I’m not supposed to do sports. After all, we creatives are more about reveling in the smell of crayons, the angle of moonlight on the river, and the beauty of the ocean at sunrise.
Not the blast of the buzzer, screaming at the coach to use a time-out, or shouting in glee as a three-pointer swishes through the hoop effortlessly.
Yet, here I am. In love with the Carolina Tar Heels. And it’s not because I know basketball, or because I know four corners, or how to set a screen. It’s because I love the process, the stories, the passion – and yes, the similarities between basketball and being an artist. In fact, over the years, the Carolina Tar Heels have taught me something about Creativity.
So, in honor of the new NCAA Champions, here are seven unexpected Creativity lessons I Learned from the Tar Heels…
1 – Systems and Habits. Not Feelings and Reactions.
In his book Playing for Keeps: Michael Jordan and the World He Made, David Halberstam devotes two whole chapters to Dean Smith’s Carolina basketball program. He describes the team’s daily practice as stunning. First, because of how quiet it was. And he goes on to say, “The next thing was how brilliantly and carefully organized it was, with a schedule posted each day that outlined how each minute of practice would be used.”
In other words, no one is waiting to decide whether or not they “feel like it.” The system is in place before the practice begins. There’s a schedule.
Creativity thrives in systems and habits. The creative-types I coach are always amazed at their productivity levels when we create a schedule for their weekly practices and writing sessions. They no longer spend their time reacting to their days with emotion and drama. Now they have a system. Dean Smith would be proud.
2 – Get a Coach.
Here’s where athletes get it right. They get coaches. From the start, they have coaches and mentors. Lots of them. No athlete in his right mind doesn’t have a coach.
Yes, it’d be nice if the coaching model were built into the creative life. But this is where we can be the change we want to see in the world. For now, we’ll have to learn to invest in ourselves enough to hire coaches, ask for mentors and create a support system that doesn’t let us turn into strung-out loners. Coaches help us get where we want to go.
3 – Success Brings Critics.
Before Monday night’s championship game, a search on the web turned up all kinds of nasty articles, blogs, and video snippets, the sole purpose of which was to trash various UNC players, the coach, and the fans.
Many people are terrified of critics. They twist and contort themselves and their creativity into tiny boxes in hopes that no one will notice them shine.
It’s pointless. Snarky people are everywhere. Critics pick apart successful people because they don’t know how to do it themselves.
Keep your focus on your work in the world, and let the snarky people ruin their own lives with their negative vibes. As Tyler Hansbrough (all of 22 years old) said after he won the championship, “How many of you can say you’re a national champion? I can. That’s right. I can. My critics can’t.”
Nor can they ever. They’re too busy being critics.
4 – Have fun.
Michael Jordan tells a story of Dean Smith in the final seconds of the 1982 championship game against Georgetown. Carolina was down by one point and with possession of the ball. During a time out, Smith outlined the play, and then paused, looked up at his players and asked, “Isn’t this fun?”
I remember this when I’m frustrated by my writing, or when a song isn’t working, or when I’m overwhelmed with ideas, or when I begin to think I should’ve gone to law school. Creativity is all about cherishing the unknown, living with insecurity, and always asking yourself, “Isn’t this fun?”
Or, as Roy Williams put it: Enjoy the ride.
5 – Three-Pointers Can’t Replace Steady Performance.
Sometimes a team makes a run and suddenly leads by 9 points. The other team, in total panic, might try to come back by rushing down the court and randomly shooting three-pointers. That’s because three-pointers are a seemingly quick way to get back on track. If they’re doing it from desperation, it rarely works. That’s because they’ve stopped playing to win – and now they’re playing not to lose.
Creative types are often holding out for the “big thing.” The Record Deal. The Gallery Opening. The feature in the national magazine. Something – anything – to rescue them. They’re running around trying to get the three-pointers. But it rarely works.
Nothing works like consistent, solid, steady forward movement. That way, when the three-pointers happen, they’re just icing on the cake.
6 – Passion is required. (Oh, and sometimes it makes you use swear words.)
I always crack up when the camera hits a coach after a bad call just as he’s belting out a stream of profanity so articulate that even the blind can read his lips. It’s a part of the passion. And sometimes you get caught up in it. (I’m just glad I don’t have cameras hitting me at certain moments!)
Even though I write about being creative and conscious, it doesn’t mean that you don’t occasionally get totally angry, or completely lost in grief at a disappointment. That’s the beauty of passion. And passion is crucial.
The beauty of consciousness is that you can choose to get up the next day and start your habits and systems all over again.
7 – Keep Shooting.
In the last weeks of this tournament, Danny Green missed some baskets.
Well, actually, what I mean to say is this: He missed almost every basket he shot. Three pointers, two pointers, lay-ups. He just missed them. And he’s a brilliant shooter.
The media went nuts. Everyone was wondering what was wrong. All kinds of drama and speculation.
Roy Williams’s advice to Danny?
Which he did.
Within a few games, he was back on track.
Sometimes we’re off our game. The words don’t come. The passion is gone. We’re tired. Life gets us bummed out.
In those times, you can decide it’s all over, you’re washed up, nothing is worth doing anymore. Or you can take Roy’s advice and keep shooting.
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