What do Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant, and Lamar Odom all have in common other than being considered some of the greatest basketball players of all time? They were all led by Phil Jackson, known as the "Zen Master," and arguably the best basketball coach in history. Phil Jackson has so many NBA Championship rings that he actually does not have enough fingers in both hands to wear them all. He won a total of 6 championships as head coach for the Chicago Bulls, 5 championships as head coach for the LA Lakers, and add to the eleven the two championships he won as a power forward for the Knicks in the seventies. He has the most championships in the game.
In early 2018, the star of the Toronto Raptors, DeMar DeRozan, came out publicly as to how his mental health was struggling. He said, "No matter how indestructible we look like we are, we're all human at the end of the day." When other players in the NBA began expressing similar struggles, the NBA decided to institute a major mental health initiative for the 2019/2020 season. This was a huge step in the right direction for professional athletes getting the support they needed. But this wasn't the first time there was a focus on mental health and performance in the NBA. Phil Jackson had been working on mindfulness with the Chicago Bulls since 1993!
Phil Jackson's legendary coaching included some rather unconventional tactics. At first, the players were critical and did not believe that mindfulness would make them better basketball players. But slowly they realized that it was making an impact on and off the court. "As much as we pump iron and we run to build our strength up, we need to build our mental strength up...so we can focus...so we can be in concert with one another," said Jackson. One way he introduced mindfulness was by having the players practice in complete silence. "There is a lot of chatter in basketball and, rightfully, you want players to be talking to each other...but sometimes in practice it gets too verbose...I tried to take things out of the ordinary and make them special so they would understand the difference." He also introduced the team to meditation. Imagine a group of 6'4" guys sitting on the basketball court, in the dark, in complete stillness. It just wasn't an option if you were part of the team.
There are a number of benefits for practicing mindfulness, whether you are a star athlete or a hard working student. Mindfulness helps you with attention and focus, helps you control your emotions, sleep better, boosts memory and the immune system, improves social skills, reduces test anxiety, greater empathy, less stress, and has been found to reduce ADHD symptoms. Some ways that you can practice mindfulness is by separating time for silence or meditation, try and notice something new when looking at familiar objects, go for a walk without distraction, if doing a task like making your bed you can focus on your breathing, and being really present by bringing your attention to every detail.
These strategies can help build your mental strength to use in times of need. It is important to build the muscle of the mind as much as your body. Not only can this help you in the classroom but in your extra-curricular activities too. Phil Jackson, as well as most of his players like Kobe Bryant, continue to practice mindfulness every single day even after leaving the game of basketball.
In this week’s #MakeItHappen Monday, you can try and separate time to practice mindfulness. Find moments in the day to be focused on the present without any distractions and see if the habit sticks. Let us know what strategies work for you by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or share your story and tag us on social.
Go make it happen, Matias, Luly & the YTeach Team
“Always keep an open mind and a compassionate heart.” - Phil Jackson