The following is Part IV of a five-part series that I have been releasing over the past month or so. Be sure to read Part IPart II, and Part III first, to get a better understanding of this topic.

Running with the Bulls

Another example of Phil Jackson’s leadership capacities was his ability to work with and help his player’s grow as people; but to do that, Jackson realized that his own development and evolution was of utmost importance. Helsing and Lahey describe this personal growth as a third requirement in self-transformational leadership which they established as, “Understand own selves and leadership identities as always revisable (and) evolving.”1 In order to be a highly developed coach, one must be willing to grow, change, and learn through experience. 

In this way, Jackson’s highly developed mental capacity would allow him to navigate challenging interpersonal relationships with “larger than life” personalities and bullish egos, including two legends of the game in Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Just as Jackson’s self-transformational mind allowed him to naturally gravitate towards supporting an adaptive learning environment, he was also inclined to intuitively support his players towards having a growth mindset, a cognitive skill that Dweck proposes as essential for transformational development.2

For example, Jackson recalled, “In general, I tried to give Michael (Jordan) room to figure out how to integrate his personal ambitions with those of the team.”3 Dweck supported this coach’s instinct specifically in the realm of athletics (in which she also coincidentally cites Jordan), as she found, “Those with the growth mindset found success in doing their best, in learning and improving . . . found setbacks motivating . . . took charge of the processes that bring success—and that maintain it.”4 Although the growth mindset is not related to Kegan’s constructive-developmental theory (CDT) and may or may not be necessarily indicative of any particular order of mind or level of development, it is the manner in which Jackson supports this type of growth in his athletes that highlights his own developmental and leadership capacities.

This leadership would certainly be tested by some extremely volatile personalities, none of which was more challenging than Jackson’s ever-evolving relationship with Bryant. Early in the player’s legendary career with the Lakers, Jackson recalled that, “He was so confident in his ability that you couldn’t simply point out his mistakes and expect him to alter his behavior. He would have to experience failure directly before his resistance would start to break down. It was often an excruciating process for him and everyone else involved.”5 Although coaches at socialized or even self-authoring forms of mind may have the ability to hold and be aware of their players’ needs, interests, and desires, there was something remarkable in the way Jackson handled this relationship. 

Jackson’s self-transformational mind allowed him to approach and relate to Bryant with tremendous perspective, as he recounted, “Anger is an energizing emotion that enhances the sustained attention needed to solve problems and leads to more flexible ‘big picture’ thinking . . . I had a lot practice working with my anger that year, and Kobe was my main teacher.”6 Amazingly, Jackson is able to reverse the power dynamic at hand between Bryant and himself; rather than simply trying to “get through” to the young and immature player, the wise coach viewed this relationship as something that he himself could personally learn and develop from. 

This ability to hold his own ideology of self-authorship as object is indicative of the self-transformational mind that can, “hold on to many different perspectives and make an informed decision that takes competing perspectives into account but is driven by their own sense of mission or values.”7 Although Jackson and Bryant may have been at odds on many issues, particularly earlier in Bryant’s career—Jackson was able to maintain a greater perspective and allow their relationship to actively grow one another in their common quest to win championships together.

There are many other examples that demonstrate Jackson’s highly advanced order of mind and his ability to manage challenging interpersonal relationships and group dynamics. His recollection of past seasons, teams, and players throughout his book demonstrate a man who is able to hold his own self-authorship, ideology, and identity as object, all capacities indicative of a self-transformational leader.8 He seems to be aware of the fact that he is actually in a co-creative process with all of his experiences and his relationships; in this way, Jackson’s self-transformational mind allows him to embody a distinct elegance in which he knows that not only is he creating the world around him, but the world is creating him as well.9 Jackson’s leadership capacities geared towards interpersonal relationships were deeply influenced by his spiritual path once again, as he recited from the Tao Te Ching, “The wise leader is of service: receptive, yielding, following. The group member’s vibration dominates and leads, while the leader follows. But soon it is the member’s consciousness which is transformed, the member’s vibration which is resolved.”10

In his own words, Jackson fittingly explained, “The soul of success is surrendering to what is.”11 This expansive nature, defined by a highly developed self-transformational mind, drives his commitment towards personal evolution and also inspires the growth of those around him. For example, Bryant displays his own remarkable transformation as he described Jackson’s mentorship as, “a philosophy of how to live. Being present and enjoying each moment as it comes. Letting my children develop at their own pace . . . I learned that all from Phil.”12 The impact that Jackson has on his players is clearly special—perhaps even more impressive than his eleven championship rings. 

As a coach, developing oneself may lead to greater player and team performance, but most importantly, it will support the personal development and growth of young men and women. 

1 Helsing, D., & Lahey, L. (2010). Unlocking leadership potential: Overcoming immunities to change. In Bunker, K., Hall, D.T., & Kram, K.E. (Eds.), Extraordinary leadership: Addressing the gaps in senior executive development (69-94). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. p. 76

2 Dweck, C.S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Random House.

3 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 97

4 Dweck, C.S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York, NY: Random House, p. 98-101

5 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 217

6 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 269-270

7 Garvey Berger, J. (2012). Changing on the job: Developing leaders for a complex world. Stanford, CA:     Stanford University Press, p. 41

8 Shore, S.K. (2014). The rough notes: Identifying orders of mind. (Unpublished class notes). Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

9 McNamara, R.L. (2012). The elegant self: A radical approach to personal evolution for greater influence in life. Boulder, CO: Performance Integral.

10 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 121

11 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 334

12 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 317


The following is Part III of a five-part series that I will be releasing over the next few weeks. Be sure to read Part I and Part II first, to get a better understanding of this topic.

Adaptive Leadership and The Paradoxical Nature of the Triangle Offense

Many athletic coaches lead in a transactional manner as they try to control for the performance and success of their players and teams, strictly through skills development and team strategy. These coaches are like the average business leaders who, “under pressure to deliver ‘leadership’ all too often make the classic error of treating adaptive challenges as if they were technical problems,”.1 Phil Jackson however, guides his players and teams towards transformational growth as he creates an ideal adaptive environment, a term originated and defined by Heifetz and Laurie for leadership development in the corporate world.2

Interestingly enough, Heifetz and Linsky actually cited Jackson as a prime example of their theory, as he demonstrated remarkable adaptive leadership capacities amidst major turmoil and controversy with one of his Bulls’ teams; as the researchers explained, “Jackson gave the work of addressing both the Pippen and the Jordan issues back to the team for another reason: If he had taken ownership of the problem, he would have become the issue, at least for the moment,”.3 This anecdote is indicative of the main difference between technical and adaptive leadership in that, “While technical problems may be very complex and critically important . . . they have known solutions that can be implemented by current know-how . . . Adaptive challenges can only be addressed through changes in people’s priorities, beliefs, habits, and loyalties,”.4 In this way, adaptive leadership promotes transformational growth within organizations and teams. 

Although Jackson himself may or may not be unaware of these concepts and technical applications from the leadership, educational, and developmental worlds, he fully understands and embodies this work as a basketball coach. Aptly, Jackson explained, “I can’t pretend to be an expert in leadership theory. But what I do know is the art of transforming a group of young, ambitious individuals into an integrated championship team is not a mechanistic process,”.5

Theory and application are two very different conversations though, and the real power behind Jackson’s ability to actually lead in this way comes from his own developmental order of mind. This discussion leads to the second aforementioned quality of self-transformational leaders as proposed by Helsing and Lahey, which is their ability to, “orient to the dialectical or paradoxical, welcoming contradiction and oppositeness,”.6 It is Jackson’s highly-ordered and complex developmental capacities of holding paradox, theory, ideology that allow him to create a powerful adaptive environment for his own players and teams development.

