Former coach Bob Knight turns advice guru in ‘Power of Negative Thinking’
“The Power of Negative Thinking: An Unconventional Approach to Achieving Positive Results” by Bob Knight, with Bob Hammel; Amazon Publishing/New Harvest ($25)
Behind his choleric countenance, chair-hurling antics and disturbing incidents of laying hands on people in anger, Bob Knight clearly knows something about coaching college basketball. He won more than 900 games at Army, Indiana and Texas Tech, often defeating opponents with superior athletic talent.
In “The Power of Negative Thinking,” Knight and co-author Bob Hammel outline the coach’s approach to preparation and strategy, which they cast, with both humor and a touch of hyperbole, as the opposite of Norman Vincent Peale’s.
It’s a book about the virtues of knowing one’s weaknesses and working hard to counteract or minimize them, of not merely giving lip service to avoiding overconfidence, of caution, patience and self-scouting.
Knight insists he’s not a strict negativist or a person with a sour outlook. “I’m saying that being alert to the possible negatives in any situation is the very best way to bring about positive results.”
“Victory favors the team making the fewest mistakes,” Knight posted in his locker rooms, and his book suggests he followed that game plan assiduously.
“The coach who recognizes the possibility – maybe even in specific cases the probability – of losing is going to work a lot harder,” Knight writes.
His favorite example of that situation isn’t from a basketball court, but from the ballot box. Incumbent Harry S. Truman was the acknowledged underdog against Thomas Dewey in the 1948 presidential election, which also included two third-party candidates. While the overconfident Dewey relaxed, playing it safe to avoid blowing the election, Truman, filled with urgency about his possible defeat, hammered away at his opponent. Despite that famous incorrect Chicago Tribune headline, Truman defeated the favorite.
Knight applies his skeptical approach to sports-world clichés as well, with refreshing results. “Somebody will win, somebody will lose, but don’t ever tell me the difference every time is that the winner wanted to win more than the loser did,” he writes. Duke didn’t beat Butler in the NCAA championship game because Duke’s players wanted victory a little more. “Duke that night did just a little bit more. Or, in my terms, they made fewer mistakes and played within their disciplined training to take home the championship.”
The former Army coach cites the legendary Chinese strategist Sun Tzu’s statement that “A military operation involves deception” as part of his game preparation:
“In sports, we improve almost every offensive move we make by setting it up with a false move first, a fake, or a reverse. As coaches, as leaders, we achieve that deception by saying over and over again on the practice floor, No, we can’t make that kind of a move without a fake first.”
He punctures statements by athletes that would have you believe God is on their side. “Bringing God into expectations, particularly into competition where one person’s victory is another person’s defeat, seems to me to be crossing a do-unto-others line. ... I look around and see tragic things happening every day in the world and think He has ... better things to do than dabble in sports and play favorites.”
“I did have a player who made the sign of the cross before every free throw,” Knight writes. “I told him to quit it – not because the act offended me; he was a lousy shooter and I told him he was giving the church a bad name.”