Book Review: Zen and the Art of Coaching Basketball by Ben Guest

As you can probably tell from my past book reviews, I am a big advocate of reading. I believe all athletes and coaches should make reading a part of their daily regimen. There are so many great books out there that can help improve your motivation, mindset, athletic performance, mental health, and leadership skills. You can gain great knowledge and wisdom not only from sports science and self-help books, but also from sports autobiographies and memoirs. In fact, these autobiographies and memoirs (along with some fiction books) can often teach you lessons in ways that other books cannot. For example, the engaging storylines and characters in these books can leave a lasting impression on you.

This is why I'm excited to share with you my book review on Zen and the Art of Coaching Basketball by Ben Guest. In this memoir, Ben Guest shares his story of coaching high school and professional basketball in Africa. One of the main reasons why I like this book is because it's very short, easy to read, and entertaining. As an author, Ben Guest writes very concisely and gets straight to the point. This is great for busy coaches and athletes who don't always have the time or motivation to read books. If you're a fast reader, you can finish this book in a day or two.

However, despite being only 152 pages, this book is packed with great wisdom and practical advice. Here are three of the biggest lessons I learned from this book:

1. Sports are for everyone
As an American sports fan, you probably don't know who Ben Guest is. I'm sure you also don't keep up with high school or professional basketball in Namibia, Africa. But this doesn't mean you can't learn from Ben Guest and his experience of coaching basketball in Africa. His story of coaching high school students in Africa is very inspiring. To me, it shows that sports are for everyone. You don't have to be a collegiate or professional coach/athlete in America to have a fulfilling career in sports. No matter who you are or where you're from, you can gain the many benefits of playing and coaching sports! The joy of being on a team, improving, and working towards a shared goal is available to everyone. It doesn't matter how old you are or what your skill level is. If you want to be involved in sports, you can almost always find a way to join a team or coach a team! And even if your team has no spectators, you can still gain the joy and life lessons offered by sports!

2. Life is bigger than sports
One of the biggest lessons taught in this book is the fact that life is bigger than sports. While sports are great, they are not an end in themselves. Sports are a means to a greater end. They teach you life lessons such as work ethic, accountability, perseverance, resilience, teamwork, leadership, and humility. After you retire from competitive sports, you can apply these life lessons for the rest of your life to help you become a better employee, a better father/mother, and a better person overall! Here is one of my favorite quotes from this book:

"After high school, a lot of these guys will stop playing. They will forget what you taught them, but they will always remember how you made them feel."

This quote is powerful because it reminds you that while winning is important, making lifelong relationships is what really matters. Sports don't last forever, but strong friendships do. If you take the time and effort to build strong relationships with your teammates and coaches, you'll be much more satisfied later in life. However, this doesn't mean that you have to give up winning to make strong relationships. In actuality, by focusing on building strong relationships and a healthy team culture, you can have more success on the court! If done the right way, winning becomes a byproduct of great relationships/culture.

3. Be authentic as a coach
Another great thing about this book is that it shows how to coach authentically. Too often, we see coaches who just try to be like other coaches. For example, they yell loud and give lots of instructions because they think this is how coaches should act. Instead of trusting their own coaching style, they are too worried about how others view them as a coach. This is why it's refreshing to read about Ben Guest coaching authentically and trusting his own unique style. Instead of emulating the typical "command and control" coach, Ben Guest coaches in a much more relaxed and empathetic manner. However, this doesn't mean he lets his players walk all over him. He maintains high standards while also empowering his players by earning their trust and building "psychological safety." He does this in two ways:
  1. By truly caring about his players as people.
  2. By trusting his players to make plays in games without interfering from the sideline.
Ben Guest also shows great open-mindedness and innovation by incorporating mindfulness and meditation into his coaching. While many coaches ignore such things, Guest fully embraced these practices, and as a result, he helped his team remain in the present and perform better under pressure. As a coach, I encourage you to reflect on your own coaching philosophy and put it into practice!

Lastly, I want to share one sports psychology tip taught in this book: Stay off your emotional rollercoaster. Don't get too high after wins or low after losses. To help manage your emotions, you need to stay in the present moment and avoid the traps of dwelling in the past and worrying about the future. If you stay focused on the process, you'll have an easier time bouncing back from adversity and maintaining success, both during games and throughout a season!

Overall, this is a great sports memoir that I recommend to all athletes and coaches!

If you want to connect with Ben Guest, you can follow him on Twitter (@bguest) or subscribe to his free newsletter (benbo.substack.com).

Comments

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