Wednesday, January 16, 2019

An Open Letter to Teachers Who Do Not Coach

All coaches teach. Recently, I have been wondering if all teachers coach. Yes or no? 

There is a difference between academics and athletics. I appreciate and value each realm of the school. I work in both and both roles have a significant impact on my identity. Many of my co-workers, share this identity and in the past 15 years, an increasing number of them do not. Every school in the country shares this report and it's unfortunate. But what bothers me more is a division that is developing among faculty members that teach and coach and those that do not. Therefore, I decided to write an open letter to my colleagues—in particular to those who do not coach. My words are sincere. I often suggestions and ideas, I hope they provide insight and opportunity to build a bridge; I share this missive with the hope that your own communities might benefit from and understand my concern and my plea.
Dear Colleagues,
This Fall, Haley Scott DeMaria the author of "What Though the Odds: My Journey of Faith and Triumph" spoke in person and held a FaceTime session with my Sports and Spirituality class. I feel fortunate to have her as a friend—she is a survivor and an inspiration. All coaches and members of the athletic department were able to hear her story at our Fall Fellowship meeting. What a gift.

In 2012, she was asked to give the address at the 167th Commencement Exercises at our alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. I watched with anticipation, wondering what she might say. To this day, I still think about what she told the graduates. She said,
You will find as you navigate through life, the words "I understand" are very powerful when they are sincere and honest. These words carry the strongest meaning when spoken by someone who has lived through a similar experience. 
I have reflected many times upon the significance of the words: "I understand." Indeed, they do carry weight. As a teacher and a coach, I have taken refuge in sharing my burdens with you, my colleagues. You understand the way teenagers test our limits. We face endless piles of grading, harbor disappointment when a student doesn't give it his or her best and we hold memories that a class creates together. The words "I understand" have assured me that I am not alone and that others "get it." The words "I understand" are free from judgment. They unite and build solidarity. Haley was so right.
Seek to Understand
However, the truth of the matter is we can't...we won't...and we will never be able to say "I understand" to all people or at all times. We have different experiences, joys, and challenges. We won't climb the same mountains—as much as we might like the reach the same peak. We won't be left in our own valley either. But, good, bad or otherwise we forged the path that got us there and need to find one to get out. Some will understand, and others won't.

Yes, experience leads to understanding but I have always believed we can seek to understand another person and their plight. The seeking is echoed in my favorite prayer, the Prayer of St Francis. Imagine a world that sought "to be understood as to understand."

Here at St. Ignatius, many of you my colleagues in the classroom, work as coaches too. Although wearing both hats isn't for everybody, for those that do, the teacher/coach is a wonderful gift to our community!

In the wake of the acute tragedy we faced the past 10 years, we made changes and commitments. We made it a priority for every student to have and name at least one trusted adult on campus. For some kids, that adult is their teacher or counselor. For others, it might be the principal or admin. For many that trusted adult is a coach. 

I LOVED working with this crew! All 4 of us were on-campus coaches
I understand why a lot of teachers do not coach. I took a one-year break from coaching. In many ways—it was a relief! For many teachers, the demands of the classroom and family/personal life are too many. Furthermore, the expertise and skill level required of a head coach, in particular for a varsity program has become increasingly specialized. Such varied and numerous demands make the call to coach, one that many cannot answer.

Common Goals, One Team
We teachers pride ourselves on organization, expertise and seeing that ship sail smoothly. To feel this way leading others on the court track or trail isn't a given. I think most teachers with an open heart and mind can serve as a good assistant coach. Before I grew in my role and identity as a coach, this was an ideal place for me to serve. I learned more from the head coaches I worked beside more than they will ever know. One thing I would like for these head coaches to know is that they were a great teacher—to their athletes and to me!

one of the best parts of coaching is having fun
with your team. I went to pick up the team
#transport only to find them...inside the storage
shed. Good times.

