Phil Jackson once remarked, “There’s more to life than basketball, and there’s more to basketball than basketball.” Basketball, like all sports, is as much about life as it is about physical skills. In Values of the Game, Bill Bradley reflects on the qualities he nurtured through playing basketball. Specifically, he talks about developing passion, discipline, selflessness, respect, perspective, courage, leadership, responsibility, resilience, and imagination. It’s a great list. He also tells a number of moving and poignant stories about how his career in basketball prepared him for his career beyond the court.
The learning curve bends in both directions. Games can teach for life, and life can be rendered more manageable and enjoyable when viewed as a game. For 16 years, Madelyn Jennings served as senior vice president of human resources for Gannett Company, the largest newspaper publisher in the United States. In an interview, she recalled that when faced with the most serious business decisions, some CEO would often say, “Just remember, it’s all a game.” The point was not to diminish the importance of the decision. Rather, it was to say that we often do our best when we lighten up, appreciate the process, and see things in a broader perspective than simply through the lens of outcomes.
When confronting serious issues in life, we can benefit from thinking playfully. All competition, whether in sports, school, business, or elsewhere, requires finding the balance between seriousness and playfulness, between work and pleasure, between effort and enjoyment. Sometimes we may need to lighten up. Other times, we may need to get serious. Like finding the right station on an old radio dial, to experience true competition we may need to dial up toward seriousness or down toward playfulness. When you find the right balance, you can enjoy the music of true competition.