A long time ago I was in a bookstore and came across the great Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi's classic book on zen philosophy and sword fighting techniques The Five Rings. Musashi killed over sixty men in combat and lived a long life, so I assumed he had something to say about gearing up for a fight. I bought the book.
I pulled it off my shelf this morning and found the notes that I had made when I first read the book. I was pleased to find that I made such a good summation of some of the key points as they pertained to basketball and that those key points were still very relevant.
Here are the three key ideas that I got from the book.
1) Never show fear. Never believe that your opponent is smarter than
you, and never put yourself in an inferior position. Let's say, you
back three feet off your man on your close-out on the ball. You
just told your man that you don't think you can guard him. Or, if
you let him walk across the lane into the low post, same thing.
2) Know why you are doing things. Musashi says that a lot of
competitors reveal their lack of strategic knowledge just by
how they dress, carry themselves, or in how even in how they
warm-up. I used to watch what the other teams did during their
warm-up to see if they would reveal a lack of intelligence. I would
see coaches line their whole team around the free throw lane
and have them shoot two free throws and stomp their feet
on makes. That shit don't happen in games, so why do it?
(Which happens to be a another point the master makes,
"Don't do useless things.")
3) Strike through the spirit of your opponent. You have to do
things that unsettle the person or team you are playing against.
On offense, this means you have to strike quickly and figure
out ways to get by your man. On defense, it means to impose
your will on him. Do not let them do things they want to do.
These things apply to team offense and defense as well as individual
play. There are lots of other things he says that make a lot of sense. For example, he emphasizes the fact that a lot of people fail because they divide their life into too many compartments. Musashi says you only have one life and all elements within it need to brought into proper alignment with your ultimate goal and not divided into different goals and wishes.
Another good point he makes is not try to counter your opponent's moves, but to attack first, quicker and harder to knock them off balance.
There is a lot of knowledge contained in a relatively small book.
"In formal logic, a contradiction is the signal of defeat, but in the evolution of real knowledge it marks the first step in progress toward a victory."
Alfred North Whitehead
Our season has started, and, in our first game, it became painfully obvious that some of our girls had not fully internalized the basics of our defensive philosophy. This is usually the case year after year
I have come to the belief that, under stress, young players naturally revert to the way that they have always done things in the past. In large part, it is probably because defensive basketball is so full of contradictions. I ran across the quote above in a book I was just starting to read the morning after we had suffered a very painful, three-point loss in the first round of our very first tournament. For most of our kids, it was also their first collegiate game.
Say, for example, take the command to never lose sight of your own player and then add in the second command to never lose sight of the basketball. This is split brain stuff. It leads to contradictory demands. Or, how about being told to defend your player and not let them score while also being told to make yourself available to help defend another person's player if they drive past your teammate toward the basket?
These are contradictions, and, believe me, there are many, many more. And as Lord Whitehead points out, getting caught on the horns of such contradictions can lead to defeat. In basketball, it usually leads to a player shedding one of his/her responsibilities, or worse sometimes freezes them in the middle where they can't perform either task well.
Lord Whitehead goes further though. He says that learning how to resolve such contradictions is where real progress and learning takes place. In collegiate basketball, it is often the difference between what a player learned in high school and what he/she still needs to learn.
Great basketball defense involves learning how to resolve these contradictions as they come at you relentlessly. It is all about learning to be more of an instinctual player. Repetitive drilling is involved, but it is game pressure and the need to make seemingly impossible things happen quickly that can turn good players into great players.
Lord Whitehead was referring to life in general and what he says makes a great deal of sense. Life, like basketball, is made up of endless contradictions and the failure to resolve the real important ones often leads to much more painful consequences than a three point loss in a basketball tournament. The failure to resolve life with knowledge of our own mortality, for example, can lead to madness and a squandering of the time that we do have at our disposal.
It is the lesson of the Great Myth where the narrative of human life on this planet is often told in terms of where we actually are and where we really want to be. Thought of like this, resolving contradictions is the difference between a life well lived and a life not lived to its fullest.
This makes the lesson in basketball not only about the difference in winning a game or two, or thirty; it is great training for life.
