Zen and the Art of Basketball Coaching

Between teaching university classes and trying to complete my thesis, my mind is a constant buzz. Visions of to-do lists, teaching plans and statistics dance in my head during most waking moments and sometimes my dreams. When I finish one task, another is in the bullpen waiting to be heard. Maybe when I finish school my mind will rest; until then, I need something to maintain a good level of mental health.

Meditation, it seemed, was an appropriate solution. Images in magazines of serene folks sitting cross-legged, with no cares written across their faces – I wanted that feeling of peace and no worries. And once, I did achieve a few seconds of pure Utopian silence. The feeling was completely foreign but exciting, and it spurred me on to find larger pools of tranquility. However, that one moment has been the only one, and for the most part my mind refuses to sit still. Yoga classes, guided relaxation podcasts, calming music, or a silent room – nothing seemed to help me absorb the wisdom from silence. The brain still buzzes with racing thoughts. The phone rings. The cat finds my still lap and begins purring like farming equipment. I started thinking that it was impossible to quiet a mind geared for the fast lane.

Then I learned a valuable lesson in meditation: do not look for the silence.

Every week, I coach basketball for 6 and 7 year old kids. The noise in the gym is thunderous, with kids cheering themselves on as they successfully score a basket. One particular evening, the team had just completed a series of drills and was enjoying a water break. The kids were slow to return to the gym floor, but I wasn’t in the mood to rush them, either. Instead, I grabbed a basketball and lofted it towards the net in a few lazy lay-ups. The other coach came over and we started goofing around with mock superstar plays: passes slicing across the court back and forth until one of us would leap to the net in a glorious professional shot.

After a minute or two, a boy sees us playing and races back to the court to steal the ball. Then another kid returns. A third became successful at grabbing the ball from us, and it turned into a game of cat-and-mouse, the two coaches chasing after the three squealing kids. Before long, the game expanded to 2 versus 17, and the entire team followed the ball in a chaotic swarm of laughing and screaming. I weaved in and out of players to get open and make a shot. When the kids got the ball, I would run over to them and jump up and down, arms flailing with a pathetic warrior yell to rile them up. To my surprise, the kids had been listening during practice, and they began yelling to each other to get open for a pass or to defend the net. The impromptu game only lasted a few moments, but the kids were beaming.

And for the few moments that game took place, my mind found peace and quiet. I was in the present tense, living in the moment, and I didn’t give a hoot about anything else.

Bryn Robinson is a freelance writer and PhD student in psychology at the University of New Brunswick, specializing in influences on young adults’ mental health.