There are a number of instances that showcase Jackson’s developmental leadership ability to hold paradox—for example, many times he refuses to call timeouts as his team is struggling, “so that the players would be forced to coming up with a solution on their own”; he views discipline, “not as a weapon but as a way to instill harmony into the players’ lives”; and describes the ultimate polarity of athletic competition between winning and losing as, “obsessing about winning is a loser’s game: The most we can hope for is to create the best possible conditions for success, then let go of the outcome,”.7

However, one of the most salient examples of adaptive leadership in Jackson’s coaching career was his commitment to the “triangle offense”. Jackson describes how this offensive strategy is a paradox in itself, as it is dictated by a disciplined foundation and well-organized framework that also allows for tremendous creativity and flow within that structure. Many coaches within basketball and many other sports try to create specific plays for their teams to follow on command. Jackson though, coached in a way that challenged his players to work together within a highly-structured formation, while also supporting them to fully express their individual talents, skills, and creative abilities.

More specifically, the triangle offense is a fascinating example of a moving mindfulness practice in group form. As Jackson described, “the triangle as ‘five-man tai chi’ because it involves all the players moving together in response to the way the defense positions itself,” and Bryant, his star player on the Lakers, explained, “the opposition didn’t know what we were going to do . . . because we didn’t know what we were going to do from moment to moment,”.8 This strategy allows his teams to become present and to enter a flow state together as a whole as they learn to read and react to their teammates’ movements, as well as to the other team’s defense.9

From a CDT perspective, Jackson is able to hold this system—which could be seen as a team theory or identity—in the same way that he is able to hold his own personal ideologies as object. Furthermore, Jackson holds this theory or ideology as a space through which his players and teams can grow and develop their own capacities. Jackson eloquently noted, “The beauty of the system—and this applies to all kinds of systems, not just the triangle—was that it turned the whole team into a learning organization,”.10

Interestingly enough, many of Jackson’s players, especially his star players like Jordan and Bryant were extremely resistant to playing within the triangle offense at first, but grew to love the structure over the course of their careers.11 Assuredly, adaptive environments are expected to be uncomfortable in one way or another as they challenge people to grow and develop in complex ways, along with also providing a great deal of support for that transformation. 

The triangle offense was one such example of an adaptive container which, “provides protection paradoxically by keeping people within an energizing discomfort zone, pacing their work, and sequencing the issues so that they can still be productive (not by sheltering them from threatening change),”.12 Through his awareness and ability to hold this team theory of the triangle offense as object, Jackson was able to see how his players would play within and shape the system, but that the system itself would shape his players. In other words, the players would play the triangle offense, and the triangle offense would play his players!

This depth of appreciation that Jackson had for this system was eloquently surmised with a quote from the famous jazz musician, Charlie Parker, who remarked, “Don’t play the saxophone. Let it play you,”.13 Clearly, Jackson demonstrates a highly complex developmental ability of holding his structures, frameworks, and strategies as object through which his players’ creativity and development and his team’s cohesion and chemistry could evolve. Through the use of the triangle offense, Jackson empowered his athletes to become more adaptive on the court, which may be one of the greatest secrets to his teams success.


To subscribe to Trevor Tierney's blog, simply click HERE and you will receive updated installments by email. Your email will not be shared with anyone else. Thank you for reading!



1 Heifetz, R.A., & Laurie, D.L. (1997). Mobilizing adaptive work: Beyond visionary leadership. In Conger, J.A., Spreizer, G.M., & Lawler, E.E. (Eds.), The leader's change handbook: An essential guide to setting direction and taking action (55-86). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. p. 65

2 Heifetz, R.A., & Laurie, D.L. (1997). Mobilizing adaptive work: Beyond visionary leadership. In Conger, J.A., Spreizer, G.M., & Lawler, E.E. (Eds.), The leader's change handbook: An essential guide to setting direction and taking action (55-86). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

3 Heifetz, R.A., & Linsky, M. (2002). A survival guide for leaders. Harvard Business Review, 80. p. 70

4 Heifetz, R.A., Grashow, A., & Linsky, M. (2009). The practice of adaptive leadership: Tools and tactics     for changing your organization and the world. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press. p. 19

5 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 10

6 Helsing, D., & Lahey, L. (2010). Unlocking leadership potential: Overcoming immunities to change. In Bunker, K., Hall, D.T., & Kram, K.E. (Eds.), Extraordinary leadership: Addressing the gaps in senior executive development (69-94). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. p. 76

7 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 13; 158; 23

8 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 69

9 Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: Harper Collins.

10 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 71

11 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press

12 Heifetz, R.A., & Laurie, D.L. (1997). Mobilizing adaptive work: Beyond visionary leadership. In Conger, J.A., Spreizer, G.M., & Lawler, E.E. (Eds.), The leader's change handbook: An essential guide to setting direction and taking action (55-86). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, p. 73

13 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 62


The following is Part II of a five-part series that I will be releasing over the next few weeks. Be sure to read Part I first, to get a better understanding of this topic.

Developmental Assessment of Phil Jackson

While less than one percent of all adults in the world’s population operate from the fifth-order of development (the highest known stage) within CDT1, it may be a bit presumptuous or overzealous to assess Jackson in that self-transformational category. However, when taking into account his continued dominance year after year in the cut-throat and highly competitive world of the NBA—with 11 championship rings as a coach and a recent five-year $60 million contract as president of the New York Knicks—one has to consider that there is something incredibly special about this man. This overall level of sustained performance and achievement is nothing short of astounding, so to group him in the top one percent of most successful people in the world would certainly not be an exaggeration by any means. 

Success in itself however, does not necessarily equate to higher orders of development and there is only limited research that connects developmental order to success.2 However, constructive-developmental theorists argue that greater mental complexity would certainly allow for the possibility of increased balance and success in life depending on the context and environment.3 In other words, people with higher levels of development can more readily deal with greater challenges in life; certainly, coaching basketball at the professional level is no walk in the park on a psychological and emotional level. So, to be successful in challenging settings like coaching at an elite level, higher orders of psychological development may be predictive of performance and achievement.

Not suprisingly, Jackson’s own success seems to be supported by an extremely high level of development from a CDT perspective, especially in regards to leadership abilities. There is a great deal of evidence that supports the idea that Jackson is operating from a self-transformational level of mind which is summarized as, “less likely to see the world in terms of dichotomies or polarities . . . are more oriented to the process of leadership than to any single product or outcome,”.4 In order to provide some further context for interpreting Jackson’s self-transformational mind, this review will also utilize Helsing and Lahey’s summary of fifth-order developmental leadership capacities of: 

    (1) Reflect on own and other’s belief systems or ideologies to identify larger patterns. 

    (2) Orient to the dialectical or paradoxical, welcoming contradiction and oppositeness. 

    (3) Understand own selves and leadership identities as always revisable, evolving.5

Although Helsing and Lahey’s work was done within the confines of a corporate setting while studying the qualities of leadership in the workplace, the implications for this research towards coaching in the athletic world are clear. As will be demonstrated in this particular case-study, Jackson fits the bill for all three of these developmental markers quite strongly in his spiritual and personal life, in his interpersonal relationships with individuals, and in his leadership role with collective groups or teams.