Many teachers do not, however, understand what coaches do. The best coaches will never tell you the hours that they put in—because they are too busy trying to get it all done. (and if anyone should understand that dilemma, it's teachers). In addition to creating the practice plan for the week, coaches must stay on top of paperwork, transportation, communication with the athletic department, oh and run the practice! We take attendance, follow up for kids on uniforms and the injury report. All of this can't get in the way of developing the game strategy, determining who gets what playing time, assuaging parents, and more. It's not common, but I have heard other coaches confess their anxieties or feelings of inadequacy. I know I have felt that way as a teacher from time to time but as a coach, I feel it even after a win: Why did we only win by 1 stroke? and acutely after a loss. During the season self doubt and second-guessing are my bedfellows. Not fun.

I wish that my colleagues—people I love and respect—would seek to understand the joys and the challenges that coaches encounter. I would love it if someone in my department asked me, "What's the best part about coaching girls' golf?" or even "How is your team doing this year? Any surprises?" When I first came to SI, my colleagues in the teacher workroom would say "good luck today, Coach" on the day we had a meet or as I was heading out for the team bus. Even though I wear a golf polo and golf skirt on match day, it's rare that anyone asks me "Who do you have today?" or says "Beat Mitty." That small act of noticing and reaching out means so much.

I understand we must be the change we wish to see in the world. I have extended the efforts I value with coaches to coaches of other sports. I will ask about their captains. If one of my students is on their team, I want to know how they are doing. I genuinely enjoy these exchanges and in them, I have found that I'm not just giving support to a colleague, I'm gaining it in return.  This practice need not stop with just other coaches. Two of my friends at school are pregnant with their second child. I don't understand how they do it all —I don't have children but I always ask how they are feeling. I want them to know I am amazed by their energy and commitment! 

There's No Defense in Education

Just today I was asked if I am taking the head coaching job as the girls' varsity golf coach because that allows me to teach four classes instead of five—a norm that will be set in place at SI next year. Most people have congratulated me. Others have asked how I am feeling about this new role. However, I was so shocked by this presumption, I didn't know how to answer it. If I were asked that same question today, I would tell him a little bit about golf and what it can teach us beyond the fairway. I would refrain from sharing how much more time I spend coaching than I do teaching during season and how exhausted I am....but believe you me—I want to!

There is no defense in golf. It's man or woman versus the hole. Although there is match play and other variations of the game, all professional golfers aim to get the lowest score period.  
My friend Paul brought this to my attention as we watched the 2015 PGA Championship. Jordan Spieth heartily acknowledges a great putt that the leader, Jason Day just hit. And, it cost Spieth absolutely nothing to do that. Great sportsmanship...great karma!?

At that point in the match, Day was leading by three strokes. When he made that shot, I believe Spieth realized that the championship was truly in his opponent's grasp. Rather than get uptight or compete with blinders on until the last hole, Spieth played his game and appreciated his opponent's craft. Folks...that's great golf.

This quality of the game is counterintuitive to most athletes. Defensive minds are at a loss! It is certainly in opposition to our culture and I dare say, our culture at our school. But the truth of the matter is we aren't in competition with one another. We can't be nor should we be. Yes, each one of us should strive to give our best and be our best—so let's support each other in that process. Give a thumbs up where you can. Ask us about our season. Come to our games and matches—not for us but for our athletes...our student-athletes. We really are on the same team—this I think is something we can all appreciate, value and yes, understand.

Thanks for reading and please—share with me your comments, your questions, your frustrations and more. What do you want to know about coaching? What do you see in teachers who coach? What do you admire? What do you wish was different. 

Anne Stricherz
Religious Studies Faculty and Girls' Golf Coach

For a great follow-up resource to have coaches and teachers working together, read Response: How Teachers and Sports Coaches Can Help Ensure That 'Everyone Wins'   

Photo Credits
Red Box

Monday, January 14, 2019

Spiritual Lessons from the No Sugar Challenge

In January 2015, I took part in the No Sugar Challenge at my gym. I jumped in. I talked to any and every person I could who was also participating in the contest. I was amazed at just how much sugar is in EVERYTHING. I never would have made this change on my own, but the timing and the fact that I was part of a group (we had to sign up and pay for this!) led to success. 
I began to read labels, make better choices, use new recipes and of course see results. The results however, weren't what you might expect. I didn't drop inches or lbs. but rather, I gained a sharper focus and mindset. What went in my body was much cleaner and far less processed and, with all due respect, what came out was no different. The No Sugar Challenge got me to to look at food much differently; I gained a lot. Chief among my realizations, is the affirmation that an individual's success is made possible by, through and in a community. We hear this truth all the time: it takes a man or woman is an island....and there is no I in team (but there is a me) this post won't reveal anything new. It will however, remind you and us to lean in to one look for opportunities to do so and encourage others to do the same.

