11/15/2010 08:29 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Mindfulness and Sports: Is There an 'I' in 'Team' After All?

I am pleased to have Brian Culkin B.A. as a contributor for this blog.

"There is no 'I' in the word team!"

How many times have basketball coaches around the world yelled this at their players, repeating this saying and not fully realizing the highly negative implications and effects it could have on the players and the team itself?

"Zen" thinking in the field of basketball and many other professional sports seems like it is all but lost. The bright lights and big money have taken the essence out of what exactly these athletes had intended to do at that moment when they fell in love with playing a game in a mindful and team-spirited sense.

Any team, group, business, or organization can all be defined with the exact same definition: A group of individual beings who share a pattern of agreements aligned with a common intention and who strive to bring about some kind of shared completed action. This is the essence of mindful leadership and coaching, as it cuts to the heart of the matter. The key concept to grasp within the definition of a team is that of individual beings sharing a common goal. Too many people forget to realize or understand that in reality there is an "I" in the word team. But a mindful coach, leader or team player holds the space for the integration of the "I" as well as the team.

Today there seem to be two divergent paths by which many teams in the realm of professional sports, global politics, organizations and businesses around the world falter in applying the definition of a true team. The first is the idea that the group is everything and that the individual is nothing. This kind of thinking, although very common in this day and age, ultimately can have negative consequences for any team applying this philosophy. The individual is the life source of any team. The team itself is, in essence, a compilation of individual beings. Trying to create a team without rightly recognizing the source can be a recipe for disaster.

The second path goes in the complete opposite direction: "I need to do everything myself. I don't trust the team." This creates separateness and promotes only individuals. The pattern of agreements and the common intention that holds the group together will eventually be shattered by this kind of thinking.

Playing a Mindful or Zen Game

The greatest teams in basketball history, the Bulls during the 90s and the Celtics and Lakers during the 80s, had the concept of a team down beautifully. They were true teams because the individuals within them were allowed to fully shine, to fully be themselves, and they were bound together by a pattern of agreements and plenty of mindful awareness.

One way to bring more mindfulness into a game is through meditation. It increases athletes' reflexes, court vision, and general awareness of themselves in relation to others, both on and off the court or playing field! It allows leaders to respond with awareness instead of reaction and make everyone on their team feel recognized, affirmed and valued. Through meditation a player or coach can develop mindstrength, which provides them with clarity and calm under pressure. It also allows them to tap into their core creativity so that they can approach the game differently with new resourcefulness, effectively solving problems and ultimately generating more wins.

But meditation's most significant reward is allowing one to become what one already is, what one always has been, and what one always will be. It is the act of locating the "I am that I am." This is done only by looking within and holding a position in space. Jesus said in the Gospels, "And verily I say unto thee, the Kingdom of Heaven is within you." The Buddha urged his followers not to worship him but to look for the wisdom of mind within themslves. Bob Dylan wrote, "Don't follow leaders, watch the parkin' meters."

This brings us back to the original concept that we are trying to get across: a group, team or business is only as successful as the individual beings that comprise it and agree to work together toward a stated goal.

Basketball and other sports are just a game, but the greatest game of all is life. The same rules apply to both. Discovering who you really are through mindful awareness will only help you play the game better.

Now close your eyes and breathe.

Brian Culkin contributed to this post.