If the process of shooting a basketball involved a whole lot of abstract thinking, Einstein would have been a great player. I think that shooting the basketball well is more religious in nature. It takes great amounts of discipline, learned behavior, self-forgiveness and faith that the shot is going down.
Shooters need to quit thinking so much and get right with the Lord.
I was working at basketball camp for high school aged girls when I noticed how little they listened. These were good kids too, not slackers or kids who didn't respect the coaching; they were kids who would have listened had they known how.
I have seen this happen so many times over the last thirty years that I have detected a pattern. When kids are under pressure to perform they instinctively revert back to what they know best, even if it includes not performing in the way that they were instructed.
The task we had them doing involved opening up when the player you're guarding goes to screen. It was a somewhat complicated drill that involved opening up to the ball so that the screened defender could slide through.
The instructions were prefaced with the statement, "You must always jump in the direction of the pass before you do anything else." This command is basketball #1. It is what the triple threat stance is to offense. It is a developed habit that would be carved into a stone tablet if Moses had been a basketball coach. Yet, judging from the problems we had teaching it, it was easy to determine that it's not being taught.
Boxing out is another such "commandment" skill that is suffering from lack of attention. I have to believe that most coaches think it is something that kids to naturally. Problem is, they don't. What kids do naturally is watch the ball and grab it if it bounces their way.
So the problem, as I see it is, is that kids are suffering from uneven coaching. They get something; they get what their coaches think is important, and all too often, it is not something of primal importance like jumping to the pass, or boxing out.
Driving home, I came up with the idea that maybe we need some standardized testing of sorts. I always told the kids that I coached and taught in English class about this famous Marshmallow Test, where a group of five-year-olds were given a marshmallow and told that if they waited five minutes before eating it they would be given another.
It was a longitudinal study where the kids who participated were tracked over several years. It was determined that the kids who waited were more likely to be happier, contented, and successful. Those to went for the immediate gratification were more likely to be alcoholics, divorced, prone to drug use, and less successful.
So, I got to thinking that maybe we should take a bunch of young athletes and give them a doughnut and tell them, "If you jump to the pass five times in a row, we'll give you another doughnut." Or, "If you box-out five times in a row, you'll get another doughnut."
That way, we can tell them later, with some scientific support, that if they don't jump to the pass every time, they are probably going to end-up homeless and begging for quarters on that road that turns into Wal-Mart.
Just kidding. Really.
Today was our first day of basketball class at COS, and we spent a lot of time making lay-ups. This is one of the most basic skills in the game of basketball, and most of our players have been making them for years, but I already spotted some things we need to work on.
This early in the season, as a coach, you need to say things to the players in a way that serves three purposes. You need to say things that are informative and helps them learn more than they already know about a subject, you need let them know that they don't know everything even if it is about something as simple as making lay-ups, and lastly, you need to let them know that you are not as dumb as you look. Okay, let me restate that; our other coaches are not really dumb looking, just me.
If I could have all of our player's former coaches in the gym with us on the first day, I would show them how to teach basic lay-ups. I'm pretty damn sure this would stir up a lot of resentment and garner a great many angry looks. I would explain to them that it is possible to win championships without know a good lay-up drill. I did it. I won four valley championships without being satisfied that my lay-up drill was any good.
Then, I attended a clinic in Fresno that featured a coach named Pete Sharkey. Peter is a local legend and has traveled the world teaching basketball. He started out with a simple lay-up drill where the player would start on baseline and roll the ball out toward the wing. Then she would run, pick it up, and carry it to the basket.
This is a perfect drill for teaching players to jump off the inside foot and to kick up their outside foot. After they get used to it, then you have have them take one dribble with their outside hand, then two or three. After that, it doesn't take long for them to get the steps right and you can go back to to using the regular dribble up or pass to basket drills.
I think the coaches would be stewing about this time and even making not so subtle remarks under their breath. I would try to mitigate things somewhat by explaining my own lack early of expertise on the subject, but I'm still pretty sure they'd still feel insulted.
I would have to explain why Coach Sharkey's drill was so revelatory to me. You see, it got to a point where I needed all of my girls, not just the good ones, to make weak hand lay-ups, and I needed to teach them how to do it.