In June of that same year, I went to the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL. I was interested in this sports mecca and participated in a 3-day golf clinic with my friend Lisa. We ate and stayed "on campus" with over 200 athletes of all ages. I remember heading to the dining hall anxious to see what pro athlete might be eating next to us. I was so busy looking around and talking to our table mates, that I didn't pay much attention to a certain type of food that was no where to be found. 

At IMG, I suspect that sugar is a banned substance. No muffins or sugar cereals, no cookies after lunch, no dessert bar, fro-yo, nothing. The only way to end your meal on a sweet note would be with fruit. The no sugar challenge was a reality at IMG. While Lisa and I eventually made a run for some sugary snacks, I was intrigued by how a community can influence a group of people for good. The institution made this collective decision and I suppose the athletes are better for it. 

This Fall, I talked to my students in Ethics about something that might start out appealing...something that can be very can be as addictive as sugar: gossip. Pope Francis wrote about its dangers and urged the faithful to refrain from this disrespectful, unkind and sometimes cruel act. In "The Tyranny of Talk," The Holy Father said
“It’s so rotten, gossip,” he said in February. “At the beginning, it seems to be something enjoyable and fun, like a piece of candy. But at the end, it fills the heart with bitterness and also poisons us.”
His words resonated with my students and with me. We face the temptation to think less of others, to ever so slightly delight in their misgivings and add what we know; that is gossip! In high school gossip is all too real, but it doesn't end there. As we age and mature, we ought to make better decisions and grow in wisdom and kindness. The reality of gossip reminds us we fall short at every age. Pope Francis' words also resonated with my relationship to sugar.
hands down, my favorite dessert
Susie Cakes makes my favorite dessert in the world: their signature birthday cake. At the beginning, it tastes wonderful, but if I don't exercise some self control, it fills my stomach not with bitterness, but with a substance that in no way sustains me. Sugar ultimately leaves me hollow and agitated. My system is no longer in balance. Yes, we get hyper from too much sugar for a reason.  The analogy is far from perfect, but it is moving in the right direction.

I began to wonder how the school where I teach might be different were we to conduct a "No Gossip Challenge." We could inform one another of how gossip affects a person's mental, emotional and spiritual self. In this case, we might do away with labels! We would need to encourage one another and share the challenges within the challenge. We could check in and have a metaphorical "weigh in" six weeks later.
I have always believed that good societies are comprised of excellent individuals—and yet great people are what make a society outstanding. There is a symbiotic relationship—one driving the other. In this new year, let us take on challenges to become more loving, healthier, kinder and more like Christ for the good of ourselves AND one another....and eat a little less sugar!

Photo credits
Susie Cakes
Sugar Break up
Stop the Sugar

Friday, January 11, 2019

Meet Champ...Harlem Globetrotter....The Best Version of Herself

There's a lot of talk these days about being "the best version of yourself." I hear these words among counselors at teachers at school. My students read an essay as part of their final exam and its thesis made a case for Catholic colleges to ban pornography to help students become "the best version of themselves." One of my favorite contemporary Catholic writers, Matthew Kelly has written extensively about this standard. His book, CD and YouTube videos call us to become what he believe God wants for us: to become the best version of ourselves. 
The concept isn't hard to grasp. I believe the command is invitational for it's not out of anyone's reach. Why? In part, because the standard is relative. The best version of yourself is unique to you and for you. But in order for this quest to become relevant—and not a euphemism among many, I think it needs some grounding. After all, if the best version of myself is unique to me. Without an objective standard, how do I know I got there? How would I know what is the best version of me? One quick and easy answer: look to others who have...who might be the best version of themselves. We all do better with examples and direction. 

This is exactly what I thought when I heard about Lili "Champ" Thompson, a 5'7" guard with the Harlem Globetrotters. For one, I didn't know there are female Globetrotters (thank you for not calling them Globetrottes). In fact, the Globetrotters signed their first female player, Olympic gold medalist Lynette Woodard, in 1985 and have featured thirteen female players in their history. Champ signed in June 2018.

