Phil Jackson fascinates me. Jackson won an unprecedented 11 championships at a time when the NBA was reaching its most competitive level and mentored (arguably) two of the top three players in basketball history. Less known was a man named George Mumford. Mumford was Jackson’s right hand man and the reason Jackson was given the nickname “Zen Master”. In his book The Mindful Athlete, Mumford tells of his improbable life going from the son of poor, drug-addicted parents to teaching mindfulness to the NBA’s greats. The secret, he says, is building the skill of awareness. I think Mumford’s teachings, while extremely important to Jordan and Kobe, also shed light on a powerful message that we can send our young athletes; maximizing performance comes from an understanding of what we are thinking and how we are feeling in the moment NOT by pushing through and ignoring.
For far too many teams, the message from the coach is one of ignoring discomfort and stuffing emotions. Determined young athletes with high levels of willpower, thresholds for pain, and an unending thirst to satisfy their coach are held up on a pedestal as the example of what it takes to be great.
I would argue that if the message changes, then we have the ability to motivate a far greater group of kids in a far more positive way. We can all work hard for a couple of days. We can all endure discomfort for a couple of practices. We all know how to keep our mouths shut and push through for a couple of reps. But when we have the choice to pick up a stick in the back yard or do 50 push ups before bed, we are also far more likely to associate it with a negative experience.
Perhaps Jordan and Kobe were great, in part, because they leaned into the discomfort. They trained themselves to recognize when they were angry, frustrated, complacent, or overly confident. They felt pain and learned that it was the force that would make them stronger, not a feeling to be endured.
If we want lacrosse to be the tool with which we teach our young athletes to live a meaningful life, then we must send the message that it is ok to feel. When they understand that their best in the moment is the best they can do, then the sport will take on a new, healthy, and positive role in their lives. When they start to view each practice, each drill and each rep as a chance to learn about themselves and grow, they will be given a valuable tool to have success in far more than just lacrosse.
Until Next Time!