Chop Wood, Carry Water…

To begin with Helsing and Lahey’s first bullet point on leadership, Jackson’s ability to, “reflect on own and other’s belief systems or ideologies to identify larger patterns,” is apparent in observing his spiritual development throughout the course of his life. His constructive-developmental capacities seem “freakish” in that his natural inclination and propensity towards higher orders of personal evolution are astounding. 

One explanatory factor for this may have started as he dealt with life-threatening health issues at only 11 years old. A growth in his throat and a heart murmur prohibited from being physically active for an entire year. Jackson recalled that as he was laid up in bed one night with a high fever, “I felt a powerful surge of energy radiating through my body that was much stronger and more consuming than anything I’d ever experienced before,”.6 It seems that this early state-experience and his mother’s daily inquiry of, “If you died today . . . would you meet your maker in heaven?,” pushed him to start questioning his own existence and having a more open and receptive mind from a very young age.7 Technically speaking, this story does not explain much about Jackson’s personal development in an objective manner, but the recollection of his subjective experience as a child certainly sets the stage for his evolution as an individual.

Throughout his autobiography, Jackson utilizes many quotes from spiritual teachers, psychologists, philosophers, and writers throughout his book as guideposts pointing towards his own subjective spiritual experience and beyond. It could be argued that Jackson leans on others’ theories to define his own identity and is living more from third-order or socialized mind. At this level of development, Jackson would be subject to the rules and ideals of these authority figures and construct his own identity around their spiritual teachings. However, it is not what or who he quotes, but how he uses these teachings which are of importance in this CDT exploration. As this paper will explore, it is his ability to hold these various spiritual paths and ideologies as object and interweave them together into a complex tapestry, along with his application of them towards his own life experience that is so astoundingly complex. Certainly, Jackson may be inspired by various spiritual teachings and practices, but it his capacity to hold, examine, and incorporate these ideologies into his everyday life, especially in coaching basketball, that is truly remarkable.

While most adults remain stuck in the third-order socialized mind and struggle to bridge into fourth-order self-authoring mind, Jackson displayed hints of touching into this latter stage as a young man. Having grown up in a strict and devoted Pentecostal family, he began to reject his family’s faith and search for a way to form his own personal relationship with God. Many adolescents or young adults may rebel against their families’ religion and find a new spiritual path—very often though, this type of seeking indicates a socialized level of mind since they are simply finding another group to identify with and they are still subject to mutuality. Jackson on the other hand, seemed to be looking for different teachings and practices through which he could create his own belief system. (It should be noted that a person’s religiosity does not indicate their level of identity development; rather, it is how one approaches their religion or spiritual path and makes meaning of their faith, which is more indicative of developmental capacities.)

In college, he became exposed to meditation at this time and he viewed it, “as a way to experience inner silence and plug into your intuitive wisdom,” and was inspired by William James, whose writings, “showed me how my search to find a new, more authentic spiritual identity fit within the vast landscape of American culture,”.8 This idea of authenticity seems to indicate that Jackson was beginning to hold both culture and mutuality as object. At this young age, Jackson was able to hold his family’s religion and faith as object and began to see that he had the power to create his own path to God, which is very much a self-authoring capacity that usually comes later in life for most people. This illustrates a highly developed order of mind for a college-aged man and these faith-based explorations may have put Jackson towards the honors path of development.9

Later in life as a middle-aged man, Jackson found the teachings of Zen Buddhism to resonate most deeply for him and he has incorporated a daily meditation practice into his life for many years. It is quite possible that meditation may be the most efficacious factor in Jackson’s astounding development. In fact, a ten-year longitudinal study done by Chandler, Alexander, and Heaton found that transcendental meditation was a significant predictor for advanced levels of development. The authors explained, “Development toward the higher reaches of human potential requires a means to systematically transcend thought,”.10 It seems highly plausible that Jackson’s own meditative practice was the “rocket fuel” for his growth as he explained, “It took me years of practice to still my busy mind, but in the process I discovered that the more aware I became of what was going on inside me, the more connected I became to the world outside,”.11 This committed meditative practice may have allowed Jackson to transcend mental thought and hold concepts around self-authorship, ideology, and identity as object. 

Jackson also clearly holds a deep awareness that that life itself is a spiritual practice as he lives by the motto, “chop wood, carry water,”.12 Furthermore, he cited Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching that, “For transformation to take place, we have to practice mindfulness all day long, not just on our meditation cushion,”.13 Jackson has the remarkable ability to hold his theories and ideologies as object and see that his life experience is intertwined with his spiritual path and vice versa; in essence, meditation has allowed him to hold his own self-authored identity, based upon his beliefs and practices, to become object—in doing so, he is able to see that life is a spiritual practice in itself. All of these pieces of evidence point to the possibility that Jackson has entered into the highly complex and balanced fifth-order self-transformational mind as a middle-aged adult.14


To subscribe to Trevor Tierney's blog, simply click HERE and you will receive updated installments by email. Your email will not be shared with anyone else. Thank you for reading!



1 Garvey Berger, J. (2012). Changing on the job: Developing leaders for a complex world. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

2 McCauley, C.D., Drath, W.H., Palus, C.J., O’Connor, P.M.G., & Baker, B.A. (2006). The use of constructive-developmental theory to advance the understanding of leadership. The Leadership Quarterly, 17, 634–653

3 Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

4 Garvey Berger, J. (2012). Changing on the job: Developing leaders for a complex world. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, p. 23

5 Helsing, D., & Lahey, L. (2010). Unlocking leadership potential: Overcoming immunities to change. In Bunker, K., Hall, D.T., & Kram, K.E. (Eds.), Extraordinary leadership: Addressing the gaps in senior executive development (69-94). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

6 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 43

7 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 46

8 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 49

9 Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

10 Chandler, H.M., Alexander, C.N., & Heaton, D.P. (2011). The transcendental meditation program and postconventional self-development: A 10-year longitudinal study. In Llewellyn, D., & Pearson, C. (Eds.), Consciousness-Based Education: A Foundation for Teaching and Learning in the Academic Disciplines (381-422). Fairfield, IA: Consciousness-Based Books

11 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 52

12 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 291

13 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press, p. 137

14 Shore, S.K. (2014). The rough notes: Identifying orders of mind. (Unpublished class notes). Harvard University, Cambridge, MA


The following is Part I of a five-part series that I will be releasing over the next few weeks. I had the opportunity this past spring to study under Professor Robert Kegan, one of the top researchers on adult development. Professor Kegan's constructive-developmental theory (CDT) provides a tremendous framework for psychological development in adults. I believe that this framework can be incredibly supportive towards development and performance within the context of athletics for coaches, athletes, and parents. Phil Jackson is an inspiring example of what a psychologically advanced and developed coach can accomplish in sports, and these blogs (which are adapted versions of my term paper for Professor Kegan's class this semester) will present that case. After I finish my masters program in psychology, my goal is to become a developmental and performance coach for coaches, athletes, and parents in the sports world. I will use CDT as a tool to support increased mental, emotional, interpersonal, and leadership capacities for anyone who is looking to develop towards their full potential and beyond. This theory can be a bit complex, so if any questions arise for you as you read these blogs, please feel free to email me at or hit me up on Twitter @trevor_tierney and I will try to clarify any issues in the subsequent writing. 

