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Performance Enhancing Joy

Basketball is Psychology XXX

“The value that means the most to our team is joy, and it’s reflected in the way we play.” -- Steve Kerr



When Steve Kerr interviewed for the Warriors’ head coaching job, he came in with a 64 page treatise detailing everything about how he would run his team, including his 4 core values:





Love them or hate them, the Warriors have 5 straight finals appearances, and 3 titles to show for it. The results speak for themselves.

Their rise to the top was unlike anything the NBA had seen before. Previous dynasties have championed a win-at-all-costs, killer instinct style of play; but the Warriors won 3 championships while making it look fun and almost effortless. Not only is it fun to be a part of, it’s fun to watch and the Warriors sell out every game.

Michael and Kobe seemed to always have an unflinching, serious demeanor. Steph, while dominant in his own right, is full of laughter and smiles when he plays, even in playoff games. His style of play has been nicknamed Steffortless because of how easy he makes it look. If he was no good, people would probably tell him to take it more seriously, but Steph is the best shooter in the NBA, and he has 3 Championships and 2 MVP’s; and it all seems to be fueled by joy.

The 8 time NBA Champion, Coach Kerr, thinks their most important value is joy. It seems like a “rah-rah/stay positive” word to have as a core value, but joy goes much deeper, and it’s a big reason why the Warriors have been so successful.

Joy vs. Happiness

The root word of happiness is hap, meaning chance or luck. We see hap in words like perhaps and happen because happiness is an emotional response about a result that occured. Happiness is purely circumstantial, it can only occur with a certain outcome.

For example, happiness comes with statements like: If I win, I will be happy or if I score this many points I’ll be happy. And we feel good for a little while, but then it wears off and we need something else for us to be happy. Of course, no one wins every game and no one averages 50 points per game, so relying on happiness will leave you unhappy a lot.

Joy is much different. Joy is not a response to a result. Joy is a choice. Joy is the attitude we have when we’re doing something we believe in, something that gives us purpose, or something we love, regardless of the results. We see joy in words like enjoy and rejoice. Joy has nothing to do with results or circumstances, it’s purely inward.

When you choose joy, the work is the reward, not the result.

Wanting to win a game and do well are worthy aspirations, but what happens in the offseason, when there are no games? If you rely on happiness, the offseason will be miserable. You will enjoy basketball and the process of becoming a great player a lot more when you let go of the need for a certain outcome, and focus on the belief that you’re doing something you’re meant to do, you love to do, and you get to do.

Joy is based on your outlook, not on something that happens to you. Joy can be present during unhappy or happy times. It is a constant perspective of seeing the enjoyment in what you are doing, not the getting.

Happiness is tied to an event, joy is simply tied to your attitude.

When someone says “have a good attitude”, we think that means just stay positive, so we’ll be easier to be around, but it’s actually a really good strategy for enhancing performance.

The more enjoyable something is, the more effort you’ll put into it because you have more energy to do so, which will give you greater satisfaction. As Steve Kerr put it, “When they’re having fun and enjoying it, they’re more likely to be good at it.”

The Biochemistry of Belief

Everything you think, even subconsciously, acts as an internal command. Your body follows your beliefs. If you believe you are tough, your body will obey and manifest that. If you believe you are fragile your body will obey and manifest that. Researchers of the Indian Journal of Psychology stated, “Each and every tiny cell in our body is perfectly and absolutely aware of our thoughts, feelings and of course, our beliefs.”

The body experiences joy at the cellular level. When you are full of joy, it actually keeps your stress hormones away and lowers your heart rate.

You get to play basketball, you don’t have to play basketball. This mentality makes you perform better, because when you see basketball as an obligation, your body fulfills the lift or the workout resentfully. When you see it as an opportunity, you become energized and you get excited about doing the workout to the best of your ability.

If you can shift your thinking, you can chemically change your brain, and you will play better, simply because you are enjoying it.

Even just smiling enhances performance.

Cheerfulness In The Face Of Adversity

Cheerfulness in the face of adversity is one of the Royal Marines’ mottos. It sounds optimistic, but studies are now proving that it actually increases our endurance.

There was a study done recently where athletes cycled to complete exhaustion. As they cycled, they were either shown pictures of people smiling or frowning. However, they showed them the pictures so fast that it barely registered on a conscious level, it was completely subconscious.

Those who were subconsciously exposed to smiles were able to cycle for longer. Smiling literally enhanced performance.

Steve Kerr said, “We basically covered the walls of our practice facility with pictures of our guys in action smiling, celebrating championships, holding up trophies; we wanted that joy to be visible on the walls of our facility.” But more importantly, Steve Kerr and Steph lead by example. Their joy is evident. They enjoy the game, they enjoy practice, and you can see it on their faces.

Pat Riley said it best, “Great effort springs naturally from a great attitude.” that wasn’t just an opinion, it’s backed by psychological research.

Action Steps:

1. Find something to be grateful for and write it down.

At the end of every practice, every lift, every workout, or even just at the end of the day, find one thing that made you grateful and write it down (or tell someone). When you have to write it down, you’ll go into your workouts looking for something to write down and you are training your brain to look for the good. The quickest path to joy is gratitude. As a basketball player, there’s no shortage of things to be grateful for, even if it’s just the fact that you are healthy enough to be on the court.

2. Smile

It sounds too easy to be true, but it's proven to be effective. Cheerfulness in the face of adversity should be your mantra. Cheerfulness is not just how you should act when you win or when something good happens to you, choose joy- it enhances performance.

3. Steve Kerr’s advice for creating joy at practice:


Written by Julie Fournier




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