Phil Jackson, legendary NBA basketball coach, used mindfulness techniques early in his life to be a smarter baseball and basketball player.

He subsequently utilized those same techniques mindfulness to become a great leader and coach. Certainly some have argued that he had such great talent in Michael Jordan that winning three titles in a row was easy. However, Jackson was convinced the Chicago Bulls couldn’t be great if they depended upon only one man to win games.

He dedicated the first couple years of coaching the Bulls to creating a selfless team – not a team with ‘me first’ mentality in their players. This was a team that worked closely together and was focused on only one goal – victory. He used a triangle offense that kept the players thinking and moving in unison, enabling them to be acutely aware of everything that was happening on the court.

He taught his team mindfulness techniques, including breathing, visualization and meditation which enabled them to be completely focused and to act with speed and accuracy. It made them much smarter players. Jackson said:

“Awareness is everything. The secret is not thinking. That doesn’t mean being stupid. It means quieting the endless jabbering of thoughts so that your body can do instinctively what it’s been trained to do without the mind getting in the way.”

He thinks for many people, the hyper-active critical mind is the biggest enemy to success.

Jackson also realized how easy it is in competitive sports for anger to get the best of any player. He said,“Anger was the restless demon that seized the group mind and kept the players from being fully awake.”

He infused his team with a ‘warrior’ mentality he learned from the Lakota and from Tibetan Buddhist teacher Chogyum Trungpa’s book Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior. Here’s what Trungpa says in that book, “The challenge of warriorship is to step out of the cocoon, to step out into space, by being brave and at the same time gentle.”

Jackson worked with his team throughout his years as a coach to help them become more skilled at realizing when anger was building so they could step away rather than do something they would regret later.

Here are some additional quotes from Phil Jackson’s book Sacred Hoops that sum up his feelings about how mindfulness creates smarter players:

“When players practice what is known as mindfulness–simply paying attention to what’s actually happening–not only do they play better and win more, they also become more attuned with each other.”

“The real reason the Bulls won three straight NBA championships from 1991 to ’93 was that we plugged in to the power of oneness instead of the power of one man, and transcended the divisive forces of the ego that have crippled far more gifted teams.”

“Success comes from being awake, aware, and in tune with others.”

“Like life, basketball is messy and unpredictable. It has its way with you, no matter how hard you try to control it. The trick is to experience each moment with a clear mind and open heart. When you do that, the game – and life – will take care of itself.”

excerpts from the conscious success blog, originally posted 12 May, 2012