Bounce Back: Overcoming Setbacks to Succeed in Business and in Life

Bounce Back: Overcoming Setbacks to Succeed in Business and in Life

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by John Calipari

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Job loss. Foreclosure. Relationship woes. Health issues. Dire financial straits. If recent history has taught us anything, it's that nobody goes through life unscathed -- no matter how rich, how smart, how talented, or how fortunate they may be. White collar, blue collar, or no collar, there is an undeniable commonality to the raw emotion that strikes people when they


Job loss. Foreclosure. Relationship woes. Health issues. Dire financial straits. If recent history has taught us anything, it's that nobody goes through life unscathed -- no matter how rich, how smart, how talented, or how fortunate they may be. White collar, blue collar, or no collar, there is an undeniable commonality to the raw emotion that strikes people when they are knocked down.

University of Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari has seen the bottom - from two very distinct and very public setbacks -- but he has learned that bad situations are only permanent if you allow them to be. Fired from his job as head coach 20 games into his third season with the NBA's New Jersey Nets in 1999, Calipari was publicly humiliated and emotionally devastated. But Calipari never allowed the negative to overcome him or those around him, and he began plotting a course for his first bounce back. It was a journey that took him to the University of Memphis and, in 2008, to the NCAA's marquee event, the men's basketball Final Four.

When that trip culminated in a crushing, overtime defeat in the title game, Calipari began to bounce back again -- this time armed with the knowledge and fortitude he gained in overcoming the Nets' firing. One year after that defeat, from where he watched his team lose a nine-point lead with two minutes and twelve seconds left in regulation, Calipari was tabbed as the head coach of college basketball's all-time winningest program, the University of Kentucky Wildcats. In ten years, he went from his lowest low to landing his dream job at a dream program.

What Coach Cal -- as players, peers, and fans affectionately call him -- learned from his experiences was the importance of having the right attitude when dealing with life's major impediments: with every hard knock comes an occasion to reevaluate and reinvent. Now Coach Cal asks that you join his team of Bounce Backers and allow him the privilege of coaching you through what may, at times, seem to be an insurmountable challenge. With a combination of tough love and understanding, Coach Cal takes you under his wing in much the same fashion he guides the young men who play for him. By becoming an active participant in your own resurrection -- through practice exercises and tips from Coach Cal and his deep bench of highly successful people who have survived their own bounce backs -- you too will gain the tools and insight to understand that it's never a matter of how far you have fallen, but instead it's about how high you bounce back.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Whether in sports or in life, you have to know how to bounce back. In this book, Coach Cal gives you a blueprint for overcoming life's setbacks." — 2008-09 NBA Most Valuable Player LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers

"If you don't have to bounce back from a perceived failure at some time in your life, you lie about other things too! Given today's economic times, we're all bouncing back in some way. Let Coach Calipari guide you through your bounce back. I'm a big Coach Cal fan and this is a must-read." — Ken Blanchard, bestselling author of The One Minute Manager

"This book provides valuable honesty, perspective, and an empowered plan of action for not if, but when, hard times hit. None of us, even those at the very top of our fields who seem golden, are immune from shattering life experiences. Coach Calipari, pulling unflinchingly from his own personal pain, shares critical truths. Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional, bouncing back is what winners like Coach Calipari do." — Ashley Judd, Human Rights Activist, Actor, Kentucky fan

"Perhaps the ultimate challenge in sports is how you bounce back when you've been knocked down. John Calipari might be the best ever at responding to such adversity." — Bob Rotella, bestselling author of Life Is Not A Game of Perfect

"When the ball doesn't bounce your way, you have to find a way to Bounce Back. Coach Calipari provides you with the playbook to rebound from life's many setbacks. — Harvey Mackay, author of the New York Times #1 bestseller Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive

"The essence of Coach Cal's motivational speech that the Yahoo! sales force was fortunate enough to hear in person, is echoed and amplified in this book. Here, the reader has personal access to Coach's tips, real life experiences and his seemingly bottomless reserve of enthusiasm and optimistic determination." — Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz

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Read an Excerpt


Letter from Cal

Every summer—after I’ve had time to digest the previous season—I send a letter to all my players. In it I put forth my expectations for the season and set the tone for what we will work to accomplish when we begin play in November. For you, the reader, the following is your introductory letter to becoming a member of my Bounce Back Team.

February 2009

Dear Bounce-Back Team Member:

Who would have ever guessed something good would come from blowing a nine-point lead with two minutes and twelve seconds to go in the 2008 NCAA men’s basketball championship game?

