I just finished Zen and the Art of Coaching Basketball: Memoir of a Namibian Odyssey by Ben Guest. Guest makes his first trip to Namibia shortly after college as part of the Peace Corps. After a couple stops in Mississippi as a teacher and coach, he returns to Namibia to teach at a private, international high school. Despite the school not offering sports, Guest goes to watch the public school championships and is offered a job to coach a boy's high school team.
Here are my key takeaways from the book.
It's Hard to Let Go
I've certainly experienced this in my own life with coaching stops across the country. At the end of the book, Guest explains what his players are doing now. As Guest describes it, Life doesn't have Hollywood endings, as he talks about the status of his best player. On the flip side, several kids are really successful.
The real wisdom here, though, is that coaches can't control what happens to their players. Neither can parents. A coach's job is to teach, to inspire, and to help young people see their potential. Some will reach their potential; others won't. But, the future can never change what happened when a team was together.
Sooley, by John Grisham, echoed a similar wisdom.
Great Coaching is Being True to Yourself
So many of us attend coaching clinics, read books, and aim to "be more like another coach." While it's great to learn from others, ultimately Guest "comes of age" and develops a philosophy that fits his personality. Guest believes in meditation so his players meditate. He believes in teaching in practice and then letting players freely execute in the games. He even implements a "platoon system" when it comes to substitutions.
As a former college basketball player, I played for coaches during my career that had an inherent confidence in whatever they did. Did it come from experience, study, or maybe just arrogance? It wasn't my place to determine. The bottom line, though, is that we (as players) followed those guys. There was a clarity in what we did and why we did it. It didn't mean that we ignored the other team, how they played, and the adjustments that we needed to make. But, we ultimately knew that our success was about us.
Coaching is About More Than Sports
It's about relationships. Guest's decision to coach in Namibia changes the lives of those young men, and it clearly changes his. I've always believed coaching is a vocation; if you over scrutinize why you're doing it, most rationale people would say it's not worth it at all. The hours are long, the money is terrible, and you're often doing it above and beyond a full-time job. Sign me right up!
But, anyone that's earned the respect of a group of players and seen them achieve even a sliver of their potential knows what that feels like. You feel connected to one another. You all went through "hard" together, and what comes out is one team, still made up of individuals but seemingly bonded for life.
Your Impact Matters
We can't always choose where and how we're supposed to execute our purpose. When Guest returned from his original Peace Corps assignment and settled back into life in the United States, I'm sure returning to Namibia wasn't at the top of his list. Over time, though, he felt a calling to return.
He didn't have to coach those boys. By that time, he had his PhD and was well-accomplished professionally. My point: be open to the things that truly make you feel alive.
We inherently shield ourselves from these things. Why? Because they force us to step outside of our routines and our comfortable lives. But that's the whole point. You can't do anything truly meaningful if very little effort is required from you. Think about that as you pave your path and contemplate your future.
I really enjoyed the book and would recommend it. Zen and the Art of Coaching Basketball: Memoir of a Namibian Odyssey by Ben Guest is available on Amazon here.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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