Steve Kerr and the Warriors versus Trump and his 'Killers': which kind of winner would you rather be?

A Look at What Joy, Compassion, and Mindfulness Have to do with Winning

I, (like at least a million and a half other fans who showed up at the parade) have been following the Golden State Warriors and am excited about this championship and parade – especially this year in particular, with the current state of our country.

I admire not only the finesse with which they play – that’s a given; but I especially admire and respect the values behind their winning ways. I am deeply appreciative of Steve Kerr’s leadership as the head coach. He and the Warriors are a breath of fresh air in contrast to our current political leadership. Watching the Warriors gives me hope, makes me feel inspired, and gives me a model of integrity in action to witness. They have brought me much joy in stark contrast to the ongoing grim and disturbing political news we have been hearing.

You may wonder, what does a psychotherapist have to say about a championship NBA team? Or why is the Warriors win important to her? I am always looking for how healthy values are exemplified in our world. The Warriors practice and espouse values we can be proud to have our children emulate. Many parents have expressed concern to me in these recent negative times about how to talk to their kids about the terribleness and mean spiritedness going on. The Warriors provide a healthy antidote, and an uplifting message.

Not only am I truly amazed with what they do on the court (behind the back dribbles; shots from near midcourt; beautiful precise through-traffic passes; eyes in the back of their heads to know with a sixth sense where not only the ball will be, but where their team mate will be; uncanny defense of blocked shots; the way they can come back after being down double-digit points; etc.); but I am also impressed with the character they show at the core of that teamwork and off the court.

The general manager said about many of the Warriors that they are even better men than they are players – if you can believe that. It’s lovely to see truly decent men – pro athletes – who care about their families, their community, each other. They are beautiful to watch play, weaving together an artistic and amazing warrior dance – so fluid, so fully participatory; so engaging. And they are all really nice guys who seem to be not stuck on themselves.

Steve Kerr, their coach, has been instrumental in establishing values that each of these guys and the whole organization practice, share and live by.

Everyone knows his core four are Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, but did you know that the core four values behind the Core 4 are:

  1. Joy
  2. Compassion
  3. Mindfulness
  4. Competition?

I was surprised to learn that mindfulness is one of his/ their core values. But actually not really surprised. Maybe more affirmed to know of yet another venue where the practice of Mindfulness can contribute to one’s or a team’s success. Mindfulness is about being fully present in the moment, without judgment, and includes such principles as compassion (another of Steve Kerr’s core values), self compassion, equanimity, acceptance, gratitude. Mindfulness can not only help one to deal with anxiety, depression, stress, conflictual relationships, and other distressful situations, but it can also improve one’s focus, productivity, sleep, and performance, as evidenced by the Warriors championship season(s).

Even if you don’t follow basketball, it’s refreshing to hear of a professional team that is so inclusive, so truly based on the team success rather than on any one individual star player. And the way they live, breathe and play Mindfulness and have so much success is really cool. Other leaders could learn a lot from them about how to bring about the best in the country. (Maybe the Warriors should invite the President to their House in Oakland to school him about inclusion, compassion, healthy competition, Assists?).

I love their team work. I love the idea of everyone participating and bringing in their contribution. My favorite impressive stats about the Warriors (and there are many) is being the leader in the league of assists – a pass made to someone else that contributes to the making of the basket. I’ve seen them regularly make so many beautiful assists – taking what they do well individually to highlight another player so that person makes the points for the team – even if they were open themselves and could’ve made that shot to begin with. I’ve also seen many incredible passes that would be counted as an assist, if the basket was made, but an unmade basket still highlights the expert team-man-ship of the assists. The idea of assisting – helping your fellow teammate; always being there to help someone else shine; not taking all the glory for oneself, seems like a really good way to live life – and as evidenced by the Warriors – can actually lead to real success.

The state of our country would be so different if the core values Steve Kerr coaches – joy, compassion, mindfulness and competition, were at the forefront.

At the championship rally, Steve Kerr had his own “cabinet meeting” (a gathering of his most important and trusted guys) and instead of having all his guys give him praises (like our illustrious leader recently did), he gave heartfelt praises to each of his players. He values the contributions of the behind the scenes guys – the bench – as much as he does the stars, and sees each one’s contributions as being central to the team’s success – whether on the court or from the bench.

