When I was a graduate assistant I shared a desk with a now well-known strength coach by the name of Kaz Kazadi. He turned me onto several books about the way of the samurai. In the book Hagakure the author speaks of the stories of the samurai, their history, important people involved, and a lot more stories. It gives advice on how to deal with and lead people and still holds as true today as it did several centuries ago.

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One part of the book talks about how to address things with people. The author says something to the effect of, “It’s far better to tell someone a story about yourself and what you did or change you made as a result of a certain situation rather than to address them directly about it. It is the person's natural response to push back if you push them. If you lead them to a conclusion and they get it, then the problem is solved. If they do not get to the conclusion, it is of no consequence, as they did not start to revolt against you because of your suggestion.” It also goes on to say that if you are in a situation where it has to be directly addressed, do so in private and one-on-one. Any time that you are more than one-on-one, the person will feel attacked regardless of what was said.

These two points are ones that I based a lot of my coaching career on. I would see issues that arose with the team and address them with different parables. We’d go over a lot of different stories to address a lot of different issues. They never took more than five minutes to tell from start to finish, plus the added time of people talking about them. We would take common parables, historical figures, and anything else that came to mind to illustrate our points. Even if it didn’t get the person on board at the time, it didn’t push them further away, which meant that we could try again from another position if necessary.

london raiders

The parable is one of the oldest tools to teach. Aesop’s fables were all little parables to teach people right from wrong, what to do in different circumstances, and how to respond to challenges. If the parables work so great for the general population and work great for the samurai, they should work great for athletics, too. Never doubt the power of the parable; it has been teaching lessons to people for millennia. If they didn’t work, the ancient Greeks would have ceased their usage, as they were some pretty smart cats themselves.

I have gone through a professional transition to where more of my time is spent in research and policy rather than coaching. As such, I don’t need my stash of parables any longer and will be releasing them one by one for anyone to take and use (or not, it’s of no matter to me).

To start off this series, I’d like to start with one of my favorite stories: the one of Victor Frankl.

Victor Frankl

Victor Frankl was a Jewish psychoanalyst who was captured in a Nazi concentration camp during WWII. Every day the Nazis took great joy in coming by and telling different prisoners, “I hope you have made peace with your god; today is the day we will kill you,” among many other things. They would also physically harass and beat the prisoners. Of course, this put everyone on edge. Anytime someone would so much as speak, the prisoners would cower in fear. Victor Frankl was the only one who wouldn’t.

Victor Frankl realized that in his mind, he was free. He was free to choose to let what the Nazis said and did to not bother him. He was free to be whatever he wanted to be and wherever he wanted to be in his mind. He had the choice to cower in fear or just stand there. This was quite empowering and allowed him to survive WWII. In fact, when the allied forces liberated his concentration camp, he was the only one who would not cower at any of the movements or words of the liberating forces. Everyone else was so afraid of what may happen to them, but Frankl wasn’t. He never subjected himself to that fear. The allied forces took the time to study him and the choice to remain free saved him.

We can take from Victor Frankl that it doesn’t matter what happens, you have the choice of how to respond. You have the choice to take a coach’s word as personal or realize that they’re trying to make you perform your best. You have the choice to think that something sucks or that it’s a challenge to make you better. Victor Frankl had championship nature in his choices. You won’t be competing against the Nazis, but you always have the choice of how to respond in any circumstance. Go respond like a champion.

Image courtesy of Chris Whitacre