Introduction to Phil Jackson and Contructive-Developmental Theory

Phil Jackson is arguably the greatest athletic coach of all time, having won eleven NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers. Jackson has also been a respected mentor for two of the greatest basketball players ever in Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant and he currently holds the record for highest winning percentage as a coach.1 Yet, these remarkable accomplishments are not what make him truly stand out as a coach; rather, it is his more “spiritual” approach to the game that turns the most heads and makes the greatest impact on his teams’ success and players’ lives. The legendary coach interweaves lessons from Zen monks, the Lakota people, military leaders, leadership consultants, accomplished musicians, respected psychologists, and infamous writers into his team preparation plans throughout the season. He is more philosopher, spiritual seeker, and scholar than he is a sports-minded tactician, although he is tremendously athletic on a physical and mental level in his own right and won two NBA championships as a player. His quirkiness and unique approach to the game and life make for an interesting story-line with reporters, biographers, and producers—he is the “enlightened master” of the basketball world who marches to the beat of his own drum, knows how to manage “larger-than-life” egos, and bands teams together to win multitudes of championship rings. 

At face value, this well-known depiction of Jackson is undoubtedly fascinating; however, it does not explain the exact mechanisms behind his tremendous success and outstanding leadership ability. Rather than explore what Jackson knows and try to copy or emulate his unique path, the more compelling, inspirational, and educational perspective to take is how he understands what he knows. In order to gain this type of deeper understanding and appreciation for Jackson’s leadership capacities, Dr. Robert Kegan’s (a renowned Harvard professor and developmental psychologist) constructive-developmental theory (CDT) is a powerful tool.2 CDT is a stage-based psychological framework used to explain and support personal ego-identity development and growth, especially in adults. Through this theory, we can get a better understanding of how highly developed people like Phil Jackson construct and view the world. We can also start to grasp how we, as adults and coaches, can develop ourselves to perform, lead, and live at higher levels with greater mental capacities.

Over the next few weeks, this literature review accordingly aims to illustrate: (1) a basic introduction to CDT to provide context for Jackson’s developmental order of mind, (2) provide an informal assessment of Jackson’s advanced level of identity and leadership development from the CDT perspective, (3) describe the ways in which this high order of development supports capacities for success as a transformational leader and coach in the athletic world, and (4) provide a number of conclusions and implications towards the future implementation of CDT within the sports world. In other words, how can other coaches learn from and be inspired by Phil Jackson’s psychological development and emotional maturity?

Many times as adults, people tend to believe that they are done “growing” just because they are not getting any taller; however, through three decades of research utilizing CDT as a framework, Kegan has shown that there are distinct stages through which all adults may grow through or get stuck in. Just as children have been shown to have defined psychological stages of growth, adults too, go through transitions of identity development. It is important to note that many adults may never develop past a certain level, as these stages are not based upon age.

To begin, instead of perceiving humans simply as beings, objects, or nouns from which talent and skill can be mined and excavated in a transactional manner, CDT brilliantly focuses on the development of persons by perceiving them as processes of becoming or verbs with a transformational approach.3 We are, after all, human beings. CDT proposes a framework for human growth in which psychological, mental, and emotional capacities can be expanded and evolved. At its’ core, this theory is a complex empirically-based framework utilized to understand the way in which humans transform and grow in their ability to make meaning of the world, increase their mental capacities, and expand their complexity of awareness over the course of a lifetime. This theory includes five stages or orders of mind in human development; there is a great deal of research and literature in this field that fully details each order of mind in depth.4

The following is only a very brief review of what these stages or orders of mind look like and their application as it pertains to advanced leadership and coaching aptitudes. The lowest stage that many adults in the world fall into (up to 13 percent) is second-order or self-sovereign form of mind, which Dr. Jennifer Garvey Berger, a leadership and developmental coach, explained as, “marked by a combination of a sense of self-centeredness and a focus on what I want (much like the our visions of spoiled imperial youth).”5 The third-order or socialized form of mind (up to 46 percent of adults) is defined as, “those with a socialized mind internalize the feelings and ideas of others and are guided by those people or institutions (such as a synagogue, a political party, or a particular organization) that are most important to them,”.6 Those at fourth-order or self-authoring form of mind (up to 41 percent), “have an internal set of rules and regulations—a self-governing system—that they use to make their decisions or reconcile conflicts.”7 Finally, those at fifth-order or self-transformational form of mind (less than one percent of adults) are described as being, “less likely to see the world in terms of dichotomies or polarities . . . are more oriented to the process of leadership than to any single product or outcome.”8 These descriptions will provide a contextual backdrop for how far advanced Jackson is along on the spectrum; in the future, these definitions can also be applied to assess strengths, weaknesses, and growth edges for coaches, players, and parents within the athletic context.

Also, the developmental researchers, Deborah Helsing and Lisa Lahey, described, “In Kegan’s developmental framework, each stage is characterized not by the contents of what one knows or is able to do but with how one knows, referring to the structures that organize and regulate our meaning making,”.9 Each stage of development is well-defined by psychological characteristics that people are either unconsciously driven by or “subject to” and those that they are aware of and can “hold as object”.10 Many times in life, we are driven by emotions, habituations, compulsions, and reactions that we are unaware of—these are the aspects of our life which we are subject to. However, as we begin to become more aware of how we make meaning in the world, we can take a step back and view these drives and hold them as object. This ability to take what we are subject to and hold as object, is a tremendous catalyst for psychological development and allows us to create and live from a completely new paradigm.

As humans develop to higher orders of mind, they are able to construct their reality in more complex and balanced ways (hence the label, “Constructive-Developmental Theory”). CDT has been utilized in high-powered corporate environments in supporting the development of business leaders and workers; and it has also been used in educational settings, allowing administrators and teachers to expand their own psychological capacities to support their students’ growth. As we will see (in upcoming blog entries) through Jackson’s exemplary accomplishments, CDT also holds tremendous power and potential within the athletic context.


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1 Jackson, P., & Delehanty, H. (2013). Eleven rings: The soul of success. New York, NY: The Penguin Press

2 Kegan, R. (1982). Evolving self. Cambridge, MA: The President and Fellows of Harvard College.; Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

3 Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

4 Garvey Berger, J. (2012). Changing on the job: Developing leaders for a complex world. Stanford, CA:     Stanford University Press.; Helsing, D., & Lahey, L. (2010). Unlocking leadership potential: Overcoming immunities to change. In Bunker, K., Hall, D.T., & Kram, K.E. (Eds.), Extraordinary leadership: Addressing the gaps in senior executive development (69-94). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.; Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

5 Garvey Berger, J. (2012). Changing on the job: Developing leaders for a complex world. Stanford, CA:     Stanford University Press

6 Garvey Berger, J. (2012). Changing on the job: Developing leaders for a complex world. Stanford, CA:     Stanford University Press

7 Garvey Berger, J. (2012). Changing on the job: Developing leaders for a complex world. Stanford, CA:     Stanford University Press

8 Garvey Berger, J. (2012). Changing on the job: Developing leaders for a complex world. Stanford, CA:     Stanford University Press

9 Helsing, D., & Lahey, L. (2010). Unlocking leadership potential: Overcoming immunities to change. In Bunker, K., Hall, D.T., & Kram, K.E. (Eds.), Extraordinary leadership: Addressing the gaps in senior executive development (69-94). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.; Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

