This past month has been an extremely disappointing time for the world champion Los Angeles Lakers. They not only lost big to their prime time opponents, the Miami Heat, but to decidedly weaker teams as well. Following a recent lopsided loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, in which Kobe Bryant tried to take control of the Laker offense by taking more than half of the team’s shots in the third quarter of the game, coach Phil Jackson charged that Kobe’s one-on-one mindset took “the rest of the guys out” of the flow of the game (Los Angeles Times Sports Section, Jan. 4, 2011)
Kobe acknowledged as much when he said, “He [Phil Jackson] was right, I totally broke the offense…”
Laker Center Pau Gasol Agrees: Kobe Took Over
Laker Center Pau Gasol effectively agrees with Jackson’s assessment of the impact on the other Lakers when Kobe tries to take over a game. In the article Gasol states, “I think we’re more effective and we’re more successful when our offense is balanced and everybody’s contributing. We all know that we’re in good shape when everybody’s 10-plus points and just getting good looks because the offense will do that for you.”
Other players can’t contribute if they aren’t given the opportunity to do so—if they can’t, as they say in basketball, “get their hands on the ball”. This point was proved again in the very next game, when shots and scoring were more evenly distributed among the players. The Lakers beat the Detroit Pistons by over 20 points.
When You Control You Can’t Flow!
One of the central themes of my new book, Losing Control, Finding Serenity (available next month), is that excessive control disrupts the flow in all areas of our lives: love and intimacy, family, parenting, creative endeavors—and definitely in sports performance.
Why does excessive control lead to lost games, thrown matches, and major mistakes? It’s simple: when you control you can’t flow.
The chapter of my book entitled Losing Sports Control: Gaining the Competitive Edge explains this phenomenon in detail. The basic concept: often when athletes press or try to do too much, they not only play poorly themselves, but they also severely impact the play of their teammates. Controlling behaviors can go beyond limiting an athlete’s personal performance; they can hobble an entire team.
Coincidentally (or perhaps not!), the primary example I use in that chapter is the history of Kobe Bryant’s play. In my view, the other Lakers consistently play better when Kobe is willing to lose some control by not trying to do too much. Kobe is truly a remarkable athlete, but that doesn’t always translate into wins for his team. History shows that the Lakers win far more games when Kobe has a lot of assists! In basketball, making assists—supporting other players instead of hogging the ball—is the epitome of letting go of control.
Tips for Giving Up Sports Control
I offered some tips for letting go of sports control in my November 3 post, Lose Slumps by Losing Control . Here are two more effective ways to give up control and improve your athletic performance:
1. Stay within your own game. Stay with what you do best. When play is not going well, players often feel the urgency to do more, usually leading them to play beyond their skill levels. Don’t make this mistake. Over-reaching helps some of the time, but in the long run, performance usually suffers. Staying within one’s own game is a particular dilemma for highly talented athletes like Kobe.
2. Do What Chris Paul Does: Sense the flow of the game. Like life, sports have their unique and unpredictable ebb and flow. The action constantly shifts and changes. It’s important to get a sense of the natural flow of the game. To do this, you must not force the action. Rather, develop the patience to wait until the “action” comes to you. Then you can participate more naturally within your own skill set.
To me, no athlete senses the flow of a game better than New Orleans Hornets All Star point guard Chris Paul. Paul is particularly adept at identifying what he needs to do to enhance the flow in ways favorable to his team. When he’s needed, he applies his skills almost seamlessly. As a result, he usually plays differently from game to game and even within the same game. Sometimes he becomes an aggressive scorer; at other times, he’s a facilitator. He picks and chooses his moments, maximizing his performance and that of his teammates. Chris Paul’s play is a perfect example of decontrol techniques at their most effective.
The next time you play your favorite sport, try these decontrol tools, too—and please let me know what happens.
In the meantime, remember
Let it Go!