The Comfort Mindset

Many coaches, particularly those of us who have been in the profession for a “few” decades, tend to talk about how the game has changed – and is headed in a direction that is not good. We usually shake our heads at how the fundamentals are missed and the players don’t work at it like we did. Then we say things to each other like, “Remember the outdoor court games that we played every day?”

We like the good old days in all of life as well as basketball. I call this The Comfort Mindset. For example, we might think or say, “we never smoked dope”, “the hair styles are ridiculous”; and “those tattoos are awful! Mark my word, some day they will wish they didn’t have a permanent tattoo.”

In a Comfort Mindset, things feel good and there are no conflicts. It’s no wonder we like to stay in our Comfort Zone. And as we grow older we might tend even more toward comfort, vacations, slowing down, living the good life!

Comfort is a good goal – or is it?

I remember being very happy as a defensive basketball coach, running a slow repetitious offense. I was comfortable and content, but the players seemed not to share my zeal. The game already was changing around me; the clock had been in for awhile and more basketball was being shown on tv. My players and potential recruits wanted to play fast … or at least faster. And my basketball world knew that Burson played sloooooow-down basketball.

I had to make some changes. I had to leave my Comfort Mindset or I would be pushed out of it by the changing world around me.

I had to accept the challenge to change.

I needed to change my Comfort Mindset in order to get out of my comfort zone, to take a chance on something that might not work. Even though what I was doing had been working very well, it would not last!

I needed to adjust before the problems occurred!

I realized that taking a chance could possibly open up new avenues and lead us toward even better times.

l looked at a lot of little things that I had been doing and this led to a lot of big changes.

I changed my offense entirely. Over the course of two years, little by little, I created my own speed-up version of the Princeton Offense with a quicker pace and shooting three’s.

Yes, I said shoot the three! In my program it had been heresy to shoot three’s. But when I learned that statistically three’s and layups were the two best shots in basketball I leapt out of my Comfort Mindset and embraced the change. And the players loved it!

Comfort, Challenge, Conflict and Change

On the other side of comfort are the challenges, the conflict, the battle which is called change.This is not simple, because it requires work and a stance that can cause people to react negatively toward you and even you toward yourself.

  • The old versus the young
  • Man versus woman
  • Political differences
  • The conflict of self with losing weight
  • Study more
  • Develop more skills
  • Not reacting with anger or disappointment

These are always going to surface because leaving comfort for change always results in challenge, which can lead to conflict.

Change is challenging for all of us. Conflict will always occur. Some will embrace change anyway. Others will think it ridiculous: “Why change? I am comfortable where I am.”

In the book The Best Teacher in You*, the authors explain that to become a transformational leader we must “beware of comfort.” Here’s why comfort is tricky:

Comfort, order and predictability are easier to manage than novelty, disruption and change. [You can] be stable with little change or be creative and be prepared for growth and conflict.”

Be careful. Your comfort zone allows the game to pass you by.

You must have a certain level of stability but if you have too much of it you will limit growth. You must be open to new ideas, thoughts and growth even when you know it will be challenged and will cause conflict.

Accept the challenge to always change, grow and improve. Hold on to the best of what you have and make it better.

As in life and basketball, change and growth are the only paths to becoming better coaches, teachers, parents or whatever you do in life. We must continue to grow and develop and also to learn to engage the game.


* The Best Teacher in You: How to Accelerate Learning and Change Lives by Robert E. Quinn and Gretchen M. Spreitzer (U. of Michigan, Center for Positive Organizations), Katherine Heynoski and Mike Thomas (Battelle for Kids)

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