Kobe Bryant on helping young athletes stare down fear
By Greg Bach
Kobe Bryant never feared missing shots or making mistakes during his legendary 20-year NBA career.
And the five-time NBA champion and 18-time All-Star encourages volunteer coaches to help their young athletes understand that the fears that come knocking on their psyches must be acknowledged – not ignored – in order to achieve success.
“The more you ignore fear the more it controls you,” says Bryant, who scored more than 33,000 points during his career and won a couple of Olympic gold medals. “I’ve found that the most important thing to do with fear is to just look at it.”
Facing fears is a natural part of a young player’s journey, and coaches play pivotal roles in helping kids perform amid those fears.
“It’s important for coaches to understand where the fear comes from and then they are able to educate their players in the moments when they see confidence decreasing,” Bryant says. “Players can choose to try and fight that fear, or they can choose to walk hand in hand with it. But it becomes in your control. You have to own that. So, when you go to the free throw line to win a game and you’re nervous – make sure to own it. When you own it, you then dissolve it and it gives you great power.”
Bryant is the creator of a new young adult novel focusing on five young basketball players, one enlightening coach, and the transformative power of the game. We caught up with him to talk about his new book and the many lessons young athletes can take it from it, plus teaching kids mental stamina, helping them navigate adversity, and more.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What inspired you to create the Wizenard Series?
BRYANT: There’s surprisingly little content that combines the passion of sports and the traditions of original storytelling. So, I created The Wizenard Series: Training Camp to represent, inspire, and entertain today’s young athletes because this is something I haven’t seen done before. This book is something I wish had been available to me as a young athlete.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How much did you draw upon your own experiences in sports growing up for this book?
BRYANT: This book is 100 percent inspired by my experiences growing up and the things I went through to be the best basketball player I could be. A lot of the inspiration came from great coaches and mentors I’ve had over the years. I wanted to highlight how important those figures are in young children’s lives.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What is the most important message you hope children take away from the book?
BRYANT: It is a general understanding that to be better as individuals, as athletes, as players, it’s not all about the game itself. It’s not just about the skills and the craft. But it’s about the emotional truths that we’ve hidden or buried deep within ourselves, and if you really want to reach your full potential, then you have to be able to face these truths because those fears and insecurities are inhibiting you in some form or fashion. So, I hope readers will identify with and learn more about themselves through the diverse cast of characters and their journeys to self-acceptance.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: And what do you hope parents take away from it who may read along with their child?
BRYANT: I think it’s important for us as a society and parents to understand the emotional journey that we will all go through during the different stages of our lives. The worst thing that can happen to us is to grow up with a lot of pent-up frustrations, fears and anxieties that we just suppress and ignore, and then you end up having a world where people have these emotional outbursts or end up projecting a lot of negativity onto others. The most important thing is for parents to put magic and wonder around important lessons when dealing with their children, especially on how to handle tough emotional challenges at a very early age. This way we have children who grow up aware of these inner journeys and know how to deal with the tough situations, so they grow up to be a lot wiser. That’s the goal.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Why is mental stamina and emotional clarity important for young athletes to learn?
BRYANT: I didn’t learn those things until later in my career. Once I did, my journey became a lot more fun, and easy to navigate. That’s why I wanted to create these stories, so kids have an opportunity to learn these important life lessons at an early point in their lives.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Can you share a time during your youth when you got a taste of adversity and what you learned from that experience?
BRYANT: To take it back to when I was younger, I remember being 6-years-old and I was struggling with Italian because English was my first language. But I had a teacher who was patient and made it fun because she knew sports was important to me, so she was able to connect spelling and basketball. Therefore, I learned at a young age to be patient when dealing with adversities, and to find a way to connect something that I’m struggling with to something fun because this encourages you to keep trying until you get it right.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: All kids can’t be the leading scorer on the team and get all the attention for making shots, so how can coaches of youth sports teach kids to embrace teamwork and genuinely pull for everyone’s success, no matter the role?
BRYANT: The core of a championship team is finding the emotional truths in each other and facing those as individuals, but then also sharing these truths with each other as a team. When you can look and understand each other and have compassion and empathy for your teammates, that’s when you become a true championship team.
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Soccer great Christie Pearce Rampone, three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, two-time World Cup Champion and co-author of Be All In, on helping parents raise their young athletes for success on and off the field