Every year, a sizable group of the girls that we recruit are less than confidant in their weak hand lay-ups. I have to assume it is because most of the coaches did like I did and played the weak hand stuff off because it was hard to teach. Yet, players who reach college level basketball should always have confidence in their ability to go to their weak hand.
To get our girl's attention I would use the statement in the title. I would use this provocative challenge to get them to understand that as much as they think they already know, there's always much more that they need to learn.
This is the case about pretty much anything. I've learned over the years that most teenagers are not stupid, but they can be willfully ignorant in that they are in time and place in their lives where they are trying to get the separation from adults that will help them to learn to function on their own. It's not that they don't want to listen, but that they are trying to learn to trust in their own judgment.
They have to know for certain that what you teach will actually help them. Too many adults think that this is true about everything they say, yet it is not usually the case. For example, I myself have sat in way too many grown-up meetings when the vast majority of what I listened to didn't really need to be said. I imagine it's worse for a kid.
The Basket Has a Sweet Spot
It is right under top bar and three inches either side of direct center. The ball falling from directly overhead turns the basket into a circle and increases the size of the basket to where two balls could pass through at once. Putting it in from the side angle turns the basket into a oval shape and lops off as much as a third of the basket.
This means that players need to see the sweet spot, take the ball to the spot, and taught to finish high and soft off of the glass. It sounds easy enough, but its actually hard to do because as I said in a paragraph above teenagers are a lot like glazed pottery and not particularly porous when it comes to soaking up new ideas about things they think they already know. It is up to us as coaches to figure out ways to penetrate the glaze.
Verbal Cues are Important
Stan Kellner was one of the first to come up with a cybernetics program that trained athletes to use their mental abilities to increase athletic performance. One of his principle tools was verbal cues. According to Kellner, every time you run a lay-up drill is a great time to have your players say out loud, "High and Soft" as doing so will remind them to train their eyes on the backboard and to kiss the ball off of that sweet spot. There's also an added benefit in that using verbalization can help block out the negative noise of a hostile crowd and help the player to stay focused on the task at hand, i.e. placing the ball softly off of the sweet spot.
Weak Hand Work Transfers to the Strong Hand
I read an article that talked about the process of transference wherein what is learned from working on the weak side transfers to the dominant side. I have since tried to rediscover the article but have so far failed. I do remember, however, the light bulb that turned on over my head. It was a rule of thumb back then that you worked twice as much with your weak hand as you did with your dominant hand.
But, this article says that once you have the skills needed to perform with your strong hand, it makes sense to spend most, if not all of your skill development time improving your non-dominant hand. After reading the article, whenever we did lay-up drills in practice, full court dribbling, or finishing drills, we did everything on our weak side.
This not only improves your player's non-dominant hand, it also makes them into a more "complete" player, a state that has a synergism of its own. It is no longer a simple equation of 1 + 1 = 2. It becomes more like 1 + 1 = 3. It can mean that their further development become more a case of geometric progression than linear. In other words, they develop faster and better.
It takes a patience to get kids to accept these practices. They think they already know how to make lay-ups. The practices do work however. When we started using them regularly in our skill development, every girl on our team learned to get to the basket with much more confidence in their weaker hand. Now, I only wish I knew as much about shooting free-throws.
We were getting ready to play in our first big game of the season, sitting nervously in the visitor's locker room and trying our best to fully focus on the job before us. The night before, our hotel had developed a water leak in the ceiling above our rooms. The sound of falling water woke up both Coach and I about 4:30 AM, and the water kept pouring out for at least two hours. I put my ear buds in and finally managed to get back to sleep about 6:30. Coach could not sleep and stayed up and watched some basketball coaching videos.
He watched a video that talked about the difference between how fathers and mothers act when their children are being challenged. During the pre-game chalk talk, he attached what he had learned from the video to a story of how his own mother would always put her children's needs ahead of her own. Surprising? Hardly. That is what mother's so often do best, sacrifice for the good of the family.
It was, however, very appropriate for the moment, and I noticed how the player's focus momentarily shifted from paying attention to his words to pulling up memories of their own mothers. That's what makes such stories like that so powerful as teaching tools. When a story is being told the brains of the speaker and the listeners light up in the same area; in other words, they sync together.