10 Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press


Dear Athletes, Coaches, and Parents,

I am very excited to inform all of you about a completely free and amazing opportunity to learn from one of the top minds in leadership development! Currently, I am pursuing my masters at Harvard University and taking a class that is offered through their Graduate School of Education and Extension School. My professor for the class, Dr. Robert Kegan (bio copied below), is a leading researcher in adult learning and professional development. He has an endowed chair at Harvard and he is highly respected in the business world for his leadership development research and training. 
Dr. Kegan's latest book and training that he is offering people, "The Immunity to Change," was touted at number for Oprah's Top Ten Things You Should Do to Start the New Year Right in 2011! This process has been used extensively in leadership development and organizational change with great success with major corporations and high-profile CEOs. This training teaches people how to create the big changes that they sincerely want to make in their lives, but have been unable to do so. 
Kegan and his colleague, Lisa Lahey, are offering the "Unlocking the Immunity to Change: A New Approach to Personal Improvement," starting March 11, free of charge to anyone in the world. There are currently over 50,000 people signed up for the course! I am going through an abbreviated version of the workshop right now and I am benefiting from it greatly. I’m confident that this course could make a dramatic impact on your life too!
The main reason that I am bringing this to all of you is I believe that this transformational learning tool could be highly beneficial for athletes, coaches, and parents within their experience of sports and in their everyday lives. This is really what I am passionate about doing in life—I want to use sports as a container to support athletes, coaches, and parents in their growth and development. This course will be impactful for anyone at any age to make a beneficial change in their lives. I would love to take this course with some of you, get some feedback on how it went for you, and learn how you feel the work could apply to your life within athletics.
There are an infinite number of reasons for us to take this course! Athletes—maybe you want to learn to have more self-discipline, or motivation to practice more on your own, or confidence that you can make a clutch play, or learn to be a better teammate. Coaches—maybe you want to be a better leader for your players, or a better communicator with your parents, or be more organized, or stop yelling at referees. Parents—maybe you want to stop putting pressure on your child to succeed, or want to have more fun watching your child play, or get along with the other parents better, or be more supportive for your child’s passions and goals. Whatever the big change is that you want to make, whether it is related to sports or not, this workshop will show you how to do it.
Are you in for this awesome experience? If so, please follow the instructions below:
1. Optional online survey - support my educational exploration of how this type of work done by by Kegan and Lahey (2004) might apply those of us who are highly involved the sports world as athletes, coaches, and parents (all of your information will remain confidential and not be shared with anyone):

2. Online class registration - Sign up for the free online class here:
3. Follow up survey - I will send you a quick follow up survey to see how this class benefitted you in your athletic experience and in your everyday life.
Many of us want to see athletics continue to evolve into a more well-rounded and educational experience for our youth. This is a great chance for us to learn from some top people in their fields and take what they have to teach us for our own lives and into our athletic community. Thank you for your support in this investigation and I look forward to hearing about your experience in this program!
Kind regards,


Robert Kegan

Robert Kegan is the William and Miriam Meehan Professor of Adult Learning and Professional Development at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.  The recipient of numerous honorary degrees and awards, his thirty years of research and writing on adult development have influenced the practice of leadership development, executive coaching, and change management throughout the world.

At Harvard alone, he is regularly asked to teach in executive development programs in the Schools of Business, Government, Education and Medicine. His seminal books include The Evolving Self, In Over Our Heads, The Way We Talk, and Immunity to Change, which is now available to 2.2 billion readers in their native language. One of twenty--among Harvard’s 2300 faculty--honored by the president of the university for his outstanding teaching, Bob has been on the faculty of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Conference, and had his work featured in such diverse periodicals as The Harvard Business Review, The New York Times Sunday Business Section  and Oprah Magazine.

This fall he was the only thought-leader in the world asked to speak at all three premier conferences devoted to executive development: the Harvard Coaching Conference, the International Leadership Association Conference, and the International Coaching Federation Conference.

For the past several years, Bob has served as a trusted advisor to CEOs in the private and public sectors in the US, South America, Europe, and Asia. His clients are among the most recognized and respected leaders in the world. A husband, father, and grandfather, he is also an avid poker player, an airplane pilot, and the unheralded inventor of the “Base Average,” a superior statistic for gauging offensive contribution in baseball.


Lisa Lahey

Lisa Lahey is Co-director of Minds At Work, a consulting firm serving businesses and institutions around the world, and faculty at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.  

She teaches in executive development programs at Harvard University and Notre Dame, and she is regularly asked to present her work throughout the world, most recently in China, Kazakhstan, and New Zealand. Her seminal books, How The Way We Talk Can Change The Way We Work (2001), and Immunity to Change (2009) have been published in many languages. Lisa has been on the faculty of the World Economic Forum’s Davos Conference, and had her work featured in the Harvard Business Review, The New York Times Sunday Business Section, Oprah Magazine and Fast Company.

Lahey and long-time collaborator Robert Kegan are credited with a breakthrough discovery of a hidden dynamic, the “immunity to change,” which impedes personal and organizational transformation. Her work helps people to close the gap between their good intentions and behaviors. This work is now being used by executives, senior teams and individuals in business, governmental, and educational organizations in the United States, South America, Europe, and Asia. Lahey and Kegan recently received the Gislason Award for exceptional contributions to organizational leadership, joining past recipients Warren Bennis, Peter Senge, and Edgar Schein.

For the past several years, Lisa has served as a trusted advisor and executive coach to leaders in the private and public sectors worldwide. A passionate pianist and hiker, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and two sons.



“And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” - Batman Begins

Don’t get me wrong here. I love all of the players, parents and families that I get to work with in sports. I would not want to be doing anything else with my life! But lately, I have been bewildered by a phenomena that seems to be growing in youth athletics. There is a constant search amongst parents and players to be on the “best team” that wins the most games and tournaments. It is no longer enough for our children to play on a local youth or high school team and enjoy the experience of playing sports. Furthermore, it is no longer even enough for our children to play on a good club travel team that plays well together, is competitive with other great teams from around the country and has top-notch coaching. Rather, there is a “grass is greener” mentality amongst parents and young athletes who are on the constant lookout for the absolute greatest team to be a part of. 

There are a lot of factors driving all of this. It is partly due to the parent’s misconception that the better their child’s team, the better their chances for recruitment and success down the road (by the way, college coaches do not even know the scores of the high school games that they are scouting—they only notice who is 6’4”, 225 and runs like a gazelle in the Serengeti). I believe that this mentality runs deeper than that though and we have simply lost touch of what sports are all about. You know when you watch the people on a reality show like Honey Boo Boo or Swamp People and you say, “man…those people are nuts!”? Well, I hate to tell you, that is all of us in sports right now! We are those crazy people. And for the past few years, this perception of making sure our children win all the time and at all costs has become utterly mind-boggling. Every single game in sports, one team wins and one team loses. That’s just the way it works. It is completely narcissistic for us to think that we ourselves (or our child) should never lose. What fun would sports be if we knew that we were going to win every time anyway?

Every great athlete and coach that I know has had their fair share of ups and downs. Even though my claim to lacrosse fame is that I won two NCAA National Championships, a MLL Championship and a FIL World Championship with Team USA, I also got my butt kicked a whole lot along the way! My youth teams were disgraceful, my high school team had some serious rough patches, I can’t even count how many goals Syracuse scored on me at Princeton over the years and I was on the only USA team that lost in the World Championships since 1978 for goodness sake! Even Michael Jordan (who I apologize for even mentioning in the same paragraph as my athletic career) admitted in a commercial, “I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” The point is, that no matter what an athlete does in their career, they will have some wins and they will have some losses. Trying to control that is not going to change anything. Furthermore, there is actually something about the pursuit of always winning that is detrimental to our children’s development as athletes and as people. 