Through a radio interview on KNBR, Champ discussed the transition from college hoops to where she is today. According to her player profile, 

Champ Thompson attended Stanford University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Innovation and Organizations and was a three-year starter on the women’s basketball team. As a Cardinal, she earned All-Pac-12, Pac-12 All Defensive Honorable Mention, Pac-12 All-Academic Honorable Mention, became a two-time ESPN National Player of the Week and helped lead the women’s basketball team to the NCAA Women’s Final Four in 2014.
In case this weren't impressive enough, she matriculated to Notre Dame where "she was part of the Irish team that defeated Mississippi State to win the 2018 NCAA Division 1 Women’s Basketball Championship. She earned her Master of Science in Management in 2017." Wow.

A product of good coaching and great programs, Champ is committed to spreading the Globetrotter message of "good will and positivity through basketball." Champ admits that she had to practice, practice, practice to develop the skills this team is known for—spinning the ball on one finger (in an extraordinary way), the three-person weave and shooting from the four-point line. Her natural talent, industry, self-discipline, past success and experience has transformed Lilli "Champ" Thompson from a competitive basketball players to a something unbeknownst to her, might just be the best version of herself.

I believe this based on what she said to students at her former high school in Mansfield, Texas. She said "you don't have to know exactly where you're headed. I didn't know that I would be a Harlem Globetrotter, but I had goals to achieve my full potential and started creating some good habits early. That should be their focus."

I would say that Champ is the best version of herself, not just because she has found success and an opportunity to continue to play a game she loves, but because the organization she represents—the Harlem Globetrotters—offers an important reminder that the business of fun—of play, of laughter, of lightness—is important spiritual stuff.

As Dr. Michael Tino writes in "March Madness," We can and should have some fun. We can and should enjoy what we do together. We can and should reclaim the divine magic of play together, and sports can serve as a vehicle or a metaphor—which we need more—in that journey.

As we journey toward becoming the best version of ourselves, let's remember that advice and this example. 

Photo Credits
in Oakland
Steph Quote

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Small Gains from Losing Big

I traveled to Dallas, Texas only to see the Irish lay an egg against the Clemson Tigers in the 2018 Cotton Bowl. I had high hopes going into the BCS semi-final playoff game; I held financial ones too! I thought ND could win, or at the very least cover the spread. Although we were tied at the end of the first quarter, Notre Dame did not score again. We lost 30-3. I returned home licking my wounds and did my best to make sense of it all. I wrote Magic, Mystery and Misery: The 2018 Cotton Bowl to help process the season ending game in light of what really was a great season. I read tweets from former and current players. I sought input from Brian Kelly and John Heisler about what went right and what went wrong. With a little time and space, humility and gratitude I discovered that once again, defeat doesn't have the final word or the last laugh. No, even when we lose big, we can still have small gains. Here's how...

Time, money and effort
Attending a collegiate football game is not an inexpensive venture. Add in a flight, ground transportation and the increased cost of a ticket that goes with the descriptor: bowl game and your paycheck has seen its better days. Given the time, money and effort—and I don't mean this with a cavalier bone in my body—one must ask: Is it worth it? And, knowing the outcome, would you do it again? 


The anticipation and excitement for the game was awesome. I loved the hype and I enjoy holding the nervous energy. Having and holding something at stake isn't a given. Bring it.
As an alum, you never know who you will see or with whom you can and will meet up. I stayed with my good friend Erin and her family. I caught up with my beloved former housemate, Joy. I watched the game with my football partner-in-crime, Steve. 

From Book's P.O.V. it was a great year!
Furthermore, it's not just who you see but where you see the game from that adds value. This became abundantly clear as I enjoyed watching the Cowboys vs Seahawks playoff game that much more, as I had just visited. I had a keen interest in visiting AT&T Stadium—a venue not short on monikers. The House that Jerry Built, Jerry's World, Cowboys' Stadium lived up all I had heard and imagined. The outcome had no bearing on the vision I now have as a result to going to the Cotton Bowl.

