Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Zach Rosenberger: Section #10
Installment 1
Benching the Ego
For our group presentation, we focused on Phil Jackson’s adaptation of Zen Buddhism to his coaching career. In his book, Eleven Rings, he laid out eleven principles that influenced his coaching practices and lifestyle outside of basketball. His first principle stems from the realization that people who go with the flow and follow their peer’s moves are predictable and lose the edge of performance over opponents. For a sports team, having an unpredictable advantage over the opponent is crucial. Phil lead from the inside out and the players followed. His way of leading wasn’t something you would expect most coaches to follow though. Typically, if the opponent scores several baskets in a row, the coach would call a time out and give the team pointers to come back. Phil, however, would let the clock run and give the team an opportunity to discover their own solution.
           Phil learned that leaving his own ego in the background of a situation was the best way to coach his team. This way, he put every person on the team in a leadership role without surrendering final authority. Part of making this happen came from Phil’s cyclical approach to every season, a three-act play as one of his players called it. The first 20 or so games, he would sit back and let the “characters” of the team reveal themselves. Most coaches lead in a “my way or the highway” manner, but Phil let them demonstrate their ability, or inability, to solve problems on their own. Act two came into play during the 20 or so games around the All-Stars game, Phil would spend time with individual players, give them books on selflessness, and push them to improve. Before the playoffs begin, he would give the players a refresher on Buddha’s thinking and how it would apply to basketball. Namely, the Noble Eightfold Path which was a practical way to eliminate craving and unhappiness. The steps right view, right thinking, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration. Phil’s eleven principles coincide with several of these steps, mostly dealing with the mental struggle of realizing that as a team player, your actions have an impact on yourself and everyone on the team. Two of the steps that resonate with me are right thinking and right concentration. Right thinking means that you see yourself as a part of a system rather than as your own one-man-band, also that you are involved with all that is happening to the team during a game because you are integrally connected to everyone in it. Right concentration means to stay focused on what you are doing at any given moment rather than past mistakes or worrying about the future. The third act of Phil’s season starts at the playoffs. He would change his demeanor drastically, restrict media access to the players, and ultimately remove the pressure of expectation. This gave the team room to breathe and perform optimally.
In the next installation, I want to relate Phil Jackson’s coaching practices to Alan Watts’ western adaptation of Buddhism. Mainly focusing on what he talks about our idea of an ego.

Source for next installment: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=gy4jINjMRBI


  1. Seeing as we had the same topic, I like how you took a different spin on the subject. Specifically, how you elaborated on Phil's 3-act play and how it related to coaching.

  2. Seems like the ego-less approach is perfectly adapted to the team mentality ("no I in team" etc.), and yet as you point out it's an approach very few coaches pursue. It might be interesting to look at how team sports in other cultures have adopted this approach. I'm thinking specifically of the Japanese approach to baseball, as described in a book called "You Gotta Have Wa." It shows just how "un-American" that approach can be, in ways we could benefit from in other walks of life. I don't predict it'll catch on here, in our celebrity/star culture. Alas.

  3. Zach Rosenberger Section #10
    Installment 2

    Ego in Sports

    For the second installment, I took Dr. Oliver’s suggestion to look at foreign sports, specifically the difference in American and Japanese baseball. Japanese players are said to be Samurai warriors with baseball bats due to their ability to out-think, out- work, and out-perform the opposition despite their typically smaller stature and bulk. Japanese players foster the philosophy of precision and discipline over showmanship in contrast to their bulkier, home-run obsessed American counterparts.
    Robert Whiting, the author of “The Samurai Way of Baseball,” talked about the difference in the two countries’ game begins on the first day of school. His Japanese brother-in-law attended his kids first day of school and was surprised to see the kids being told to stand, introduce themselves, and describe something unique about themselves. He said that in Japan, this would never happen, the kids are taught to be the same as everyone else. Taught to listen quietly and not disturb the teacher with questions or opinions. This prepares them for Japan’s culture of rules and perfection.
    Japanese players are trained hard from day one, usually with long practices on the same day as a game. They believe athletic development and spiritual growth stem from this struggle. On the other hand, American kids are sheltered by athletics and trained in a harmonious environment. Later in life, Japanese players attend their manager’s “hell camps” where they are subject to thousand-swing drills, marathon-esque runs that honor mental and spiritual strength that resemble bushido training. They tend to make major league camps look like vacations in comparison. Japanese teams also regularly attend autumn camps, unlike American teams. These “hell camps” focus on perfecting the players swing and arm while avoiding a gym. American players spend more time in the gym and take pride in their larger form.
    The atmosphere at Japanese games is much different as well. Players will have “fan clubs” who have individual chants for their player as they walk on the field, pitch or get up to bat, everything. The crowd, like the players, tend to suppress their emotion when their player isn’t in play unlike American crowds. It’s fairly quiet unless a big play succeeds. Here, you will typically see spectators hootin’ and hollerin’ at the players, dancing to the music, expressing themselves.
    The Japanese players are extremely selfless during a game, they play the average. There’s a huge emphasis on smaller one-run-at-a-time plays where moving runners to the next base and execution are key. Americans followed this strategy in the past, when players nurtured their speed and reactivity rather than spending as much time in the gym. Stars began to emerge and the number of long balls grew quickly. Even with manicured practices of the long ball, the selflessness of a short-ball game triumphs almost always. America is fascinated by the superficial power of scoring home-runs. Maybe if we were to loosen our grounding in logic and science, in favor of a spiritual game like Japan, we would bring our game back to a place closer to how the rest of the world plays.