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The obstacle is the way – Book Review

November’s book has been one that popped up on my radar several times before I committed to reading it. I have to say I wish I read it earlier. After recommending it to a friend of mine he said, “Rob, I’m going to put it out there, Obstacle is the way is one of the best books I’ve ever read.” I have to say I probably agree…
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The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage

Authors: Ryan Holiday

Topic: Leadership, Mindset, Self-help

Appropriate for: EVERYONE!

Overall rating: 5/5 – Stop what you are doing and read it now!

Overview: It’s hard to give an overview that does this amazing book justice. Not only does this book give a good description of Stoicism, it also does so in such a practical and applied way that it is easy to see the direct application to your personal, professional and coaching life.
“It doesn’t always feel that way but constraints in life are a good thing. Especially if we can accept them and let them direct us. They push us to places to develop skills that we’d otherwise never have pursued.”
Ryan Holiday discusses the origins of Stoicism and how it was not meant only to be a discussion which engages only your brain, but also a way of living which empowers you and allows you to analyse and overcome any issues you face. He uses frequent examples of key figures in history and obstacles they faced – Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Thomas Edison, George Washington etc. I believe all coaches should read this book, it applies directly to coaching whether on a amateur or senior level. At some point, things are going to go awry. As Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has a plan til they get punched in the face.” So what happens when things go off plan? Do you lose emotional control? Make knee jerk reactions? Cause emotional damage to those around you? Or do you recognise the lesson in the trauma, use it to learn and overcome the issue at hand?
“An employee (athlete) in your company (team) makes a careless mistake that costs you business (a match/performance). This can be exactly what you spend so much time and effort trying to avoid. Or, with a shift in perception, it can be exactly what you were looking for – the chance to pierce through defenses and teach a lesson that can be learned only by experience. A mistake becomes training.”
Here are a few key excerpts I highlighted:
“So what if you focussed on what you can change? That’s where you can make a difference…and what is up to us?

  • our emotions
  • our judgements
  • our creativity
  • our attitude
  • our perceptions
  • our desires
  • our decisions
  • our determination

What is not up to us? …the weather, economy, circumstances, other’s emotions or judgements, trends disaster etc.”
“Are these losses catastrophic? Not necessarily. So this is not totally unexpected is it? How could it be that bad? Why are you all worked up over something that is at least occasionally supposed to happen?”
“There are a few things to keep in mind when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. We must try to:

  • be objective
  • control emotions and keep an even keep
  • choose to see the good in the situation
  • steady our nerves
  • ignore what disturbs or limits others
  • place things in perspective
  • revert to the present moment
  • focus on what can be controlled”

I think this book is particularly applicable in youth sports.

  • What if it’s half time in a heavily one sided match – against you? It becomes an opportunity to defend as a team and show team character to persevere!
  • What if you are on the end of a bad refeering call? It becomes an opportunity to practice self-control and discipline!
  • What if you have a player sent off? It becomes an opportunity to learn how to play when outnumbered, or to learn how one player can cost a whole team!
  • What if the weather conditions suck? It becomes a lesson in how to keep the ball in hand or on the deck!
  • What if a key player is injured? It becomes an opportunity for a player to learn to play another position, or for the injured athlete to develop strength in other areas (eg. upper body)!

If you look for it, there is a lesson in every scenario – which we can communicate to athletes. I recognised many similarities to this book and other such as “Legacy”. For example “Keep a blue head” and “steady your nerves” hold a similar theme.
This book would be INCREDIBLY useful not only for coaches, but for coaches to communicate the themes to their athletes. Imagine if you could build an athlete that perseveres in the face of adversity, doesn’t take failure personally, keeps a cool head and doesn’t complain about less than perfect conditions?! What a mentality that would be! I found this book hugely beneficial – so much so I read it twice!
You can find the book here: The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage
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