PerspetiveI felt like a different person late Monday night, come Tuesday morning. A weight had been lifted. My spirits were no longer sore. To see Clemson defeat Alabama by 28 points, put the Irish loss in a new light. Reading the final score: Clemson 44, Alabama 16 didn't change the outcome of the Cotton Bowl and Irish hopes for a National Championship remain (for now) out of our reach, but Team 130, a group that I had defended and supported all season wasn't a farce or a fraud. Even pundits praised the Irish defense. They were worth the applause beyond 12-0. 

We gain perspective in many different ways: time, distance, age, experience, and more. Watching the orange and purple confetti rain upon Levi's Stadium offered a welcome one. A fresh perspective, especially after a loss is a good thing. 

One couldn't talk about the National Championship game without eventually discussing the talent, poise and precision of Clemson quarterback, Trevor Lawrence. Given that Lawrence is ineligible for the NFL draft for at least two more seasons, my friend Connor said "I'm already worried about ND playing Clemson in 2020." If that projection doesn't speak to his talent, no much else will.

While Lawrence's long-term success has yet to be seen, for now his post-season performance bears reflecting upon. A singular quality that stands out to me is his unflappability. I have used that word time and again to describe the true freshman QB and PGA golfer Dustin Johnson; it's a unique virtue. 

Further reflection upon the example set by #16 is the question: To what degree is it necessary for a quarterback to be unflappable? In Catholic Ethics, Andrew Peach writes "Sports writers did not create rules for becoming a great quarterback out of thin air; they observed quarterbacks in action and, then, described the traits these athletes had in common." How many are unflappable? I can name a few.

I'm not sure I would know or care about the talent of Trevor Lawrence were it not for the Cotton Bowl—>National Championship. I do however want my students and my athletes to consider the quality of being unflappable. I hope they can gain from what I ...and many others have now seen.
thank you, Team 130
In my life, I have had experiences where I won...but really, I lost. Other times, I have lost but it sure felt like a win. The Cotton Bowl was a loss for the Fighting Irish on the field, but the gains from the 2018 season, remaining loyal, striving for excellence and having fun aren't small gains, they're big ones, too.

Photo Credits
Trevor Lawrence
Clemson locking arms

Friday, January 4, 2019

Key for Succeeding at your 2019 New Year's Resolution: A Prayer for Self-Motivation

Love 'em or hate 'em, the month of January brings a whole lot of talk about New Year's resolutions. This annual tradition of a personal commitment to change, to do differently, and hit refresh is rooted in a virtue that Ben Franklin valued: resolution. One of our founding fathers, Franklin wrote: 
Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
A blog "The Art of Manliness" applauds Franklin's determination. It says:
If you are to succeed in life, you must develop the virtue of resolution. Resolution is the firm determination to accomplish what you set out to do. Ben included resolution as his fourth virtue, because attaining it would ensure he would work through the other nine. 
I’ve seen countless people set out with the best intentions, only to fail because their resolution was weak. But I’ve also seen many others succeed despite the odds because their resolve to achieve consumed them. 
One of Franklin's 13 Virtues listed in his Pursuit for the Virtuous Life, McKay has additional tips on how you might develop resolution...which might move toward success achieving your 2019 resolution! I would, however, like to offer an additional recommendation.

St. Augustine wrote "Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you." And so, this year, why not offer the prayer for self motivation?
This belief is affirmed by Eric Liddell, one of my personal and spiritual heroes, who shared a beautiful truth with a crowd after a race when he said, "Where does the power come from, to see the race to its end? From within." The movie "Chariots of Fire" reveals Liddell's conviction—that with God, all things are possible. His faith is the source of his power. 

