Thursday, November 8, 2018

One Team, One Book: Choose to Matter by Julie Foudy

In the Spring of 2017, I met two-time Olympic Gold medalist, former captain of the US Women's National soccer team, ESPN commentator and author Julie Foudy at Kepler's Books in Palo Alto. The coach of another girls' golf team invited me to join him at what proved to be an intimate and dynamic evening that featured Julie in conversation with two other incredible women:
  • Brandi Chastain: one of the best ambassadors for soccer, who has won two World Cups, two Olympic gold and one silver medal, the Inaugural WUSA Championship, and captained the San Jose Cyberrays.
  • Darla Anderson: a senior producer at Pixar whose producing talents have brought us beloved movies such as Cars, Monster's Inc, A Bugs Life, and Toy Story 3. 
I could barely comprehend the talent, credentials, energy, enthusiasm, and excellence standing and sitting in front of me. Although Foudy's work, her book Choose to Matter: Being Courageously and Fabulously You served as the impetus for the gathering, it was only a reflection of who she might surround herself by on a regular basis! Such company, her passion, lived experiences and stories, wisdom and success are worth chronicling—and so she did. What inspires me most is that she decided to do that for a specific audience—young women, girls, and female athletes in particular.
Foudy reported for ESPN.W the why behind the work. She wrote
The book I have always wanted to write is about owning your awesome, raising your hand, getting on the dance floor, shimmying out of your comfort zone, being comfortable with uncomfortable, dreaming out loud, ... (you get it). It is about CHOOSING TO MATTER. 
Because this I know: Life doesn't just happen. You happen to life. YOU decide how you want to write your story. YOU. This book is for the teenager starting her journey or the woman at a critical fork in her journey. It is for every person, wherever you may be on your path, who needs a little nudge. Who needs a little motivation... to be courageously you. 
For too long I equated leadership with a position. I thought leaders were presidents or politicians or celebrities or four-star generals with a horse and sword. I thought you had to be in a position to impact lots and lots of people (someone I certainly was not), to lead. 
But what I discovered -- in large part, thanks to the amazing women I played alongside -- is just how broad the definition of leadership is. Leadership is loud. It is quiet. It is thoughtful and emotional and cerebral and nerdy and goofy and joyful and motivating. Leadership is calm in the chaos. It is standards. It is believing when others don't. It is celebrating others. It is empowering others. It is all those things and so much more. Most important, leadership is personal, not positional. 
The hardest part is just summoning the courage to choose to lead, to raise your hand. To own that awesome. It is not a question of IF you will be a leader, but HOW. The key is being authentically you —a leader others will want to follow because you are genuine. It is your style. 
And if you don't believe me, well, I summoned 10 amazing women to come to share their stories about how they unleashed their inner leader. My hope is this book serves as a roadmap (full of fun exercises, quick activities, and journaling) to help you unlock your potential. There is a method to the madness, or at least I like to pretend there is. We tell stories, share lessons, pass on wisdom. 
My goal in all of this is to make you laugh, make you think, make you eat more donuts, and make you excited to embrace life. And most importantly, to share that new, fabulous you with the world by passing on leadership. By empowering others. 
And here's the really cool thing: You can. So why not #choosetomatter?
I started to read Choose to Matter with all the enthusiasm of a fan girl....of someone who
had a chance to hear and meet the author, who left even more star struck by the collective experience and excellence in the room. I read about one-third of the book right away, wishing that it were a shared experience with my golf team there and then. 

Starting and not finishing a book is par for my course—several puns intended. However, the catchy cover—yes, we will judge this book by that, and the memories from the group reading at Kepler's called me back to finish the text. I completed this book more convinced that it ought to serve as an inaugural "One Team, One Book" text for my team...and maybe yours. 

The Table of Contents features sections Foudy calls "EmpowerRings." Each one is meant to move the reader from inward to outward reflection. 
  • Section 1: Self
  • Section 2: Team
  • Section 3: School
  • Section 4: Community
  • Section 5: Life
  • Bios
The layout of Choose to Matter is creative and appeals to the female eye. The fun colors, clever sketches, and outstanding quotes give this book an active and dynamic persona. Exercises for the reader and an invitation to journal at the conclusion of every chapter with the words: "Don't Just Think it, Ink It" prevent passive engagement. Foudy isn't afraid to make fun of herself with incriminating photos from her past. She also offers incredible stories of success—breaking barriers and shattering expectations along the way.  She is one of our best. Thanks, Julie!
If you are a coach and would like to use this book for "One Team, One Book" I am more than willing to share the book discussion resource I have created! Please contact me! Happy to share.