As I have pondered this mindset that we are witnessing in youth sports for the past few years, I knew something was wrong. I just didn’t know how to explain it, other than sounding like a grumpy old curmudgeon. The fact is though, there is scientific evidence that shows that we should actually want our children to lose! Again, as I have written time and again, I am not saying that athletes should not care about trying to win and just act like it does not matter. And I am certainly not an advocate for the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality. Our young athletes should care deeply about trying to win and be their best. And when they go into competition and want nothing more than to win that game, it will be absolutely fantastic for them when they lose! Before you think I have been hit in the head with too many lacrosse balls (which is completely factual), let me explain further.

In the past month, I have been fortunate enough to study under one of our country’s leading researchers on human resilience at Harvard, Dr. Shelly Carson. As soon as I sat in our first lecture, the lightbulb flashed on! I started to realize that when we want our child to play on the most dominant team, we are completely missing the boat on how sports build resilience for young men and women. This is not just me blabbing about it either. There is decades of research being compiled by people much smarter than me (surprising I know) that explains how we all develop resilience and how this leads to overall happiness, well-being and success. And isn’t that what we really want for our children?

I am starting to understand how sports are actually the perfect set up for resilience training as losses are very stressful and a challenging adversity for young athletes to face. From this perspective, you realize that no one is going to die, get seriously injured, get cancer, lose a family member, get dumped by their girlfriend (and if so, good riddance I say), lose their home, get thrown in jail, fail out of school, or face anything truly tragic from losing a game. And while I might be sounding trite here, the sad fact is that all of us will face one or several of these things at some point in our life. Nobody’s existence on this earth is perfect. We all encounter some serious adversity whether we like it or not. With that being the case, don’t we want our kids to learn how to deal with it in a skillful manner?

In the field of psychology, resiliency has been defined by Luthar (2000) as, “the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change . . . a positive adaptation within the context of significant adversity,” (as cited in Carson lecture, 2014). So, not only do the skills of resiliency allow people to overcome and recover from tragic experiences in their lives, but resilient people also flourish, grow and experience tremendous well-being and success in their lives. And that is exactly what we want for our children. I will take that over any win, any tournament championship and any trophy. The best aspect of athletics, in my mind, is that it teaches us resiliency, the ability to endure, overcome and find greatness in our lives. As coaches and parents, all we have to do is be positive and supportive of our children no matter if they win or lose. We just have to be there for them as they learn to get back up and keep moving on with their heads held high. That is how our youth can learn to deal with life on life’s terms and develop as strong individuals. What a great gift that is to bring our children and I cannot think of a more powerful way to do it than through athletics!

There are a lot of ways in which resiliency can be taught through sports, which I will go into some more detail down the road. For right now, I will pass along that one of the most effective ways in handling a stressor is utilizing "problem-focused coping", which means taking an active approach towards finding a solution. With just this one psychological skill alone, we can shift our perspective in how we approach athletics. As I tell my players and parents on our Denver Elite lacrosse teams, instead of finding a better team to play on, find a way to make your team better. This is how you can truly learn to win something of lasting value through the sports.


As I was reading an article for my Psychology of Creativity class this morning, I noticed something beautiful and unique about sports and competition. In the article, “The Roles of Creativity in Society” by Seana Moran, she writes, “Creativity involves uncertainty because it is difficult to know the consequences of something truly new.” As I read this quote, I realized that athletics (and team sports in particular) are an amazing co-creative process. Follow me for a minute…

This thought process started for me about a month ago, when I wrote a letter to my Denver Elite parents encouraging them to cheer for both teams (this is not an original idea of mine and I have seen it suggested by many thought leaders in athletics). Some of the behavior that I have witnessed on sidelines around the country the past few years has been nothing short of appalling. As adults, I believe that we are the ones responsible for creating a more positive atmosphere around youth sports.

So to get back to my point, we watch games all of the time as spectators and fans, and we usually want one team to win and another to lose. We will do anything for one outcome, namely a “win” for our own team and pray for another outcome, the dreaded “loss”, not to occur. But, what if we realized that the game itself was the awesome co-creation between two teams? What if we focused on the game as the end result in itself, rather than the score of that game?

When we go to watch a movie or a play, we tend to do the same thing. We hope for the hero’s success and the villain can go to hell, for all we care! And thankfully, almost every time our wishes are met and we go home happy. (I was going to reference the new movie “Gravity” here, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. Go see it now!) The funny thing about is this, we will say, “Oh that was such a great movie! I loved it.” The interesting question to ask ourselves is did we really love the movie, or did we love the outcome? The importance of this question lies in the fact that Hollywood does not usually portray how life always works. Athletics though, can be a much more realistic example of our everyday existence, with uncertainty being one of its main characteristics.

If we can just enjoy the work of art that two teams create on the field together, then that is really something special. The best part is, it allows us as parents and supporters to create a more positive atmosphere for our youth, cheer for both teams that are working hard to create an excellent game and we can all go home happy. The co-creative process of the youth (as well as teens and adults) who play sports together (not against one another) is something to be cherished and not desecrated.


I know this blog has been infrequent these days, but between running our Tierney Lacrosse programs and going back to school for my masters degree in Psychology, I have not had too much free time on my hands! I am doing a lot of writing for school though, and will share some of those on this blog in the next couple of years. This is a research paper for my class in Psychology of Creativity that I thought some of you may enjoy.

John Wooden’s Generous, Intellectual and Philosophical Creative Traits 

John Wooden is considered by many to be the greatest sports coach of all-time. Between 1963 and 1975, Wooden led his teams to 10 NCAA National Championships, orchestrating one of the most dominant and enduring dynasties to ever be witnessed in the world of athletics. The creative abilities of a successful coach entail bringing teams together, motivating individuals and groups, organizing practice plans, devising plays and schemes, and instituting a team image and culture, among many other duties. In just this sense as a coach and leader of men, Wooden holds his own as a creative luminary. More than that though, it is through his self-defined roles as a gentleman, a scholar and a teacher, in which his creative traits of being generous, intellectual and philosophical (characteristics which have been found in many of the world's most creative people), stand out the most.

If creativity includes enriching the lives of others, then that inherently entails the act of giving. Without physically producing one’s creativity in the world, then there is nothing new for anyone to receive. In fact, one characteristic of Carson’s (2010) definition of creativity is that, “You can take these elements of novel/original and useful/adaptive and apply them to virtually any aspect of your life to increase your productivity and happiness.” (p. 5). One of Wooden’s greatest strengths was his generosity and constant giving of his time, energy and wisdom to others, a trait that is illustrated by his innumerable humanitarian awards. (Johnson, 2004, p. 9). Without his tireless generosity to those in his community and dedication to teaching young men, his creative energies would be nothing more than thoughts and musings, and his achievements nothing more than trophies collecting dust. Wooden noted that one of the most valuable pieces of advice that he learned from his father was to, “Be a doer...He who makes no mistake does nothing and contributes nothing and we are all here to contribute something, one way or another” (Johnson, 2004, p. 14). In the sports world, where many are accused of leading selfish lives driven by egotistical desires, Wooden’s altruistic path was defined by his passion for teaching and working with others.