Let us offer a prayer to cultivate the power from within—self motivation. Let this prayer be one that affirms resolution in your life and the life of others.
Omnipotent God, vitality of life, Your strength supplies my motivation. I am stirred in the path of Your Will. Maintain my self-motivation to always Search, find, examine, will and act Upon the truths placed before me. May I become a driving force for others, encouraging them to pick up their crosses And follow the virtuous road of life. I thank You for Your continued vigor That coexists in my whole being, My soul, my spirit and my body!Amen
Happy New Year! Here's to 2019!! (Go Irish, implied)

Photo Credits

Monday, December 31, 2018

Reflections on: 18 For 2018

My good friend Erin has given me many gifts—an introduction to Spring Lake, NJ, most of my beloved Dunkin' Donuts paraphernalia, and a sporty pair of shoes replete with interlocking ND—but her greatest is one that has done what it claims to do: make your life a little happier. In June of this year she wrote, "I wanted to let you know I’m dipping my toe into the podcast world! Have you listened to Happier with Gretchen Rubin? She’s the one who wrote The Happiness Project that I scoffed at for many years but finally read and loved. She has a podcast with her sister with all sorts of fun and interesting tidbits. Check it out, I’ll be curious if it’s up your alley!" 
Image result for to do 19 for 2019
I listen to several podcasts and this one ranks among my favorites. I've been inspired and integrated many of their recommendations—one of which is the idea behind this posting. 

In Episode 199 "Evaluate Your '18 for 2018' List," Gretchen and her sister/cohost Elizabeth Craft reviewed the 18 goals they set for 2018. I am going to set 19 for 2019, but for this final posting of the year, I will offer 18 accomplishments and actions that occurred and that...made my life a little happier. I hope you might consider a few to make your 2019 a little happier, too.

1. Listen(ed) to Happier
I had to start here. Without listening to the podcast, this list wouldn't exist. It's one thing to receive a recommendation and another to implement it. As with anything, consider the source of the rec. and take the appropriate action.

2. The creation of: Sports and Spirituality Synopsis 
The Sports and Spirituality development of 2018 in which I take the most pride. This bi-weekly resource is for coaches, athletic directors, parents and athletes who are seeking tools for athletic ministry. It's free! You can subscribe through my blog (box is one the side panel). Please share it with others!

3. Read Qaddafi's Point Guard
An easy read and a pressing one. This is the story of Alex Owumi, a Nigerian native who emigrated to the United States at age 11. Owumi's exploits on the basketball court led him to a successful career as a small college player. Undrafted by the NBA, he pursued his pro basketball dream overseas, eventually signing with Al-Nasr of Libya, a state-run athletic club privately funded by the family of then-Libyan president Muammar Qaddafi. 

Owumi's tenure with Al-Nasr was interrupted by the Libyan uprising and resulting civil war. Imprisoned in his Benghazi apartment for more than 2 weeks with no food, phone, Internet, or hope, Owumi wondered whether he would make it out of Libya alive. His faith in Jesus Christ was a source of strength and sustenance that you must read to understand.

4. Listen(ed) to Why Sports Matter
A great resource for deepening your awareness and appreciation for how story can deepen our spirituality. One of the best stories I have ever heard came to me through this new podcast. Read more here.

5. Ate an Apple a Day
Thanks to FIERCE, I was ever more encouraged to use Advent as a time to prepare for the coming of Christ. I set nutritional, spiritual and physical goals and used the on-line journal to hold myself accountable. Eating an apple a day is a good nutritional habit and an easy one. I haven't seen a doctor in a long time...

6. See(ing) Your Team in Enemy Territory
Attending a game "on the road" or as a guest sharpens your vision—as a spectator. The simple compare and contrast that occurs from entering into enemy territory has enhanced my experience as a fan and faithful follower of the Irish...the Giants...etc. AND, winning in someone else's house? Not bad.

It really was this beautiful out.
7. Attend(ed) a game at your high school
In September, I returned to Winton Drive to see the De La Salle vs Bishop Gorman football game. I went to see the Spartans play on Owen Owens field for four straight years when I was in high school. It was good to be back—even though some things have changed, a whole lot hasn't.

8. Play Together
Whatever sport you play and practice, include others. Invite new people to join you. Play often, play alone...but play together with your children, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, your team, your friends, your frenemies. Something transformative can happen in the act of play....

9. Play(ed) Dominos
Like cards, there seems to be an infinite number of games one can play with dominos. You can play games with one person or many more. Dominos are easy to transport—play indoors or outside. Play with the young and the old. Play for money or pride, or both!