Of course Steve Kerr is human too, and when he recognized he made a mistake at the rally of not acknowledging the true heart and leader of the team (Steph Curry), he immediately apologized and offered words of humility. He didn’t try to blame someone else – or throw someone under the bus, or self aggrandize, to detract from the shame that he felt in that embarrassing moment. He made amends, and as always exemplified integrity.

Steve Kerr considers the opinions of each of his players, organization, and coaching staff. He welcomes ideas that may not be aligned with his own. He doesn’t coach from the top down. He collaborates; is flexible; brings out the best in each of his players by appreciating and valuing their strengths; and being straightforward without condemning about what they might need to work on. All of this has the impact of bringing the whole organization together. There are no “losers” or people he’s trigger-happy to fire in his book – even other teams they have defeated, or been defeated by. Even to his fiercest competitors, he gives recognition and respect… More good values to live by.

I love the way the Warriors practice inclusion. Sure, they welcomed in a big star onto their team (Kevin Durant) but he could only be as successful with them, as they were able to be embracing of him.  It’s not easy to bring a potentially big ego’d player into the mix and help him to blend with the team and for the team to integrate. They not only made room for him, but wove his strengths into the flow and fabric of the rest of the team, which ended up bringing out the even better ‘best’ of each player.

Several players acknowledged that they feel encouraged and lifted up by their teammates. They credit Steve Kerr with empowering them and inspiring them to be the best teammate they can be. Each player eagerly and genuinely practices the art of unselfishness, and is willing to give up their own individual interest (minutes played; star status; scoring; starting position; salary; etc.) in order to benefit the workings of the team.

Even Steve Kerr himself hated to have to draw his attention away from the team and to focus solely on himself and his health in order to deal with his relentless back and neck pain. This unselfishness is certainly refreshing and joyful to behold, especially in the current political climate in which leaders carry on with an “all about me” attitude, and are insensitive to the divisiveness, lack of integrity, displeasure or suffering others experience as a result.  The Warriors know that things like inclusion, acceptance, and input are powerful values that actually bring out the best in others.

Other mindfulness related themes that Steve Kerr and the Warriors practice include the following:

They emphasize just breathing. They try to stay in the moment and they see that it works. They are appreciative of each moment. The reason they won had to do with their strength of character.

Steve Kerr encourages playing beyond one’s circumstances (ref calls, injuries, ejections, etc.) – accept them as part of the game and don’t let them define you. Keep playing your game.

He also expresses repeatedly the gratitude he has for just being in this place. He never forgets to appreciate with awe, all the wonder of it all, and knows the potential for loss or suffering within any moment.

Each person on the bench is ready to step up and step in when needed. The bench feel like valuable contributors, no matter how few or how many minutes they play.

They play with joy, and have fun. If for some reason they are not connected to the fun, their game slips. They try to retrieve the fun in order to get back in their flow.

New players who come on feel like they are accepted for who they are and have said that this is the greatest team they’ve ever had the honor to be a part of.

The coaches come to work every day and look forward to seeing each and every person. They see everyone’s talent and commitment and feel like they have the best job in the world, respecting each one as an ultimate warrior.

And then there is the emphasis on compassion. It’s been said that Steph Curry is a perfect example of ‘nice guys finish first’; and he is who the Warriors want to lead their team. When asked about praise given to teammates, he said “Who cares who gets the praise? When one of us gets the praise we all benefit from it. We all get the praise.”

Their theme of Strength in Numbers is based on the premise that everyone and every one counts.

The Warriors continually work on refining their inner game, are as generous off the court as they are on the court – all of which allows them to touch peoples hearts and to connect to the sense of meaning people want to have in their lives.

It takes talent to get to the top, but it takes a lot of character to stay there. Thank you, Steve Kerr and the Warriors team for being so exemplary in your decency and for presenting us with healthy models of how to live mindfully and still be able to have ultimate success. I so appreciate your presence, particularly in these challenging times.

So how have the Warriors affected you? I’d love to hear what’s working for you as you try to keep balanced during difficult times. Respond to this post and share your ideas.

If you or your loved ones are having trouble finding your own sense of calm and peace in today’s troubled world, please contact me to arrange a therapy appointment for you individually, or in your couple, or for your teen.

Finally, Happy Solstice to you! May you celebrate light in its many forms on this longest day of the year (in the northern hemisphere that is).

For more ideas on how to bring more calm and less worry into your life, click here for a free email course on Mindfulness.

Listening with Heart
Cindi Rivera, MFT
Marriage, Family Therapist
[email protected]
(510) 482-4445

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