Photo Credits
Leadership Logo
Book cover
Hamm and Foudy

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Team Building Activity: One Team, One Book

One team building activity I still want to try is "One Book, One Team." Practice with Purpose: A Playbook for the Spiritual Development of Athletes offers context for why and steps for how a coach can successfully lead and read a book with the team. I decided I would revisit this topic now, for a couple of reasons. One, I have a gem of a recommendation and two it's a timely one. High school athletics is in a time of transition from fall to winter sports. In Northern California, this means girls' golf, field hockey, water polo, football and cross country are in post-season play while basketball, wrestling, and soccer have completed pre-season prep. Their tryouts are underway, teams are being formed, captains will be chosen and goals shall be defined. I sincerely believe a book like Choose to Matter: Being Courageously and Fabulously You by two-time Olympic Gold Medalist, Julie Foudy can serve as an outstanding resource for all girls' sports, and in particular girls' soccer teams.
In Chapter 4: "Practice with Purpose," I wrote,
Eleanor Roosevelt once said,  “Great mind discuss ideas, average minds events, and small minds discuss people.”  
One goal I have for my students is to get them to regularly, willingly and naturally discuss ideas. In the classroom that’s easy, but outside of structured class time, it can be a challenge.  
As a coach, I am afforded with a lot of structured and unstructured time with my athletes. That dynamic is a blessing, as I really get to know my team. The bus rides and long runs have yielded some memorable, fun and challenging conversations. Many are just about food, clothing, and music. However, I have also wondered in that time how to get my athletes to discuss ideas. “One Team, One Book” is one answer. 
The program began in 1998 when Seattle public librarian Nancy Pearl asked the question “What if all of Seattle read the same book?” From her dream, the “One City, One Book” campaign was born. It aims to build a community and foster literacy through a shared reading experience. Today, many schools have followed suit with “One Campus, One Book.” 
As a coach, I started to wonder how a similar program could benefit and shape my team. As a religious studies teacher and a sports fan, I thought How might our athletic programs be different if we used a common resource to form the mind as it relates to sports? The school principal has said to me that he believes “athletics is the seventh period of the day.” We commit a lot of time and resources to form our athletes physically and today we offer more ways to enhance mental preparation. But what are we using to share the heart, the spirit and the intellect—the mind—when it comes to sports? "One Team, One Book” is an answer. 
Finishing a book is a great feeling. It’s an accomplishment. It’s also a task that many student-athletes may be reluctant to take on in addition to their required course load. But the right book in the right context can be transformative. 
And I think it’s important to remind our student-athletes that reading is a vital discipline. In the same way, they are prepared for their sport due to regular practice, they are primed for reading (whether they know it or not). Participating in "One Team, One Book" can be a spiritual, social and academic experience that shapes a season and a team in new and exciting ways. That’s what sharing ideas can do! 
If a book is introduced as an expectation and featured as part of the culture, the likelihood of success is much greater. That actually might be the first key to success, however, in my own book, I list that item as what this blog posting offers. I wrote:
Choosing the right book is essential, & so is explaining why you will be reading it.
  • Ideally the book that you read will be developmentally appropriate and interesting to a range of ages (for example, you may have freshmen and sophomores on the same team). 
Tomorrow's posting will focus in on why Foudy's work is a worthy choice, a recipe for success, and the key to unlocking this new adventure. I hope completing "One Team, One Book" will be one of the first goals you and your team reach this season. Good luck!

Photo Credits
One Team, One Goal
One Team, One Book

Thursday, November 1, 2018

A Saint, A Cathedral and a Holy Day of Obligation: Remembering Willie McCovey

On October 31 at 4:04 pm with family and friends at his side, the great Wille Lee McCovey, died. #44 should have only played for one team: the Giants because that is what he was. Standing 6'4" and 220 lbs in his prime, Willie Mac was larger than life. Long arms, quick hands, my dad believes he has never seen another ballplayer hit the ball harder—not even Barry Bonds. In 1986, he became just the 16th individual to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. His legacy will live on among Giants fans as the waterway behind AT&T park is named McCovey Cove—a place I felt obligated to visit today. I wanted to pay my respects and see how other Giants fans were, too. The day couldn't have been any more beautiful. No wind, a perfect sky and one of MLB's greatest cathedrals in the background, I realized the truths of Sports and Spirituality come to us when we come to them. Here's how....
In the Catholic faith, the first day of November isn't an ordinary day. It is the Feast of All Saints—a day to honor the "saints, known and unknown who are now with God in heaven." On Halloween—"All Hallow's Eve"—I prepared my students for All Hallow's Day by teaching the religious roots of this informal triduum, which concludes with All Souls' Day on November 2. I asked them to pray for the souls in purgatory and in thanksgiving for the holy men and women in our own lives who are saints. I added that All Saints Day is a Holy Day of Obligation. Aware of the formality of the term "obligation," I put all of it in the context of Sports and Spirituality
A true cathedral in MLB, flags flew at half mast to honor #44
On a Keynote slide, I placed the following information 
  • Holiday = Old English for Holy Day
  • Obligation: Athletes are quite familiar with obligations.
  • What are some of the obligations of your sport? 
Your team?
  • What are the obligations of your faith 
I said one obligation of being a Catholic is that we gather as a community to worship. The Church has decided that certain days of the year are holy days—days to come together as one to celebrate and remember. I urged my students to give but 25 minutes at lunch attend Mass on the Feast of All Saints. "It's a spiritual shot in the arm," I said, and "you get to spend time with the Lord."
The school where I work is such a large community that I can go without seeing my colleagues and former students for weeks at a time. Consequently, I don't take for granted the times I do see coworkers who I also value as friends. I sat next to one of them at today's Mass. After the final blessing, I shared with this lifelong Giants fan my sadness at the passing of Willie McCovey. He responded by telling me that he wanted to go McCovey Cove to place flowers at the statue. We shared a few stories we knew about "Stretch" and we parted ways.