10. Practice(d) with a Friend
Critical to becoming a great golfer is the willingness, the discipline and the wherewithal to practice. This is true for any sport, activity or passion you pursue. I have told my own golfers that if they aren't partial to practice, they must trick themselves into doing so. Listen to music, set up a schedule or for me what it takes is to practice with a friend. I did. The time goes by so much faster.

11. Got the Best Kind of InsuranceIt's possible that I might need more excitement in my life, but in March of this year I paid what I consider to best the best insurance possible. While most people get insurance for that can go wrong, I got it for what I hope goes right. I now pay $4 a quarter? a year? for what is known as hole-in-one insurance. Should I get one, I won't be paying the bar bill. I would like to thank the Olympic Club in advance....we'll see.

12. Find our the athletic heroes of your heroes/favorite athletes of your favorite athletes
I was not surprised that George W. Bush Presidential 
museum in Dallas featured his love for baseball. However, I was surprised to learn that his favorite baseball player was Willie Mays. I am always interested in learning who inspires others. To know that W values the Say Hey Kid...San Francisco's own, made me respect 43 in a new way!

13. Celebrate an Achievement
I did not grow up in a home where we toot our own horns. Our personal achievements have always been viewed as something we ourselves, should enjoy and hold as intrinsically valuable. I'm glad my parents value humility, however, once in a while, it's ok to go for it. That's why when I hit my first Eagle, on the Lake Course of the Olympic Club in January, I let it be known. I hope to have many more...I might not. Great venue to get this done! Still celebrating...

14. Give Blood
I write for Genesis, the alumni magazine of St. Ignatius College Prep, where I teach. My favorite article to pen this past year was about our annual blood drive, organized by the Block Club. I learned so much about the importance of giving blood and the selfless and priceless gift given by countless student athletes, coaches, teachers and others thanks to the mobile blood bank. To find out where and how you can give blood, look here.
15. Breathing as Prayer
It is still difficult to think about the extent of death and destruction caused by the wildfires in northern and southern California. We continue remember those who lost so much in our prayers.  One of the most meaningful ways I have since prayed is breathing as prayer. This spiritual discipline resonates with young and old. 

16. Make a List
A friend told me that his father made a t0-do list every single day. If you were to review his planner, you would see the same item at the top of the list... every single day. Can you guess? Yes, #1 said: make a list. This action ensured some sort of success. After all, momentum begets momentum. I will begin my "19 for 2019" list when I finish this blog!

17. Take a lesson
I don't know a person who can't benefit from some sort of instruction—a spiritual director, a personal trainer, a life coach or in my case, a golf coach. Another person with skill, wisdom, acumen and insight can see what we cannot. If you want to get better, consult another. Even the best golfers in the world have coaches. I took lessons knowing this is how it has to be...that is, if I want to get better. And I do.

18. Pray and Practice with Purpose!
I continue to reference and speak from my book, published in 2017. I am grateful for the people I have met because of this resource and I hope it is of use to those who read it.  I have another three to four books in me. I hope to find the discipline to finish one in 2019! Time for that list

Photo Credits
18 in 2018
Qaddafi's Point Guard

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Magic, Mystery and Misery: The 2018 Cotton Bowl

Flights are a good time for me to catch up back issues of Sports Illustrated. En route to the Dallas, Texas for the Cotton Bowl I read an article that spoke of the "magic, mystery and misery"of sports. I paused and thought, I need to tuck that framework away for future reference. Instead, that triptych is serving as the way I've made sense of my experience at the BCS semi-final playoff contest. With a nod to John Heisler, Senior Associate Athletics Director and Fighting Irish Media Executive Editor, here's What I Learned from my time at the Cotton Bowl Classic 2018—through Irish eyes.

The Magic
Team 130 went 12-o in the regular season. If there were but a penny for every time I have read and even typed the words uNDefeated.... With a formidable defense, strong senior leadership, renewed focus under a much calmer Brian Kelly and a mental strength coach, this team was one to celebrate. And we did! Why else would 50,000 Irish fans travel to Cowboys' Stadium to see the squad take-on an undefeated Clemson team.