Another criticism of coaches, is that they can be single-tracked or close-minded. In many instances, their world revolves around their sport, their team, and their win-loss record. Wooden’s disposition could not be further from this stereotype as he was deeply intellectual and a renaissance man in many ways. Johnson (2004) noted that Wooden earned his masters degree in poetry, was inspired by a variety of leaders including Lao-Tse, Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Ralph Waldo Emerson (p. 193-199), his heroes were, “the great poets of history,” and he had a deep respect and admiration for Helen Keller (p. 29). Not surprisingly, this trait of open-mindedness and having a “multitude of varied interests across a broad spectrum of topics” has been shown to be an indicator of creativity as it is an important aspect of the “absorb brainset” that Carson (2010) proposes in her model of creativity. (p. 88). Wooden’s desire to be a student and learn continuously was what allowed him to piece together his own teachings for others.

The greatest creative gifts that Wooden gave to the world through his motivational writings and lectures came from his philosophical nature.  The most famous lecture that he gave around the world was entitled, “The Pyramid of Success.” This lecture and essay has been described as, “a philosophy for living, loving, achieving and understanding the human condition” (Johnson, 2004, p. 145). These creative pieces that Wooden produced are available through his books, essays and poetry and have made a significant impact on many people’s lives. Although the role of coaching may not be seen as creative in the artistic sense, Wooden certainly saw it that way, along with every other calling in life. One of his teachings that he relayed to his players and others was to, “make each day your masterpiece,” (Johnson, 2004, p. 118). This was certainly an ideal that he lived by through his generosity, intellectual drives and philosophical nature. These are the traits that made him not just a great coach, but a creative luminary in every sense of the word.

Carson, S. (2010). Your creative brain: Seven steps to maximize imagination, productivity, and innovation in your life. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Johnson, N. L. (2004). The John Wooden pyramid of success: The biography, oral history, philosophy and ultimate guide to life, leadership, friendship and love of the greatest coach in the history of sports. Los Angeles, CA: Cool Titles.


Parents want the best for their kids. I totally get that. I don't have kids yet, but I have a French Bulldog with constant flatulence who does the opposite of everything that I say, and I would still go to the ends of the earth for him. If he had opposable thumbs, I would probably have him play wall ball for treats and try to get him recruited too (except at Cornell…anywhere but the Big Red). Anyway, I can only imagine what parents want to do for their kids who love to play the game so much!

However, the recruiting process is one of the first times when parents just have to let go. Every parent out there makes this process more complicated than it really is. The bottom line is that your son has to be a good enough player, athlete, student and person. If he is all those things, than a coach will find him and will ask him to come to his school. Period.

Everyone is very confused by the recruiting process, but it's actually really simple. The reason that we feel it is so complicated is because we as coaches and parents actually try to control it too much. We think if we write great letters to coaches, or use the right recruiting service or put together a great highlight video with cool special effects and great tunes, then that will somehow help. However, it is totally beyond our control.

There are two people in control of whether or not a player gets recruited for college. The first person is the player. That person controls how hard he works at the game, how passionate he is about it and how much he makes it a priority in his life. The challenging part about this side of things is that for this player to get recruited, he may actually have to commit to the game from a very young age, which is a lot to ask of a young man.

The second person in control of this situation is the college coach. The coach knows exactly what types of players and people he is looking for in his program, he knows the positional needs that he has to fill on his team, and he knows what he needs in each graduating class of players. Coaches take great pride in recruiting and they know exactly what they are looking for, so most of them will decide for themselves what players they like and what players they are not interested in.

Now, with all that being said, what do you have to do to get recruited?

1. You have to be the best player that you can possibly be. You have to be the biggest, strongest, fastest, most agile athlete that you can possibly make yourself. You have to be the best student that you can be in the classroom. You have to be the best person that you can be off the field. This first step is no simple task and takes years of hard work. Ever hear about the idea of 10,000 hours to mastery? If not, read up about it and start logging those hours.

Remember, Division I lacrosse takes the top one percent of all lacrosse players, so you have to be an excellent overall athlete and person to have any shot at making it. There are more opportunities than ever at DII, DIII and MCLA schools, but all those places have high standards for who they are looking for, as well. You will have to be the best of the best to get recruited anywhere.

We overemphasize so many other aspects of recruiting and we totally forget about this part. To be great enough to get recruited, it has to be your life and it has to mean everything to you. Don't get me wrong either. If it's not this way for you, and you enjoy other things, then there is nothing wrong with that! I have chosen not to be a college lacrosse coach because I do not want it to be my whole life either. But, it has become so competitive, it is kind of like a swimmer training to make the Olympics from the time he is five years old. It is becoming close to taking that type of commitment if you want to make it to the big time in lacrosse. That is a huge decision to make and I would only advise it for the people who are truly passionate about the game.

2. You have to go where the coaches are. Now, this is the tricky part. But, if you align yourself with a good organized club team that goes to reputable tournaments and you go to some good individual recruiting tournaments, then that should give you a chance to be seen by coaches. If you are a great player, the coaches will find you.

Do not worry about writing coaches emails before the tournaments. These coaches now are getting hundreds of emails per day and do not have time to even read all of them. Also, do not get concerned about if your club team wins or loses a game or tournament. The coaches barely know who is winning the game. They are just looking for players who they like for their program.

This step is a huge point of contention for the parents as they want to know where to spend their money. Find a club team that is run by people who you trust and who takes their teams to great tournaments. Try to get your son recommended to an individual tournament or two where coaches that are appropriate for his level of play will be.

And know one thing in all of this (and this is coming from someone who runs a club program in Denver Elite), this is a terrible investment if you think this will pay off with a scholarship. If you are paying for your son to have a great experience in high school, get better at the game and have a fun time, then you are spending your money wisely. If you think you are going to see this money again through a scholarship, you are better off going down to 7 Eleven and buying $5,000 in lottery tickets. Good luck!

3. The third step is seeing who has serious interest in you as a player. This part of the recruitment process is kind of like dating. You can go after a girl who is lukewarm towards you and give yourself a ton of headaches and uncertainty. Or you can choose the girl who clearly shows that she likes you and cares about you. It's your decision. (It took me until I was in my late twenties to figure this out with women, so consider this article killing two birds with one stone.) The same is true with coaches.

You will know when a coach wants you to be a part of his program. Many coaches are sending out letters inviting you to come to their camp. That does not mean they are recruiting you! Many coaches will ask you to fill out a questionnaire. That does not mean they are recruiting you! Many coaches will talk to you if you reach out to them. That does not mean they are recruiting you! You know what recruiting sounds like? The coach will say, "We want to recruit you. We want you to be a part of our team. We want to offer you a spot and maybe even a little scholarship money." That is when you know you are getting recruited.

Also, know that there is very little that anyone can do to convince a coach that a player is right for their program. So, if a club team coach tells you that he can get your son recruited, he is full of hot air. For example, we had one player on our Denver Elite team a couple years ago who will be a very good DIII player. Coach Bill Tierney called a few of his friends who were DIII coaches back east and told them how good he was, and they still did not take him! If coaches will not listen to Coach T, are they really going to listen to your club coach?

Club and high school coaches can be great support people and can be liaisons between the college coaches and the players, but don't expect them to be huge deal makers. NFL teams do not draft players because they have a good sports agent and the same is true for college lacrosse.

4. Respond back to the coaches who reach out to you. If a coach sends you anything like a camp invite or a questionnaire, then use that as an opportunity to reach back out. Send him back an email with a link to your highlight film. Video is an important tool for this part of the process and it makes sense to get some highlights from the summer after your freshman, sophomore and junior years. Think of film as like a calling card - it will not get you recruited but it will help remind coaches of who you are. Ask the coach if he has notes on you from the summer and what his interest level is in you as a player. Refer back to step #3 from here. If they are interested, they will make it quite obvious.