The point he made was that the individual player in determining how to develop the right mindset for the game should think in terms of how a mother would think about her children, and learn to make sacrifices for the good of her teammates by putting the needs of others ahead of her own.
Thinking about it later, I felt that he had inadvertently stumbled across something very profound, not only explaining the need for team member to create a service mentality in order to insure the success of the family (team) but maybe in revealing a way that coaches who coach female sports can better reach their players.
Team sports are usually highly competitive, and, until fairly recently, the word competitive was firmly embedded in the list of character traits regarded as being masculine in nature. In fact, as a masculine trait, it biologically appears millions of years before human beings even appeared upon the scene.
The dominant trait of females, on the other hand, was usually felt to be "nurturing". The post-Title Nine world that we inhabit, has not only astronomically increased the numbers of female competing in what were once considered masculine endeavors, it has also greatly increased the numbers of young girls being trained in the ways of masculinity. The question is, has this training in anyway, shape, or form come with a commensurate loss in the nurturing trait?
I think, it is, at least, something that needs to be asked because it leads to a plethora of other questions that would also need to be both formulated and answered. For example, many female coaches feel that girls should only be coached by other females. Is this a valid point? Men coaches have been highly successful in teaching these once "men only" virtues to females.
Or, how about the question, do male players need a female voice to explain their feminine side to them? We now know that such a thing exists, so are we damaging their development in ignoring it? I would postulate that it would not hurt male players to learn about the idea of the "sacrifice of mothers" and how developing the idea of a servant mentality could best serve the needs of their teams.
In addition, it just might be something to help all coaches better address the needs of their players regardless of gender, or, at least, a better understanding of those needs. Say, for instance, instead of always pushing the idea of competing hard and being tough, a coach pays equal attention to the idea of self-sacrifice in creating true team values.
I work at a local Junior College assisting with the Women's basketball program. I recently watched and heard as my head coach did something that I regard as one of the best coaching decisions that I have ever seen. When it happened, I was also amazed at what simple thing it was and how it passed by almost completely unnoticed.
I don't think of any our players understood how what a great thing that just happened, and, in fact, I think that they barely noticed it at all. You might fairly ask, just how great could the decision be if the players didn't even notice it?
It involved talking. The day before, we had ridden the players pretty hard about not talking on defense. I myself am a recent convert to the importance of teaching defensive talking, and, like most new converts, believe in the concept with an almost missionary zeal.
The next day, Coach told the players , "I don't care how you say what you need to say, just say it so that your teammates can all hear and understand it." Simple, yes? I would have to admit that it is also something that would normally pass by without much thought.
Why I even noticed it was because I have been reading the book The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle, and the book advances the rather unique idea that it is not so much natural talent that wins team championships but advanced skills learned by making repeated mistakes. I'll state that again, "making repeated mistakes!"
The author points out that myelination, a process of coating the axon of each neuron with a fatty coating called myelin, which protects the neuron and helps it conduct signals more efficiently, is simply put, a better way of learning difficult skills.
As players figure things out by learning from their own mistakes, a substance called myelin creates a thick, protective coating that allows their neural pathways to function more efficiently and greatly increases their ability to respond more quickly and forcefully while performing complicated tasks.
The book goes on to mention a practice currently employed at the highest level of coaching soccer where a player's brain is engaged in making difficult mental decisions at the same time while he is stressed out physically. The practice builds up both the mental and physical endurance of the player allowing him to play harder and smarter for a longer period of time. This extra endurance usually comes into play at time that the player needs it most, at the end of hard fought, highly competitive battles.
After reading the book, I began thinking of ways to create drills to be employed at the end of practice that would help us to create such an endurance advantage. Then, my Coach said the words I quoted above, and it suddenly dawned on me that what he told the players would achieve that goal.
The act of figuring out what you need to say in a game situation is a complex and much needed mental skill. In order to assess the situation and then formulate the words that would tell your team mates what you need for them to do, requires focused mental engagement, and the act of listening and figuring out what your teammate is telling you and determining how you should respond does the same.