I have to admit, the draw for me to watch a game in "the palace that Jerry built" was Texas-sized. I wanted to see the scoreboard that spans 60 yards and the two arches— bigger than the iconic one in St. Louis—that support it. I really did want to know if the fan experience at AT&T Stadium is as magical as 'dem Cowboys fans would have us believe. Although this venue is not the official Cotton Bowl (that still stands—without a dome in downtown Dallas), it did not disappoint! It really was magical.
The game began with a prayer—only in Texas. The US Flag was unfurled in Star Spangled glory and when our national bird landed on a Notre Dame fan, I took it as a sign. Fans of both team showed up; the stadium that holds 100,000 was in stereo, loud and proud. Depending on where you sat, you saw green or orange—blocks of it. There was much to cheer and anticipate, a lot to question and more to behold for the first quarter only. The magic then made way for....

The Mystery
AND, the worst three quarters the Irish played all season. 

I want to thank former ND quarterback, Brady Quinn for offering much needed insight. Like many fans, I went to social media early this morning to deconstruct the 30-3 loss (it felt like more). His tweet said, "Lots of HOT TAKES, after that game. Bottom line: @NDFootball deserved to be in, but unfortunately played 3 of their worst quarters of football this season. Credit @ClemsonFB, talented team that will be fun to watch playing for National Championship." I needed to read those words.
what happened?
We love college sports—or at least we claim to—because there is mystery. There is the sense that anything can and might happen. Granted this is true on the professional level as well, but the chasm between the haves and have nots with amateur athletics isn't as deep as it is in "The League, the Association" and so forth...or is it? That question is one to consider.

Why did we have to have our three worst quarters in the biggest game of the season? That is for the coaches and the analysts to determine, but Irish fans came to Dallas knowing we were 11, then 13, then 13.5 to end up 11.5 point underdogs. I thought we could cover the spread. I thought we might win by three. What transpired was instead...

The Misery
Unfortunately for Notre Dame, this game had its moments of sheer misery. This sentiment however was exacerbated by so many of our own fans who seemed to turn on the Irish early. We were tied at the end of the first quarter! As Quinn said, the rest of the game was different. 

tough being down (almost) three (full) TDs at the half....
Too many people compared this contest to what happened in 2012. They spoke of the fear on the players' faces and that they weren't confident or strong, just like it was at that game. This comparison must stop. Not one single player on the field in the 2018 Cotton Bowl played in the 2012 National Championship. You are not talking about professional athletes who have "been there before." Much of coaching staff assembled by Coach Kelly is different than six years ago.

Clemson's freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence was unflappable. He was much more mobile that I anticipated. His passing was surgeon like. He continued to thread the needle and his receivers continually pulled down/caught/help on to what he threw. Notre Dame fans however seemed to complain that we have not had a "franchise quarterback" in years. These words confound me. For one, Book's passing rate was the best in ND QB history. Second, given that Notre Dame is a University and the players are student athletes, we have to work with who we have recruited. Brian Kelly or Chip Long (offensive coordinator) are not free to pick up a player off the waivers. We hope the talent we have develops. Irish athletics believes it plays a significant role in making this happen. Many times it does, other times it doesn't. I realize that college football is a free farm system for the NFL, and the farms out there vary in size, resources and requirements. We are yielding a good crop, but for too many it's a bitter one. I don't support this.
Losing Julian Love in the second quarter hurt our defense. Before the game, I saw on the scoreboard he was named First Team All American. This outstanding achievement is nothing to to scoff at. His contributions made a difference all season; losing an athlete to an injury is personal misery for the individual and collective misery for the team. I went looking for a message he might have sent out via Twitter only to read one from former team captain and linebacker, Joe Schmidt. This walk-on linebacker wrote 
I’m still incredibly proud of this team and to be an ND alum. To turn the program around from where we were in 2016 to a playoff appearance in 2018 is nothing short of remarkable. Looking for big things - both on and off the field - from these guys in the future. Salute, Irish.
Reading his words cannot help but force a fan out of his or her misery. What vision, what insight. Great perspective, Total class. If this is what the student athletes at Notre Dame share with the world after a tough loss, then wow, all I can see is there really something magical about Notre Dame. 

The mystery of when and if we will have another National Championship in the future remains, but in the meantime, I want to say "thank you" for the ride...the journey....for representing Our Lady the way you have. Amen.

Photo Credits
J Love
Team Together
Eagle on the arm