Some Lessons From the World’s Best Sports Coaches

New Netflix documentary showcases wisdom that can be gained from the world of sports

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Image courtesy of The New Yorker

“I’m not gonna coach you to who you are. I’m gonna coach you to who you should be someday.”

These are the words of the former Boston Celtics coach, Glenn ‘Doc’ Rivers, who led the team to multiple NBA championships during his reign from 2004 to 2013, then later as the coach for the Los Angeles Clippers. Named as the most successful coach in Clippers history, according to the NBA, Doc was featured on the first episode of a recently debuted documentary series on Netflix called The Playbook: A Coach’s Rules for Life.

In an interview that was as deep and intimate as a romantic relationship, he relayed all the things that he learned from his time as a professional basketball player and later, as a coach. I was amazed at just how much I learned from him (and will definitely watch the next few episodes) about what playing sports can teach you about life. Here are the best ones:

· Ubuntu is a way of life. Never heard of Ubuntu? Me neither. Ubuntu is a philosophy, a form of a leadership according to Doc. It’s a way of lifting others up in order to lift yourself up. “The better you are, the better I am,” he says. Because of this mindset, his team has achieved immense success in the NBA. But I can certainly see this as a way of life in general, not just in sports. By helping others become better people, you will eventually become a better person yourself because that person is an inspiration to you.

· Recognize your own privilege. There’s a lot of pressure in the world of sports, especially basketball. Time is limited, and a lot is on the line. So, it may seem like a bad thing, that if you don’t win the race, then you’re a loser. But to Doc, feeling that pressure & having that pressure is a good thing. It’s a privilege. Another way to think about it is — you’ve made it this far, and a lot is riding on the line because you’ve worked hard; therefore, you get to feel something that a lot of people don’t get to feel.

· No matter what, finish what you started and don’t become a victim. As a child growing up in Chicago, he was a kid who didn’t take school or life very seriously. It wasn’t until an incident in which his teacher ostracized him for wanting to become a basketball player and later his dad agreeing with the teacher that changed the way he saw the world. But his father also told him that whatever he ultimately chooses to be, to never give up until he was finished. This mentality has helped him through several adversarial events including David Sterling’s racist comments and racism directed at his wife, who is white. He decided early on that he should never be a victim nor act like one. He would fight back and continue.

· Resilience is the key to winning. Doc says common misconception states that champions don’t ever face any adversity or get hit. To him, it’s not about getting hit — it’s about getting back up. “People think that if you’re the champion you don’t get hit. It’s the exact opposite. Champions get hit over and over and over. It’s the champion that decides to keep moving forward.”

The role of a coach is like the role of a parent — it takes awhile before you can see the fruits of your labor. You spend years with your pupils, get close to them, only to realize that some of them will let you down, but that’s just part of life, he says. The role of a coach is still incredibly important because it can teach you about your own life. “Your job is to make them better players, better people, better teammates. How to be tough, how to be compassionate, how to be a good winner, how to be a good loser, if there’s such a thing. It teaches you life.”

All of this, and so much more in the series, is incredibly inspiring to me. I never thought that the world of professional sports can be so useful in one’s personal life. In many ways, Doc is the epitome of resilience and the ultimate “rags to riches” story. His wisdom is gained from a lifelong of sacrifices, choices and decisions that may or may not have been the best ones. Perhaps the most important lesson of all is this — nobody is perfect, and you can only learn by doing.

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Drinks too much coffee and writes about business, culture, parenting and personal finance. More writing here https://littletidbits.substack.com/

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