This & That: Inspiring Sports Books, and a Landmark Article

It’s been an amazing year for sports books.

The best of the lot, by far, was 11 Rings: The Soul of Success, Phil Jackson’s account of his legendary  career as an NBA coach and player.

Jackson gives us the inside story of his relationships with Jordan, Pippen, Bryant, and many other NBA stars. And it’s deeply inspiring.

Most libraries have the book, but you’ll doubtless need to place it on hold – it’s that popular.

I’m betting you’ll also love “Lotus pose on two,” a wonderful article by ESPN writer Alyssa Roenigk, about Pete Carroll, coach of the NFL Seattle Seahawks, and how he transformed the team from an NFL nonentity to one of the most dynamic, dominating teams in the league.

I won’t spoil the article for you by over-quoting, but here’s a morsel:

His [Pete Carroll’s] dream was to fundamentally change the way players are coached. The timeworn strategy is, of course, to be a hard-ass – think Bear Bryant banning water breaks, Vince Lombardi screaming and yelling, Mike Rice throwing basketballs at players’ heads, Nick Saban berating his team on the sideline. Carroll craved a chance to reimagine the coaching role in the NFL. “I wanted to find out if we went to the NFL and really took care of guys, really cared about each and every individual, what would happen?”

What happened? On December 13, 2012, the Seahawks destroyed the San Francisco Forty-Niners 40-13. It was much, much worse than the score. Destroyed is too piddling a word. Crushed, annihilated, obliterated, shamed, humiliated, astonished, devastated.

The Seahawks looked like tigers, toying with field mice … and the Niners at the time were a very, very good football team.

In the last year,we’ve also been blessed by Bill Rodgers’s Marathon Man and Alberto Salazar’s inspiring 14 Minutes. Both receive my five-star recommendation.

A common lesson of these great books is that the individual is the key. In team sports and even the solo sport of running, we need to recognize that each individual is unique and different, often vastly so. Thus we must first understand the individual if we want to find happiness and success.

Here are Phil Jackson’s thoughts:

My approach was always to relate to each player as a whole person, not just as a cog in the basketball machine. That meant pushing him to discover what distinct qualities he could bring to the game beyond taking shots and making passes. How much courage did he have? Or resilience? What about character under fire? Many players I’ve coached didn’t look special on paper, but in the process of creating a role for themselves they grew into formidable champions. Derek Fisher is a prime example. He began as a backup point guard for the Lakers with average foot speed and shooting skills. But he worked tirelessly and transformed himself into an invaluable clutch performer and one of the best leaders I’ve ever coached….

Another common lesson of these books is the importance of living in the present, and not wasting energy continually reaching out toward some illusory reward in the future.

Phil Jackson’s thoughts:

That’s why at the start of every season I always encouraged players to focus on the journey rather than the goal. What matters most is playing the game the right way and having the courage to grow, as human beings as well as basketball players. When you do that, the ring takes care of itself.

A third lesson is that external rewards don’t last. Your sub-3:00 marathon will rapidly depreciate in value. Present achievements are more fulfilling than fading memories. Those who live in the past become gray people.


Some coaches are obsessed with winning tro­phies; others like to see their faces on TV. What moves me is watch­ing young men bond together and tap into the magic that arises when they focus—with their whole heart and soul—on something greater than themselves. Once you’ve experienced that, it’s something you never forget….


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