The important part of this step is to be responsive when coaches contact you and do not rule any options out early on. Also, it is important to understand the NCAA rules from this perspective on when coaches may contact you and how they may do so. Make yourself familiar with those rules to keep the confusion to a minimum.

5. Congratulations if you have made it this far! If you are at this step, that means that you have been lucky to get recruited to play college lacrosse. It's now time for you to choose a program and school that fits you well. It's important to make a decision that takes all factors into account and to choose a college that really fits you well as an athlete, a student and as a person. Many athletes who get recruited go to a school just because a coach puts on the full-court press and seems really nice. That same coach who tells you how great you are as a recruit is going to be telling you how terrible you are as a freshman. So, try to keep your wits about you as you get smothered in compliments and choose a school that is a right fit for you in all areas. Even if you have not been recruited, you still get to make these same decisions in finding a place that is a great fit for you and hopefully where you can play some lacrosse too.

Okay, so there it is! So simple and so challenging at the same time. It takes hard work and dedication to make all of this happen and it has to start from a young age or it becomes too late. But, this is how it works. All the other ideas that parents and coaches get in their heads that they think will make a difference really mean nothing.

This is an awesome and huge life lesson opportunity for these young men. We give them an opportunity to play a sport. If they love it and want to play at high levels, then we teach them that they must work really hard to get there. We help them find opportunities to be seen by coaches. And then…we let go. In doing so, we show our sons, our players, our young men, that they are the creators of their own lives and it is up to them to make their own luck. The best way to support them in all of this is not to try and control the situation, or the coaches, or the club teams, or the tournaments, but to let them know that we will love them whether or not they succeed or fail. At the end of the day, all of our games or careers end and we are go back to living as a human being. And you don't need to get recruited as a lacrosse player to be a great person and live an awesome life.


In the past week, a news story caught fire in the media about the Rutgers basketball head coach, Mike Rice, who was caught being verbally and physically abusive towards his players out on the court during both practices and games (you can read more and see video on this Bleacher Report link). His behavior and actions are completely unacceptable and he should have been fired long ago, when his assistant coach made the administration aware of the problem.

With that being said though, I am always deeply suspicious when these big stories come out in the media, when everyone is completely outraged and one person is demonized. Usually when a story attracts such huge attention, it is because it connects with people on a certain level. Also, there is the notion of witnessing the “shadow” within the collective unconscious, which means that we see the dark side that is a part of all of us.

The reason that Rice is being vilified, and rightfully so, is that he crossed the line of acceptable behavior in the sports world when he started to become physically abusive of his players by pushing them, punching them, kicking them and throwing basketballs at them. His verbal abuse was extreme as well, using homophobic language and attacking players personally. His termination is justified and his $100,000 bonus that he received on the way out is laughable.

However, many coaches behave like Rice in that they view the sports world as an acceptable place to vent their anger. It is deemed acceptable for coaches to yell at their players and referees. Some eyebrows might get raised and people might comment on it, but no one gets fired and the world keeps turning. Furthermore, many people in all walks of life behave like this, as they yell at their kids, partners, co-workers or flip off strangers as they drive on the freeway! I will fully admit that I am not immune to this behavior either, although I continue to work on it and grow past reacting in that way.

So, in getting back to my main point, how are we all the same as Rice, who we hold in such contempt? We are like him in that we are all violent towards other people when we react and blame others for our own anger. Anytime we feel angry and we project that outwards into the world, then we are being violent towards others. Whether we start a war, we kill, we punch, we yell at, or we insult, we are being violent towards another human being. Other than self-defense (which is another topic unto itself), there are absolutely no acceptable reasons, excuses, or venues for this type of behavior. None.

Here are some steps that we can take to grow and evolve past this way of reacting, and move towards a more powerful way of responding :

1. Mentally prepare. What are some ways in which we act angry in our lives? Do we get road rage? Do we yell at co-workers or our players or teammates? We can ask some people close to us what some of our behaviors are when we get angry, so we can catch ourselves in the act the next time around.

2. Breathe. To be able to be present enough in our body to witness our emotions, we have to come back to our breath. This is why meditation is such a powerful vehicle for personal growth. When we start to mentally notice that we are behaving in some of our angry ways, then we can try not to do anything other than stop and breathe.

3. Feel. After we are able to be present in our bodies, then we can actually feel what is going on in them. We can simply feel what it is like to be angry. Is there some burning in our chest or belly? Is their tightness in our body? When I feel angry, I feel a very tight constriction through my throat and chest and my whole body tenses up and gets hot. It is definitely not a pleasant experience, but one that I have learned to be accepting of. It is important for us to try and feel our anger as we breathe for as long as we can.

4. Accept that we are angry. We all have every right to get angry. The anger itself is not the problem. The problem is when we project that anger outwards into violence. Anger itself though is a completely natural and valid emotion within our human experience. Being with our anger unconditionally and not trying to “feel better” is the key to growth here.

5. Notice the trigger. The problem is when we take that anger out on the other person or issue that caused our anger, we are not solving anything. We are just reacting to the outside world and creating more drama. The person or situation that causes our anger is simply a trigger to the anger that already exists within us. Usually, the people who are closest to us or the situations that we care about the most, are the strongest triggers for us. When we say something mean, or yell at, or hurt someone mentally, emotionally or physically in any way, then we are being violent towards other people, and many times it is someone we actually love!

6. Rinse and repeat. Anger does not go away quickly. We need to practice this over and over and over again throughout our lives. I have been aware of this type of work for a few years now, and I continue to make mistakes with this process. I just come back to it time and again, knowing each time that I do, I am growing as a person and I am making the world a little less violent.

I have a lot of compassion for a guy like Rice (although I have more for his players). Underneath all of his anger, I am pretty sure that there is a lot of sadness. Most likely, someone was abusive towards him in the ways in which he is now abusing, which is very sad. That does not excuse him though, as we all must take personal responsibility for our anger and learn to respond to it in a mature manner. We are all capable of ending the cycle of violence, no matter how imbedded it is into our psyches.

When a story like Rice's comes out into the public, it’s really easy for us to be politically correct and self-righteous and say, “Look at that monster. I can’t believe what a terrible person he is!". Many people could also point at me and say, “Well Trevor, I’ve seen you get angry before out on the field and this is how you act!”. Or they might point a finger at my overly emotional father, a lacrosse coach who yells at referees all the time. There are countless individuals in the public eye or in athletics that could be called out. And you know what? They are completely right! I am certainly not perfect and I know that most of the people around me admit to the fact as well.

My point is though, how can we all commit each day to responding to our own anger? Can we all look in the mirror and see how most of us behave in the same way in one way or another? Maybe it is in a less extreme or more socially acceptable manner, and maybe it is behind closed doors, but almost all of us direct our anger out into the world, towards family, friends, acquaintances and strangers. That is violence, which is unacceptable in any form.

As we go through this practice of processing our anger, we will notice the difference between intensity and assertiveness, as compared to anger. On the sports field, we can shout and yell (to our heart’s content) out instructions or teachings to our players with a positive energy. We can assert ourselves and maintain healthy boundaries if someone wrongs us in some way. We do not become weak and “soft”, but become people who are strong, powerful, composed and confident. All of these experiences will come with time as we practice simply being with our anger in an unconditional way.

We all talk about wanting the world to be a more peaceful place. We all want to love others and be happy. A great way for us to start working towards these goals is just to learn to be with our anger without directing it into the world.