I thought more about his beautiful desire; I love that he wanted to bring flowers for a man he never met, but who we feel as though we know. I think it's so important for people to go to public places to venerate, honor and remember. Rituals and traditions lead and guide us in times of joy and sorrow, in loss and in life. The funny thing is however, I wouldn't have thought about going to McCovey Cove on my own. I needed the obligation of my faith—which called me to Mass—to send me elsewhere. And, once I decided to go to ATT Park, I realized that one obligation led to another—both of which are life-giving, transcendent and beautiful.

The local Sports Talk Radio show commented on the fact that Willie Mac died on Halloween—a day characterized by the colors orange and black—the same colors as the San Francisco Giants. I would like to add that the communal honoring of his number, his name and his legacy began on the Feast of All Saints. I have a strong suspicion that Willie McCovey, a man from Mobile Alabama—a place that claims to have the original Mardi Gras—has heard "When the Saints Go Marching In" loud and clear tonight.

We love you Willie McCovey. Thank you for sharing your gifts and talents with us in a beautiful game. I am so proud to be a fan to a team that honors the type of athlete you were and chose to be. The Willie Mac Award goes to the player who demonstrates quiet leadership but it's also for us, the fans. We need your example and inspiration; it will not be forgotten.
May Perpetual Light Shine Upon Him Lord and May He Rest in Peace. Amen.

Photo credits: no need for any, I took all of them today 11/1/18

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Why Every D1 Football Program Should Play a Service Academy

Every other year the US Navy football team hosts Notre Dame on a gridiron far from their home turf in Annapolis, Maryland. In my 22 years as an alum, I have seen the Midshipmen take on the Fightin' Irish in locales throughout the country, including the late Veteran's Stadium in Philadelphia, Jack Kent Cooke in Washington DC and as of this past weekend, San Diego, CA. (The two shall meet in 2020 in Dublin, Ireland!) Grateful for the win and the experience of this contest between "friends before rivals" I left SDCCU stadium—a relic among sports complexes—convinced that every D1 team should play one of the service academies.
My belief is far cry from what I usually hear among sports fans. Notre Dame's schedule is often mocked for playing at least one, if not two of our armed force teams. From some of my own friends, I have been asked "who do the Irish have this weekend? The Coast Guard?!" Forbes magazine joined in the fray, as it published "Notre Dame Needs to Drop Kick Navy" the night before the 91st annual gathering. I couldn't disagree more. Here's why.

In a sport that is increasingly more about the almighty dollar (ND is not immune from any of this), I can't help but respect the players from the academies for playing football—period. They have already received a scholarship given their appointment and their institutions aren't likely pathways to the NFL. They play football because they want to play football; the love of the game is palpable.

I do not have a direct connection to Army, Navy or Air Force, so I can't say that I watch their games with any regularity. However, this intersectional rivalry has served as an opportunity to see these athletes fight the fight, year after year. They are competing, tackling, running and striving no differently than their opponents. Most of them will channel that same effort onto an aircraft carrier, in a squadron, in deployment and if necessary in battle after they graduate—an accomplishment that is not a given in college football programs.

Beyond just the players, I'm always fascinated by the messages a school decides to send to its fans and its "rival" within the confines of a football stadium or gynasium. 
Athletic contests are indeed an opportunity for institutions to recruit—overtly and tacitly. Furthermore, timeouts and game breaks provide an avenue for the host team to profile professors, celebrate their others athletic teams and recognize alumni. The academies have no shortage of men and women many see are "heroes" that we ought to "meet" or at least learn more about. 

That being said, the halftime show might have been the highlight of the entire game, as it featured Navy Seals LEAP Frogs falling from the sky only to land on the field. The speed and velocity by which they descended onto the gridiron, one after another was near other-wordly. I watched these Navy Seals knowing the real reason they have been trained to do this act, but I was able to hold that cold, hard truth AND delight in the other side of this coin. They are the best of the best and this show proved it. If Notre Dame didn't play Navy, I'm not sure where I would see these paratroopers demonstrate their sheer physicality and their utter excellence. I'm grateful I was able to in a domain where they are encouraged and supported.

With the clock at zero,  Notre Dame earned its eighth win in a row this season. Both teams united midfield to extend their congratulations. But a few moments later, all players, coaches and their staff migrated to stand and face the Navy marching band. With the Middies up front and arms locked together, they sang their alma mater. The Fightin' Irish stood directly behind them and swayed with the music. Shortly thereafter, ND turned around and walked to the other corner of the end zone. Irish alumni and fans joined the players in singing "Notre Dame, