On this Bring It In podcast episode, 1Huddle’s CEO and Founder Sam Caucci sat down with Dr. Jerry Lynch, sports psychologist, coach, mentor, teacher, and author of The Competitive Buddha. Dr. Lynch has advised, guided, and coached some of the most successful, winningest, and dominant athletes in the world, including Steve Kerr, Phil Jackson, and Kobe Bryant. Across every major athletic sport, Dr. Lynch is responsible for 73 Conference Championships, 54 Final Fours, and 39 National Championships.
Dr. J has also written 14 books, including his newest book The Competitive Buddha. He brings a unique perspective, combining philosophical concepts with sports coaching and leadership methods that he’s compiled over his years of experience.
On this episode of Bring It In season two, Dr. J sat down with 1Huddle’s CEO and Founder Sam Caucci and talked about his latest book, diving into themes of mastery, leadership, and spirituality as he draws from the ancient teachings of the Buddha and showing how much of his philosophies can be applied to winning.
Audio available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.
Below are some of the insights Dr. J shared during our chat, edited for length and clarity. You can find more Bring It In podcast episodes here.
Sam: How’d you get into this?
Jerry: You don’t have enough time. It’s like a start at the beginning, like the very first day. How did you get into this? What a question. Oh, that’s a good question. And it’s always interesting to explore that, but it’s an amazing journey. And as Joseph Campbell calls it, it’s the hero’s journey, you know, up and down all over the place and where I’m sitting today, and I don’t mean, geographically, but, professionally, emotionally, and spiritually, has been an amazing journey of confluence coming together of all of my passion. And, actually, when I read the book, The Teachings of Don Juan, many years ago as a 24-year-old, Carlos Castaneda, gave me the right direction. He said, if you follow your heart, you’ll never make a mistake. And, so I decided to take him up on it and I have, and it’s been up and down, but the downs are nowhere near the downs when you’re following your heart. And so following my heart, meant taking together, I love writing. I majored in English literature. I taught English literature. I taught creative writing. So I have my writing. I love philosophy. I also had a second major in philosophy. I love sports. I’m a gym rat. You know, I love the smell of a dirty gym and grew up with that at the age of four and, really relate to sports and you know, I’m a highly competitive athlete, I had been on an international level sponsored by Nike for many years. And so I saw all the relevance and all the relationship came together, but that didn’t happen till the age of 42. And, I knew I write books, but I never knew I would write 14 books and I have two more on the back burner, just screaming at me to be written, but I can’t do it until this book comes out because I don’t want to take my focus off of this book, which is going to be a good one. And it is a good one. And so, I just followed my heart, you know, wherever it went and I never gave up on it.
I created a niche. So initially, you know, I’m talking about being a sports psychologist, that doesn’t really define who I am. Not only as a person but as a professional. I think 15% of my work is sports psychology. Even though I can do any sports psychology if I wanted to. But I realized that if I really want to reach people, we have to go deeper and that deepness comes from spirituality. And so rather than saying sports psychology, I say sports spirituality. And, so I’m a very, very spiritual viewer, an observer of life. And I see all the connections of life between the heart and everything else that goes on in life. And, you know, like the COVID, for instance, I know it’s a physical crisis, but it’s also a spiritual crisis. You know, we’re all suffering and we’re not suffering from the pain of COVID, we’re suffering from lack of faith. You know, we’re fearful, we’re suffering from the lack of hope and people are suffering because they don’t understand a Buddhist concept like impermanence, and also how everything would change. And so I see this relationship when I look at a basketball game and I’m watching Steve Kerr coach, I’m seeing the spirituality of his leadership. I’m seeing what he’s doing as a leader who is a servant to his players. I don’t just see he’s calling the X’s and O’s, you know what I mean? Although I feel as though I know a lot of basketball and I know a lot about sports, it’s something much deeper. So to your point, coming all of this distance, to answer your question, sport life leadership, it’s bigger than what it is. And, I’m just trying to help people understand. That if we take on something like sport, we can learn about ourselves, who we are, what we’re about, where we’re going, who we want to take with us.
Sam: I just work with so many companies who, sometimes competition is looked at as a bad thing, and I don’t know where that happened. And also as a former athlete, I look at competition as powerful when used appropriately. I mean how do you respond to that? Or what is your perspective on why competition is a good thing?
Jerry: So, brilliant question, because, and the reason why it’s brilliant is because whether you know it or not, that question is the basis of so much discussion in the entire world today. So it’s very relevant today. It’s very important and I value that question. And also, may I say it’s playing to the title of my next book, which is “The Competitive Buddha”. Now, when people look at “The Competitive Buddha”, you know, what are they thinking? All these people you’re talking about is, ‘That’s negative, wait a minute. The Buddhist was to be positive and upbeat and holy and spiritual and you’re talking about competition. You’re going to beat someone down?’ No. So what I did was I did some research on the Buddha and it turns out that the Buddha himself was perhaps the first student-athlete ever. He competed as an archer. He competed as a horseman. He was an amazing wrestler. Amazing. And, what happened was he says, according to the Buddha, that he had learned everything about himself from those competitive days. So that opens up the question. Well, I guess competition might be helpful. Well, yes indeed it is.
If you trace, when we trace the word competition to its Latin root, it means it’s competere and competere means to seek together, Sam. It’s a seeking together process. So this book, “The Competitive Buddha”, what we’re talking about right from the get-go is look, we’re going to compete and we’re going to compete together, but you’re going to be my partner and Sam, you’re going to help me run up that hill faster because you’ve worked hard at your game and you’re good at what you do and it’s going to encourage me and motivate me and inspire me, so I’ll get the best out of myself because of you. And whether it’s sport or a business, like you’re talking about a startup company when we first started this conversation, if you’re starting up a business, you want competition, you want to compete with people not to beat them down, but you want them to inspire you. You want them to encourage you. In fact, it’s a partnership of seeking together how great you can be, and the better I get as your competitor, the better you’ll get. And it’s enough to go around, and the Buddha talks about that. And so we have all of these possibilities of expanding our whole perception, and that’s what you’re driving right here, of what competition really is, competere, seeking together, you know, a partnership, which is beautiful.
Sam: Yeah. I wouldn’t have ever thought that, you know, so often we think of competition as against. How has the experience been? You’ve worked with so many. I mean the back of all of your books talk about how many national championships and All Americans and the numbers, I don’t think I could even quote them because they’re still rolling. Where did you get the idea for this book, rooted in all of the experience you’ve had, working with so many championship organizations?
Jerry: This book has been in the making for 45 years, but I never wrote it. I wrote other books. Yeah. I wrote other books which were more immediate and more pertinent at the moment. But this book always sort of lingered in the background. You know, I’m not a Buddhist. I want to make that clear, but I do practice the truths of Buddhist thought. Buddhism is not a philosophy. It’s not a religion. It’s the truth of life. Like what goes up must come down. If you swim against the stream, you’ll struggle. So I’ve always had these thoughts inside me. And I started using them with athletes. You know, when athletes were struggling or athletes were forcing and pushing us, trying to make something happen. And the philosophy of Dao, Daoism, Chinese Dao, I applied a lot of that, but it didn’t go deep enough in my mind. So what I did was, I started reading a lot about the Buddhist way of looking at things like competition, for example. And I realized that, when I did the research, I got up one morning, it was December 19th, 2020, and I got out of bed and I sat down right where you’re looking at me right now. And I jotted down about 15 or 20 thoughts that I was having during my sleep. Next morning. I got up and I started researching it. And what I found was astounding to me, Sam. Everything that I could find, all my research was relating the whole idea of Buddhist thought to athletics, to life and using athletics as a microcosmic classroom for learning about leadership, coaching performance.
And all of this stuff started popping up and I thought to myself, my, I’ve never seen this before. I’ve always thought about it. And now people are doing this. I mean, you know, in the book I have, I’ll just read a couple of things, titles to you. In the one section, Buddha and sports conversions, I’m talking about the Kung Fu nuns of the Himalayas. Nuns being athletic, using Buddhist thought, “The marathon monks of Mount Hiei,” the dancing Kaizen quakes. That’s about the San Jose Earthquakes, which is one of my teams and they love the concept of Kaizen. And, the mindful women of Merrill Lacrosse and Pacific Buddhist Dragons, that’s a high school that’s using Buddhism with sports. And I started to see all this stuff and I thought, wow, now I could really explore how I can get all of this stuff that was in my heart, out on paper and distributed to people, so that people can now make the connection. Leaders in the industry, leaders in the military, leaders in church groups, mothers, fathers, parents, leaders of Boy Scouts, whatever it is, what they could do now is they could see the relevancy of these truths, these values of impermanence and, and letting go, you know, detachment and how that works, not only in sports but in life. So I use sports as the vehicle, and so we get on that train and it transports us into deeper places inside that we never even knew existed for ourselves.
Sam: Sure. Yeah. I wanted to ask you about that. Because so much of your writing is centered around sports, and athletics is a core part of your audience and the people you speak to, and I just, as a sales manager, who’s worked in a bunch of different industries, it’s not uncommon for people to use sports analogies inside of a boardroom, right. Or to, you know, excite or motivate or inspire their people. But I also wonder at times, because you know, sometimes especially today, more than ever, it’s harder to keep people together. Organizations are struggling to stay connected, being apart, and you mentioned COVID is one of them. What is the most important message today from your work for business leaders who are going to be the ones responsible for, developing, leading and coaching the athletes you talk about in the future.
Jerry: I’ve done a lot, Sam, a lot of research on leadership. In fact, I spend, probably right now today, rather than working with teams per se, maybe 90% of my work is researching and implementing leadership qualities and strategies that will help us become the kind of leaders that we really desire to be. My leadership, by the way, my interest in leadership goes way, way back. I was born in a family where my father was really quite a leader. He was a New York City fire chief. He worked down in, lower Manhattan. In fact, he had retired before 9/11, otherwise, he would have been there. As a little boy, as a 13-year-old, I’ll just tell you this quick story. One of my activities during the summer was to go over and visit my dad at the firehouse and spend a day with my dad. And what he would do is, he would allow me to come into the chief’s car when they went to a fire. And we ride through lower Manhattan with the sirens blasting, going to a fire. He jumped out of the car and I’d watch what he did. And I saw how he led men. And I saw how men would react to him. Those were the days when women were not part of the fire fighting group. And I would notice this. I was very, very taken by that and it sunk in.
And when I got out of college, I went to teach English literature, but the draft board came after me during Vietnam. And, I went into the service and I chose to go in as a Navy officer. So as a young man at the age of 24, 25, I was leading like 150 men. I mean, I didn’t know what I was doing. I had no idea. And there were people that were lifers, that were leading other men and, you know, sergeants and chiefs and the Navy and they were leading people for 25 years and I came along and I just like said, I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m gonna learn a lot from you. And so I did, I sat back and I learned a lot from that. But, you know, to your point about leadership,
I think it’s simple, but it’s not easy. And I want to read something to you if I may, but I have a section in the competitive Buddha. It’s called the Buddha Hawk for transformative leadership. And what I talk about in there is servant leadership, being a servant as an attitude. Let’s look at Steve Kerr. Let’s look at Pete Carroll. How about Phil Jackson? How about any great coach that you and I know. They all come into the picture as servants, they want to serve and be the best servants that they possibly can be. And that’s based on certain qualities and values that they have.
And we learned from these people, what it takes to really lead other people and what shows up, are certain qualities and those qualities are: connection. God, they really know how to connect with their players. You know, I look at my father, he really knew how to connect with his men. They adored him. He was tough. I mean, he was very demanding. This isn’t like a love Fest where anything goes. It was just like, you got to do this, you got to step up and I’m demanding this from you. But it was done in a tone where people felt loved, they felt important. They felt valued and respected and relevant. And those are important concepts, because if I can make you feel that way, you’re going to perform at a higher level. And so it comes from connecting with people. And how do I connect with you, Sam? I connect with you, you know, I’m going to say something when, when you say something that’s significant, I’m going to let you know it’s significant. I said to you a few minutes ago, you know, that was a brilliant question. And it was, but I want to make sure I let you know that. And so my connection with you comes from the more I make you feel relevant, important, valued, empowered, respected. You’re gonna walk out on a plank and jump into the deepest pool as a kid than you ever would have if you didn’t feel that way.
So leadership is all about that connection and connection leads to caring and caring leads to love. Now here’s where I lose 90% of the people. Most people think, what is he talking about? Is this some weird guy from California who wants to talk about leadership and love? Right. You know what I mean? It’s like, come on. No, no, we’re not talking about romantic love. What we’re talking about is a deep feeling of caring for someone else so much so, that they will go the distance for you. They will get down on the floor in the basketball court, on all fours and lick the dust off the floor.
If that’s what it takes to clean it for you, the leader, the coach. And so love becomes this way we communicate. By the way, love as a strategy, it’s the most powerful success strategy in leadership of anything coming out of Harvard Business School. You go to Stanford business school and you learn all these strategies about leadership and what have you. Love is the most important, powerful thing. Let me read you something. This is from my book, Win The Day. You’re familiar with that. And you’re familiar with the coach on that cover as am I, but let me read you this passage. “It takes a number of critical factors to win an NBA championship. Talent, creativity, intelligence, toughness, and there’s some luck. But if you want to lead a team that’s successful, if they don’t have the most essential ingredients, none of those factors matter. The most essential ingredient in my leadership is love for my players.” That’s a quote from Phil Jackson. You know, when you watch Steve Kerr, you know, he gives Steph Curry, a pat on the butt, get in there. What you don’t hear on television is something I hear if I’m sitting close by and that is, “I love you, big guy. Go get ’em.” And, you know, my children all understand that because we brought them up in an environment of love. I led as a dad with love. I was demanding. They knew it. I required certain things from them behaviorally. We set the boundaries, but they always knew. They were important. They were valued. Here’s another quote, real quickly, Sun Tzu, that’s written 2,500 years ago in his ancient book, The Art of War, by the way, a must-read book for all leaders, right? You’re nodding your head, yes. And it’s like, who hasn’t read it? Raise your hand, go read it. Right. The art of war, he emphasizes the importance of love and leadership. He strongly encourages leaders and generals to take care of the troops as they would take care of a child who was loved. He says that by loving others, the chances of victory are greatly enhanced.
Summing it up. What I want to do is train leaders, coaches, the industry doesn’t matter, sports, I want to make sure that they learn how to connect with those whom they are leading. I want to make sure that they can demonstrate caring and love, be authentic and genuine, and also be vulnerable. And vulnerability is the risk that I’m willing to take all the time to make connections with people. And if I could get every one of the listeners here who are, who consider themselves leaders, to think about this, maybe you have to read the book, maybe you don’t, maybe you have other ways of learning it. But in the book, I really make it really, really clear how the Buddha taught us leadership 2,500 years ago. And it’s more relevant and more important today than it’s ever been, especially what we’ve gone through in the last several years.
Sam: We spend so much time trying to find the magic bullet, the ingredient, that we read Eleven Rings by Phil Jackson to try to find three or four things to put into play. And without almost like not understanding what you’re talking about at your core, do those systems ever, they don’t work. Do they?
Jerry: Not at all? No. Well, listen, we have data for that. And what we have to do is ask that question individually of ourselves. How was that working for you? If you’re not having, if your leadership work is not productive, effective if it’s not fun. Wow. What a concept? Imagine having fun. Yeah. It should be a lot of fun too. Right? You watch the joy on the face of a good leader. If it’s not there, then you must ask the question. What do I need to do? Or even better? How do I need to be, in order to create more attraction with my leadership, you know, and what it boils down to, and this is universal. I mean, I have confidence Sam, in saying this, I don’t go outside my boundaries if I don’t know something, I don’t go there. You know what I mean? I don’t pretend I know something when I don’t. But this, I do know, and this is 40 years of observing good leadership and reading dozens and dozens and dozens of books, but it all comes down to one thing. And I know great leaders who have never read a leadership book in their life, but it all comes down to being mindful. And I use that word cautiously, which means being aware that great leadership is all about winning. The relationship game, our success today, you and I together I’ve never met you. Although I feel real comfortable right now, where I feel connected with you. I’m sure you feel that way with me. And it all comes from me and you, the awareness. This is about a relationship. No relationship, no leadership, no coaching, no parenting.
It just doesn’t happen that way. So if nothing matters, I shouldn’t say nothing matters, everything matters in some form. But if there’s one thing that we all need to realize is that it’s not about winning the basketball game. It’s not about winning the contract or getting this client, it’s really about winning that relationship game. And once you establish a trusting, respectful relationship, that’s genuine and authentic, and it’s laced with love. Now we’re talking about true leadership. Now people will follow you to the end of the earth or wherever it goes. And I’ve seen this with all of these great people we’re talking about. They all have that magic sense. All the great coaches in sports today know it’s all about the relationship game in winning that game.
Sam: I love that. It makes me think that it’s not something that’s a switch either, right? I mean, I’d imagine that my relationship with my wife and my daughter and my relationship with my coworkers and my relationship with my, you know, friends. That relationship mindset has to cut through all of it. It can’t just be in isolation. You’re going to be a good leader at work.
Jerry: Well, I mean, first of all, as you do, one thing, you do all things like as I’m being with you right now, if I leave my office and I go to my family and you know, my kids are home during COVID and what have you, so we have a family together. If I’m not being the way I’m being with you, and I go, and I have a different relationship with them in terms of my strategies. Not only am I being hypocritical, but I’m being ineffective. As you do, one thing, you do all things. I get up in the morning and I make my bed. That sets the stage for the rest of the day. Making your bed is a nice metaphor for how I’m going to lead others during the day. I’m going to pay attention to details. So it’s an attitude that permeates your soul. It’s an attitude that fits skin-tight over your spirit. You’ve got to want to win the relationship game, and then you need to know these strategies that I’m talking about. And that I defined so well in The Competitive Buddha, a whole section on leadership. Once we start practicing these strategies, then what happens is we start seeing changes and it must be done with your wife and child, your daughter. It must be done in your office with your coworkers, but more than anything, it must be done with you.
You have to have a good relationship with yourself. Show me a leader who is struggling to have a relationship with his coworkers, and I’ll show you someone that doesn’t have a good relationship with themselves. You know, it really does start there. It starts from the inside that works out with, if I love myself, I have the capacity to love others. If I don’t love myself, then what’s going to happen is, I’m going to be dysfunctional in relationships. I’m not going to be able to understand why someone’s doing something. And I won’t have one of the most important elements in leadership too, compassion. It’s another wonderful thing. Phil Jackson even said without compassion, there would have never been the Chicago Bulls. You know, they had to have a lot of compassion there. They had a lot of different characters on that team and they had to have compassion for each other. But we have to have self-compassion. Because if you don’t, if you’re down on yourself, that impacts everything you do and say, and how you act. So you have to have a good relationship with yourself. And you have to be good to yourself and not like so much so that you think so much of yourself, you can’t think of others, but you have to take care of yourself and it starts here.
Sam: I love that. I love it. I have to ask you just one more question, if you can, and there’s, there’s just speaking directly to individuals out there who are out of work.Who are disrupted by COVID, who are maybe working frontline jobs and are going and are trying to take control of maybe their own upskilling to find the next job. And I set that up because in the beginning of “The Competitive Buddha”, you make the comment ‘Buddha brain Mamba mind’, and I want to ask. Because I think there’s a relevance there, you know, there’s a connection there for the specific audience of the worker in our workforce today, who’s trying to level up and trying to keep their feet moving forward. Am I right? I mean, what do you think?
Jerry: Well, I think, you know, you’re right. That’s what I think. And your laughter tells me that. So, all I’ll do is, I’ll affirm and validate your observation. You know, it’s a tough time. COVID has really been an interesting time for me personally and for the world. And although, in many ways, it’s very difficult and challenging, in terms of the physical-ness and the wellness and being safe and all of that. It’s also a time for amazing potential growth and connection. Ironically connection. And we’re talking about social distancing. By the way, I don’t like that word social distance. I wish they would get rid of the social distancing. Let’s have physical distancing. Yes, but let’s have social connection and they’re not mutually exclusive. How far away are you from me right now? But we’re connecting and that’s important. It’s important to have conversations and it’s important to open our hearts and say, you know what? We’re all in this together. What can I do to serve you? That’s why I’m doing this podcast. Of course I get benefits from it. I get benefits from this, Sam for sure. But my whole intention is not to win people over so they can buy my books. My whole intention is not to make a living out of this. My intention is to make a difference. I know that what I’m talking about, if taken to heart, could be life-changing. I know this, you know, I’ve been around long enough to see those changes take place and to observe what happens as a result of people thinking and connecting and caring, and loving and so forth.
But this idea of struggle is not a bad thing. It’s, you know, we’re trying to categorize things. Actually, I think it’s one of the better things that has happened now. Come on. I mean, I don’t want to see people die because of a virus. I don’t want that, you know, that doesn’t make me feel good, but on the other hand, since we’re in this together, what can we make out of it so that this crisis becomes an opportunity, and the opportunity is how can we better connect? And take advantage of that? You know, like a lot of fathers and mothers are home now, so there’s a chance to be with their kids and see their kids grow up. I don’t know if you feel that.
Sam: Yeah, but my, my four-year-old daughter runs, she’s running around all over the place, but yeah, at the same point, I would have never had those moments. So many great, just, having lunch together. It’s just like these little moments together.
Jerry: What a concept right? So, people say, let’s go back to what’s normal. This is normal. This is what the normal is. And normal has gotten better. I think there are more people that are connected, that are caring, that are aware and more mindful of the important things in life than they were before this. And I think back to this whole discussion on leadership, I think one of the most important things for us as leaders and you’re clearly one of the leaders in this industry doing the work you’re doing with me and others, Sam. Clearly what we need to do is we need to find ways to serve others and to help others because when we do that, there’s that sense of meaning and that sense of fulfillment. And that’s what I said to you. I’m not here today, to make any money or make anything other than a difference. And so COVID is really giving us so many opportunities that we didn’t have before. Now. I am also realizing at the moment, I probably didn’t answer your question. Did I?
Sam: Well, when I was going, going back through your book several times, the message of mindfulness is something I’m trying to work on personally. And I feel like it’s something that, to your point is, if it’s something at the root of what can create an environment where leaders can be better, not just personally, but for their community. I think that’s so important right now.
Jerry: Well, it’s our job. I mean, this is our main work. As leaders, as parents, as adults, our main work is let’s create environments that really work. All right, for the, one of another word. And the only way to do that is to keep them safe, keep them upbeat, positive, have people feel like they’re accepted and valued and that they’re important, but never overlook people as a leader, never overlook the concept of your influence in mind. Our influences are never neutral. I mean, I could walk into a room of 3000 coaches, which I have done, and I could light that room up, everyone lit up. Wow. Or I could cast that into darkness. To light it up, I need to connect. They need to feel that I really care about them, that they really are valued. And that is really important. So I’m hitting the same points over and over again, with different examples, with what you bring up. And that’s why I think this book is life-changing, “The competitive Buddha”, really not only talks about these concepts, but I help people to implement them. Because it’s one thing to read a book and say, God, that’s pretty, but how do I do that? No, like Sun Tzu right. When you read Sun Tzu’s book, the thing that’s lacking in that book and God, I sound like a heretic, right? I mean, this is one of the greatest books, probably the most read book in the world, other than the Bible. Right. And here I am saying his shortcomings are, but I came away from my first reading of that book not knowing how I can practically use that stuff. I knew. I knew in my heart, he’s saying something really powerful.
So, what I did was, one of my co-authors, Al Wong, who’s Chinese. I got him to translate the book for me. And, one of my books that you’re probably familiar with is called The Way of the Champion, Right. And the subtitle is the teachings from Sun Tzu’s Art of War. And all I do in that book, The Way of the Champion, is I take The Art of War from Al Wong’s translation and I make it practical, I make it accessible so that we can implement these amazing, brilliant wisdom from 2,500 years ago. And, I’m trying to do that with the Buddha, as well in “The Competitive Buddha”, but it’s all about learning and, I’ve been at it a long time as a leader. And, I think I’m about halfway there.
Sam: I see. Okay. Well, keep going, keep going.
Jerry: I’m not going to stop. I’m not going to stop. I’ve opened too many doors and I’ve had too much joy and fun with this and I continue, but there’s so much more for me to learn and I really do love the opportunity to learn. I learned today, just talking with you from your questions, your questions enlighten me and open up doors that maybe I hadn’t been thinking about. And, hopefully, this was meaningful for the people who are listening, that’s my job.
Sam: Thank you, Dr. Lynch, I’m looking forward to the book’s release and we’re going to put a big stack here in the office when it comes out.
Jerry: Really that that would be astounding. That would be wonderful.
Topics Discussed: Leadership, Sports, Relationships, Mindfulness, Coaching
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