In other words, it not only helps the myelination process to occur, but doing it while you are both physically and mentally stressed increases your ability to perform quickly and confidently in tense situations at the end of tough, demanding contests.
Some might question this interpretation and say that talking on defense is not such a new idea. I would counter with the argument that most of what passes for talking on defense nowadays is not really great communication. Many players just automatically repeat what their coaches tell them to say in certain situations usually using rote phrases such as: "Ball! Deny! Got Help! or Open-Up! This means they are usually blathering and not communicating at all.
This is not the same as figuring out things for themselves. Requiring him to access the situation himself and then come up with what he needs to say in order to get his teammates to respond efficiently is probably the best way not only to help the player learn to react more quickly but to increase his endurance and confidence level in tough games.
It is something that also might just help your team win a few more basketball games.
I was reading a book The Courage to Create by Rollo May. It's a great book and one that I refer to over and over again when I need inspiration. I came across a part that talked about relationship issues. It said that there are two main fears that come from deciding to fully commit to a relationship with another person.
One would be the fear of losing your own identity, and the other would be the fear of losing your freedom to act. The author points out that there are great benefits that come from confronting these fears and becoming aware of the idea that, "one grows not only by being one's self but also by participating in other selves." He goes on to explain that such confrontation is necessary to to move forward toward self-realization.
Being a basketball coach, I recognized at once that the point he made could apply to being a member of a sport's team as easily as a romantic relationship. A player must learn to deal with the anxiety of losing their individuality in order to fit into a team. She might also be afraid of losing her freedom to act. Teamwork imposes certain rules and restrictions that could curtail a desired course of action. For example, a player might like showing up late to practice. That habit would have to go if she commits to the team's goals.
Following May's line of reasoning, individuality would increase as it evolves to take in the needs of your coaches and teammates. It would become a transcendent version devoted to a higher good. Same thing goes for the freedom to act. Too much freedom can be destructive if it it doesn't allow itself to be refined by the limitations imposed by the goal of becoming a better teammate. Team goals, rules and restrictions are not just a lot like life; they are, in fact, life itself.
Being a member of a good team provides the player with a built in support system when the player needs help, she will get access to a lot of good advice and information, her teammates will have her back, she will be able to get mature advice, support and help from the coaching staff, she will get timely and important feedback for her words and actions, and she will be able to share in combined brain power of the group when it comes to making important decisions.
I am sure that there many other advantages such as being surrounded by people who share her goals and will be there to share her joy and her pain as goals are achieved or lost.
The list of benefits derived from sacrificing a bit of yourself in order to work well within a team is almost endless. The negative effects of failing to commit are probably just as long.
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
I am a very eclectic reader. I read a lot of different things. My favorite genres are literature, psychology, education, religion, history, mythology, basketball coaching, and any non-fiction books that give insight in the previously mentioned genres. Eventually, all of them lead me back to basketball. I could read the back of a cereal box and come up with something I could apply to basketball. It's just the way I think, but it also works the other way; I've learned to apply what I've learned from basketball to my understanding of life.
For example, I've recently been reading a book by Dr. Jordan B. Peterson entitled "The Twelve Rules of Life". There was a passage in the book where the good doctor explains the brilliance of the first three books of the Bible. If you remember, this is where the God of the Old Testament acquired his rather nasty reputation as being arbitrary, capricious, and murderous.
Peterson explained things in such a way that it helped me to understand that most of the mythic stories our ancestors passed down to us though the ages are actually brilliant ways of explaining the deep psychological matters that humans have always faced before the invention of an empirical language.
God is not arbitrary. He is the force behind creation itself. Creation has to have its own set of rules to differentiate from nonexistence, and if human beings choose not to align with these natural laws, the potential for evil enters the picture. This concept is explained in Cain's murder of his brother Abel.
Abel brought forward gifts that pleased his father (aligned himself with natural laws) while Cain resisted and did not get his father's blessings. This led to the entry of jealousy into the world and also to the world's first murder. I should mention that Cain also has his role to play in the grand scheme of things; he introduces randomness into the equation. He is also the prodigal son mentioned later in the Bible.
