I recently finished reading Tiger in a Lion’s Den, by former LSU men’s basketball coach Dale Brown. It’s kind of what you’d expect in reading a book by a coach. It certainly isn’t a literary masterpiece. But, I’m a hoops junkie, and I’ll read most books on basketball by successful coaches just to see what’s there.
Brown was an emotional leader, one who played by the rules and was an outspoken critic of the NCAA. I enjoyed his stories regarding coaching against basketball luminaries such as Bob Knight of Indiana and Joe B. Hall of Kentucky. The story I relate here had to do with UCLA coach John Wooden.
When Brown was getting established as a head coach, he called Wooden and asked if he could visit with him. Wooden “welcomed me into his home like an old friend,” Brown relates. And over the next several days Brown spent hours with him asking every conceivable question he could. Wooden was gracious with all of them.
On the last day of his visit, Brown tells of Wooden’s parting words;
“Dale, I really enjoyed spending time with you, but I could have saved you a lot of time if I’d just told you my secrets of coaching. One, make certain that you always have better players than the team you play; two, make sure those players put the team above themselves; and three, a very important point, always practice simplicity with constant repetition, and you will be successful.”
I was fortunate enough to take Ralph Miller’s last Basketball Coaching Class at OSU, PE 366. Miller’s main point was that sport is “trained response.” Just as you practice a fundamental such as planting off the opposite foot to hone the off-hand lay-up, you can practice your offense or defense until it becomes second nature.
Ok, so why is this in a Yoga blog?
It’s that last part, “always practice simplicity with constant repetition, and you will be successful.” To me, this approach epitomizes eastern practices such as Yoga, Qi Gong or Tai Chi. We practice with deliberation, very specific movements and postures. Unadorned of excess, we pay attention to detail, and through that practice, we find stillness, peace or calm.
John Wooden was a devout Christian. But I always find it interesting that men of spirit, regardless of religious belief, end up in a similar place, that of practicing simplicity. There are stories of Wooden teaching his players how to put on their socks and tie their shoes on the first day of practice. A bunched sock could lead to a blister, a blister to lost playing time and then not having your best players on the court at a crucial part of the game.
I often tell a story I heard of a Buddhist monk who chastised his students for the haphazard manner they left their shoes before entering the room for meditation. Place them neatly, he said. Your practice begins before you enter the room. Do everything with intention and success will follow.
It doesn’t always seem that way however.
As we practice Yoga we become more aware and attuned. Sometimes the realization is how far out of balance we are and how much work there is to be done to bring our being back into balance.
The beautiful thing about this type of practice though, is that we don’t need to be better than anyone. We place the moment over the ego’s need to achieve a certain outcome, and we practice simplicity by simply returning to the mat.
To quote my favorite Yoga instructor, “I didn’t say it would be easy, I just said that it would be worth it.”
See you in class!