What the Golden State Warriors Teach Us About Mindfulness

The Golden State Warriors have started this year’s basketball season with a record-setting 16 straight wins. I watch all of the post-game interviews and I’ve noticed that the word “mindfulness” pops up more often than you might expect. It’s certainly not a new concept within sports (sports psychology dates back to the 1920s) but the use of meditation -- and, specifically, mindfulness -- is a growing practice.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr has shaped much of the current culture within the organization using the Mindfulness-Acceptance-Commitment approach to performance enhancement, along with experiences from his own playing career that shaped him. These include learnings from his own coaches -- the levity of Cotton Fitzsimmons, the Zen of Phil Jackson, and the tough love of Gregg Popovich.

After a loss to the arch-rival San Antonio Spurs early last season, Kerr said of his team, "They had the confidence. They had the swagger. The challenge is how to add the mindfulness. How do we add…the purpose?"

Apparently, he’s figured it out. In recent interviews, interim coach Luke Walton has described the core values that Kerr has instilled in the team: joy, mindfulness, compassion, and competition. “The first one and the most important one is probably joy -- he wants us having fun. It’s a long season, this game’s meant to be fun. There’s mindfulness. There’s compassion -- for each other and for the game of basketball. And then there’s competition. When we hit those four things, we’re not only very tough to beat, but we’re very fun to watch, we’re very fun to coach, we’re very fun to be around.”

A lot of athletes have the physical ability for competition but lack the mental training to support it. We’re beginning to see corporate America start to think about workforce performance and productivity similarly. For example:

  • Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference featured an opening with Rick Welts and Bob Myers from the Golden State Warriors organization. What followed later in the event? A Mindfulness keynote with Donna Karan and Urban Zen. Coincidence?
  • Talks at Google recently featured George Mumford discussing the Mindful Athlete and his work with Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and the Warriors.
  • Purpose is a key component within Dan Pink’s framework for motivation and drive, along with mastery and autonomy.
  • Willie Mays was just presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom and once had this to say about mindfulness: “What you are thinking, what shape your mind is in, is what makes the greatest difference of all.”
  • Companies like the Human Performance Institute and EXOS are taking learnings from athletics and bringing them to employers to help create “corporate athletes.”

Maybe, as you think about standard training programs for your employees around compliance and on-the-job functions, it’s time to think about mindfulness training as well.

When will the Golden State Warriors lose? Who knows, but I’ll be enjoying the entire season, mindful and appreciative of every fun moment that comes along the way.

Chris Chan
by Chris Chan

Principal, Innovation LABS, Mercer

Chris is a Principal and Innovation Imagineer with Mercer’s Health Innovation LABS, where he helps build creative solutions that complement employers’ health and welfare benefits programs. He focuses on developing strategies and products through the use of human-centered design, machine learning, consumer data insights and creating customer delight. Chris graduated from the University of California with a degree in neurobiology.

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