But the loss of my former team, the Memphis Tigers, in that game, the devastation of that bitter end to the 2007–08 season and the way we all dealt with the aftermath provided the impetus for me to write this book, which I envision helping you get through your own personal bounce back. A lot has changed since those two minutes and twelve seconds transpired. There’s been another fantastic season of college basketball played; a new and worthy champion, the University of North Carolina, won the 2009 national title; and I’ve left the University of Memphis for the dream job I accepted at the University of Kentucky on April 1, 2009. But the experiences, lessons, and results of that magical 2007–08 campaign will live forever with me, and now, hopefully with you. That’s the silver lining I’ve discovered— knowing that the total, public humiliation of letting that lead slip away will now help me to touch lives in a positive way that otherwise would not have been possible.

Simply by reading and embracing the messages within this book, you will become a member of a special team—my team. The circumstances that led you to pick up this book—separation, divorce, foreclosure, downsizing, firing—have no bearing on how you came to the team. The important thing is, you found it, and you are willing to let me coach you through this period in your life. You have already taken a huge first step by acknowledging you need some guidance and direction.

You are part of a diverse group of people, and that diversity is something I’m quite comfortable with. My team at Kentucky (and before that at the University of Memphis and the University of Massachusetts) has always had players from diverse backgrounds and social levels. They come to me from various sets of life experiences. Some have been from privileged backgrounds, others were from middle-class homes, but most have been underprivileged African American adolescents whose young lives have been characterized by one bounce back after another. I’m proud to say I’ve been able to impact on their lives in positive ways, and I will do the same for you now that you’re part of my team. Some of my guys have gone to the NBA, like Marcus Camby, Derrick Rose, and Tyreke Evans, but the majority of my former players have gone on to the “real world” far away from the arenas, the gyms, and the adulation. It is their stories of success and the overcoming of odds that I share most often. Nothing is more gratifying to me than having former players come back and thank me for the tough love and the coaching I provide for each and every young man.

Hopefully my impact on you will have a similar resonance. Everyone reading this book is coming to it from a different place. Some are incredibly wealthy, some are incredibly poor. Some have been knocked down before, and some are “rookies” entering their very first bounce-back experience. I’ve had two significant—public—bounce backs in my first fifty years of life, and I fully expect there to be others. Almost no one goes through life unscathed, and the ability to overcome obstacles is often what separates the haves from the have-nots.

The pages that follow will be your personal playbook to overcoming whichever of life’s obstacles have brought you here. This is a book about coaching you through your bounce back, and when basketball experiences serve as illustrations for your benefit, I’ve included them. There are all sorts of setbacks in life; they can be as varied as the people who are affected by them. You are not the first to be dealing with the emotions and strife that result from life’s obstacles, and you will not be the last. But by the time we are finished, you will be in a better position mentally and emotionally, I promise you that.

Whatever it is that has spurred you to pick up this book, there are certain undeniable rungs on the ladder of a bounce back that everyone will deal with. It’s your ability to face the challenges head-on and with a positive mental attitude that will determine the ultimate success of your revitalization. Don’t be fearful of the odd sensations that accompany the climb up the ladder; they are perfectly normal. Without them, you wouldn’t be human.

Let me be the first to tell you, in brutally honest terms, that this could very well be one of the toughest undertakings you’ve faced in your life. There will be days when you think you have taken two steps up the ladder only to find out you have actually taken two steps down. You may feel depressed, defeated, or dispirited. At times it may seem like there is no hope and you are living in a permanent state of darkness. But I’m here to tell you those feelings will not last forever. You just need to work through them and allow me to coach you. Put your faith in me, and I will do the same with you.

The only one who can turn your situation around is you. That doesn’t mean you can’t solicit and accept help, but it does mean you are the main character in the story we are about to write of your bounce back. In fact, you will be doing a fair share of writing throughout this book, so be aware that you cannot be passive in any way, shape, or form. My Kentucky team works past exhaustion, and for your bounce back you will need to do the same.

You are going to be active with our whole team of bounce backers who are already congregating at a website I have set up: At that site, we are building a community of bounce-back team members who will share their ups, their downs, their triumphs, and their tips. Think of it as our Players’ Lounge, where we can congregate, commiserate, and coalesce as a unit. I encourage you to visit the site often and take part in the discussions and the sharing we are doing.

In 1999 when I was fired by the NBA’s New Jersey Nets in a very public manner, I needed what you now hold in your hands—a book which would let me know that what I was going through was perfectly normal and all part of a multistage process that would eventually lead to my bounce-back job (for me it meant returning to the college game at Memphis, where we went to two Elite 8s and a Final Four). For you it can mean a new career, a new significant other, or a fresh start altogether.

Because of the many facets to a bounce back, this book is meant to be digested in bites. You are welcome to pop in and out as your own personal bounce back unfolds. Some of you may be well into your job search, and others may still be “under the covers.” But what’s more important is that you recognize that you’re not alone. Millions of people are going through life’s turmoil, and every one of them has a lesson to be shared, a tip to offer, or a word of hope that will inspire you.