Later in the book, Peterson talks about how this concept influences discipline, learning, and creativity. He says something to the effect that parents can greatly damage their children's development by teaching that rules are random things you make up as you go. It's our reaction to the opposing forces, the rules, and the limitations that not only defines who we are, but differentiates us from the faceless crowd; it also is the greatest source of our creativity.
This is very true in basketball. Basketball takes place in time and place, the fields, courts, and games we play have certain size and time limitations. There are rules in basketball and penalties for not following the rules, and there are immediate consequences if you fail to adjust your play to take into consideration all of the rules and limitations; you do not grow, and you lose.
The people/teams who compete with the right mindset create beauty by disciplining their impulses and aligning their efforts to come up with the most efficient way to deal with the challenges of the game. The blessings are immediate, the crowd cheers, your coach smiles, and you win.
This is a good place to emphasize just how much sport and life are interrelated. The thing that good athletes/ good teams/ good people do is use the same goal driven mindset to determine how they live their life, and how they live their life determines how well they play. Life and sport are two dancers tightly entwined dancing in the confined space of a ballroom, and how they perform the required steps determines not only a beautiful outcome but also whether they receive the blessing or the curse.
Another passage in Peterson's book offers up an explanation as to why so many people fail to align themselves to the actions that would help them succeed. I used to believe that this was mainly caused by hidden trauma and came up with a large list of things that could cause a child to choose less arduous pathways.
We need to understand that the deviation of one degree at the beginning of life puts you way off track fifty years later. It's a good thing that it doesn't matter where we end up; there's always a straight line to where we need to go. Then there is also the strange trick of nature that sometimes the wrong path becomes the right path. J.R.R Tolkien made that idea one of the big themes of The Hobbit.
Peterson says that people become intentionally blind. And how can they help it? We have been trained since youth to focus on what we desire more than what we need, and since deep focus is such a rare commodity, we have to carefully restrict its use or else we would freeze up like an outdated computer as the universe tries to push its way to the center of our vision. We can only see what we are looking at and either make up or ignore all of the rest.
This is good stuff to know in a basketball sense. Peterson mentioned a video where two teams with different colored uniforms were competing against each other in how many successful passes they could compete in a minute. The viewers were asked to count how many passes the white team completed against the black team. Afterwards, the viewers were asked to report their findings.
Next, they were asked about the gorilla. A second viewing reveals that while the viewers were counting passes, a gorilla had walked through the middle of the drill unnoticed. It's true; it was exactly what happened when I showed the video to my class. As long as the gorilla did not walk between the person passing and the person catching the ball, it went unnoticed.
In basketball, defenders are often told that it is sin to lose sight of your man or the ball. This usually results in the player losing sight of his or her man and staying focused on the ball.
Lots of coaches yell out, "Keep your head on a swivel!" They further empathize the point by throwing basketballs at the backs of players who lose sight of the ball in practice drills. This can cause most defenders to briefly lose sight of their man when the action gets heavy.
This is good to know for a variety of reasons. First, it's a good lesson about the proper use of focus; a lot of people make themselves miserable because they can't see what it is that they need to see and keep on staring blindly at outcomes they don't really want. This can cause a ball handler to focus on getting to the basket and not see the three defensive players standing in her path. Instead of charging into the wall, this would be a great time to learn to back dribble and expand your vision.
Secondly, it is a thing that can be exploited. Defenses usually rotate towards the ball, A offensive minded coach can create good actions on the back side of a play by attacking the back defender's ability to see both man and ball, run a cutter in front of the back defender and while the defender tries to restore their vision on the ball, cut their man into a blind spot, and there are a lot of ways to make sure that blind spot is right under the basket.
There is also a defensive use for this knowledge. A coach could bring this information to the attention of the players, so that they will better understand the necessity of constantly moving their heads and changing their stance so that they can see as much of the court as possible.
Then of course, you can always flip it back and use what you learned on the court to explain how it applies to how you should approach life. Whether or not you are serving fries, cutting hair, collecting garbage, or cooking food, the rules of dealing with the size of the court, abiding by the laws against stepping out of bounds, or obeying the need to restore a wider vision by back dribbling and constantly moving your focus, these concepts can help you gain mastery of your life and help prevent you from becoming jealous when those who already know this stuff pass you by.