. Natalie Reid, the author of Five Steps to a Quantum Life, is a “fatalistic philosophy of life,” that has in effect, “reduced people’s spiritual, religious, and metaphysical questions about the ways of the world to mere mathematical predictions.” It is existential in nature and basically states that there is no point to existence.
Determinism coupled with Freud’s views of the subconscious explains why most people who know anything about the concept tend to think of the subconscious either as a dusty old place where memories, sounds, and sensory data are stored away, or a simmering swamp of repressed desires, anger, and emotions.
To a coach holding this viewpoint, it would manifest itself in a philosophy that would value teaching of the mechanical and physical over the mental. The mindset would use repetition of physical drills in such a way as to, at best, minimally increase the level of confidence by virtue of the mastery of the skill thus missing out on the power of the subconscious to both transform the skill level and the fearlessness of a player.
Oh, and one other thing, materialistic thinking kind of says that the joy and happiness that you, your teammates, and your loved ones felt when you held the trophy aloft, was just as much the result of the burrito you ate at lunch as the efforts you put in at the gym. Quantum thinking would give more credit to the desire in your heart and the vision you allowed yourself to believe.
This deterministic mindset would also result in the belief that natural athletes are inherently superior to others and lead to an undervaluing of both effort and the ability of players to adapt. In her book Mindset, Dr. Carol S. Dweck writes about how this deterministic type of thinking can result in the development of “fixed mindsets” that often breakdown under stress, lead to failure, and hinder personal growth.
She offers in its place a different type of mindset, the “growth mindset”, or the idea that changing to the view that people can adapt to their obstacles has the power to “transform your psychology and, as a result, your life.” Her research explains that it is not just our physical abilities and innate talents that lead to success but how we view and approach our efforts. This is very much in line with the thinking that has emerged since the discovery of quantum mechanics.
In his book Flow, psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi not only expressed a belief in the power of consciousness to enhance the ability to create “optimal experience” but also the amazement that it has taken science so long to grasp the idea, “ This simple truth- that the control of consciousness determines the quality of life- has been known for a long time, in fact, as long as human records exist.”
Csikszentmihalyi’s research offers insightful lessons in why gaining control of consciousness and aligning the inner with the outer world helps successful people to fully utilize their psychic energy in order to transform themselves and not waste time and energy on distractions. His research also made great inroads in explaining why a disorder in consciousness-he termed psychic entropy- forces attention to be diverted to undesirable ends. “Whenever information disrupts consciousness by threatening its goals, we have a disorganization of the self that impairs its effectiveness.”
He also explains that prolonged experiences of this nature weakens the ability of the self to where it can no longer pay attention to or pursue its goals. It was this bit of information that allowed me to understand what was going on with my players. They suffered from psychic entropy. The red flags were there from the beginning. They always shot below 50% in games and drills. I didn’t pick up on it earlier because I suffered from similar symptoms.
The human brain has to process, sort and evaluate every bit of information that enters into consciousness (remember that 11,000,000 bits per second number). Each bit is evaluated on how it bears on the self. This information will either reinforce the goals of the individual, or create psychic disorder. With their devices firmly wired to their heads, it was fairly easy for me to understand that my players were suffering from a lack of focus created by information overload. I was too.
It was also fairly easy to deduce that the latest discoveries in the field of quantum mechanics which underscore the ability of the individual to participate in the creation of the world that they see, when coupled with a plethora of new research in the way that the brain is wired, why humans think the way that they do, or how the subconscious plays a much larger role in decision making as previously thought, that there is now a huge need for coaches to step out of gym, put down their whistles, and begin discover what this all means in coaching terms