Your teammates and I are here for you. Lean on us, and form a trust and bond so when you’re able, you can turn around and help the next person on the ladder behind you. Your goal is to help yourself first, then at some point down the road, you will help others. It may seem unimaginable now, but soon you will be the one giving guidance, not receiving it.

You have to be willing to put in the time and be willing to be persistent with your bounce back, and you need to be coachable. Listen to my words and those of the experts I’ve reached out to—because we have been there before. The best way to learn is by having the advice of those who have been in your place before.

As I told my eventual Final Four, national runner-up Memphis team in their August 2007 letter prior to the 2007–08 season, “Let’s all work with perfection in mind as we work on our weak areas. To talk in these terms may put more pressure on us, but in my opinion the only pressure is to prepare this summer like it’s your last summer to prepare—the rest will take care of itself. If we do prepare with a passion for perfection, we will all expect to win every game whoever the opponent. To reach your personal goals, we must be playing on the last day!”

I’m not naive enough to think my letter was the reason our Memphis team won more college basketball games than any team ever had in a single season (thirty-eight) and had winning streaks of twenty-six and twelve games, or why we became a true, once-in-a-generation “dream team,” but I do know my one-page, preseason letter put everyone in the same mind-set as we strove toward our goal.

That’s what this letter is meant to do for you.

What I discuss within this book are many of the same principles I discuss when Fortune 500 companies ask me to come and coach their workforces. Bounce backs are constantly cropping up in the business world—especially now—and there are many parallels between what I do with my Kentucky team and what international corporations should be doing with their employees and resources. Business—and life—is all about bouncing back. It’s not about how far you fall but how high you rebound.

In fact, in the time since I began working on this book, I have encountered an array of people and stories of famous (and not-so-famous) folks who have gone through their own bounce backs. Some were fired from their jobs, others were laid off, and many had seen their retirement funds shrink substantially or their homes face foreclosure, and still more were enduring a separation from a loved one.

Together, we will get you through whatever it is you are attacking right now. Stay with me and don’t cheat yourself in any way. Let me coach you through your bounce back. I will coach you until that point in time when you are ready to coach yourself and then others. I am looking forward to this journey with you and all the challenges it will present. My teams always get better over the course of a season, and, likewise, you will improve over the duration of this book.

Are you ready? Let’s get started …

Your Coach,

Coach Cal

© 2009 John Calipari and David Scott


Meet the Author

John Calipari is the current head coach of the University of Kentucky’s men's basketball and a veteran of nearly 20 college seasons at the University of Memphis and the University of Massachusetts. Widely regarded as one of the greatest program builders in all of college basketball, Calipari's teams have earned 11 conference titles, 12 NCAA Tournament berths and two Final Fours. Of his past three point guards, two have been NBA Rookie of the Year and the third, John Wall, was Washington’s No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft. He received the Naismith National Coach of the Year Award for the 1995-1996 and 2007-2008 seasons, as well as the Sports Illustrated National Coach of the Year honor for 2008-09.


Calipari’s first season in The Bluegrass State saw a complete rejuvenation of the program that had fallen from its perch atop college basketball. With the nation’s best freshman class entering for 2010-11, the Wildcats will again be in the thick of the race on the road to the Final Four. Calipari and his wife, Ellen, have three children, Erin, Megan, and Bradley. You can learn more about Coach Cal, “Bounce Back” and the Calipari Family Foundation for Chidlren (CFFC) on his website: and by following him on Twitter: @UKCoachCalipari and on Facebook at “John Calipari.”


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Bounce Back: Overcoming Setbacks to Succeed in Business and in Life 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Missy1 More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
No wonder Kentucky wanted him so much. Calipari is not a typical coach. He will instill in his players what their professors only hope to achieve. Memphis lost a good man, Kentucky got their money's worth.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is very well-written and is inspiring for anyone who has had a major life setback and is needing to "bounce back". Even though, I don't follow college or NBA basketball, I found the basketball stories interesting and helpful.
AvidreaderinBoston More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading this book and I have to say the lessons in it are truly useful. The real life stories are easy to read and so relatable. I would recommend this to anyone, college hoops fan or not!
mom_in_mass More than 1 year ago
My husband read the book and liked it so much he insisted I read it - he's a much bigger sports fan than I am, but I like the book as much as he did - it was truly inspirational.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read for anyone looking to feel "I can do it!"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is so much more than a self help manual. Coach Cal's personal stories draw you in and serve as an excellent guide to improving your own career or life situation. There are so many motivational stories, behind the scenes tidbits, and an unbelievable catalog of real life applications to jumpstart your career or get your life back on track.