Shaka Smart is the Men’s Basketball Head Coach at the University of Texas and he’s got a phenomenal way about himself.

It just jumps out of this conversation how much he cares about other people, how invested he is in relationships, how he’s working to be the most authentic person he can be — and at the same time pull that out of other people.

He’s definitely a relationship-based coach, which is obvious in this conversation, and he’s got a real crisp point of view about how to help others become their best.

I hope you enjoy learning from Shaka as much as I did and that we’re doing justice in these conversations to highlight the brilliance and the genius within people.

I also want to thank Ryan Holiday, a former guest on the podcast, for introducing me to Coach Smart.

“Mastery is awareness, it’s alertness, it’s presence. It’s having a clear mind right now to be the best version of yourself.”

In This Episode:

  • Why not having his dad around as a child led him to become a coach
  • The struggle to efficiently devote the proper time to his family and be present during it
  • Learning the importance of trust from his mother
  • How playing for two basketball teams at once: one white and one black, helped him discover who he was as a person
  • His attitude towards money and the valuable gratitude lesson he learned from taking a trip to Mississippi
  • Why everything for him begins with the relationship he shares with each player
  • Mindfulness and it’s role with his team
  • The different types of coaching and when each is appropriate
  • The meaning of “epiphany moments” and how he creates them for his players
  • Having an awareness of what emotional state you are in
  • The role of the alpha in sports
  • His coaching philosophy
  • Whether or not you can train optimism
  • The relationship between growth and feedback
  • How he articulates mastery


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“The most important component of accelerating growth is changing someone’s relationship with feedback.”

“We all have a narrative that we tell ourselves about our childhood and sometimes it’s a really healthy one and sometimes not so much, but for me I always told people and I always felt like my mom as a parent was as good or better than both, than most father-mother combinations. So I never felt like I was at a deficit as it related to being parented.”

“One of the things that I’m a huge proponent of is trying to pay attention to someone’s breathing. So I’m sitting across from you right now and you know I can’t see air coming in and out of your nose or your mouth but if you watch someone’s chest, their eyes and all and if you just pay attention to patterns, that gives you some insight into where someone is as well because different emotions and different moods lead to different types of breathing.”

On relationship-based coaching: There is an old saying in coaching that guys don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care, and it’s so unbelievably true. You better take the time to to get to know what’s inside them and what makes them tick and be able to articulate to them what matters to you, and help them do the same back.”

On his coaching philosophy: “Through relationships, build trust, to help our guys become the best version of themselves.”

On how to implement feedback in coaching: “One of the things I think is a real challenge that we have to overcome in team sports in today’s era, is getting people to understand there’s a real difference between objective feedback, constructive feedback and negativity. Sometimes those things are confused for being one in the same and let’s be honest, most people when they get hit with a certain level of negativity they turn off and so [the challenge is] getting them to understand, wait a minute, this feedback is far from negative, in fact this is actually something that you already have inside of you. You just have to bring it out.”

On an example of an creating an “epiphany” moment for a player: “When a guy learns that if he does not have the right response he cannot be the best version of himself throughout the course of a forty minute game or a four month season or whatever it may be, then finally there could be a Big E epiphany in understanding, okay I control my response, it’s not easy but if I bring the right response then I’m going to be able to focus all my energy on the next most important thing.”

The main rule he learned from his mom: “You better treat people the right way.”


Want the full transcript from the episode? Click here!




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  • Martin Sellgman’s work on Optism
  • Jack Clark, legendary Men’s rugby coach at UC Berkeley


Men's Basketball Head Coach at

Shaka Smart is an American men's college basketball coach and former player. He currently is the head coach at the University of Texas. The leader of a Virginia Commonwealth University program that advanced to the 2011 Final Four and posted at least 26 wins in each of his six seasons at the school, Smart became the 24th head basketball coach at Texas on April 3, 2015.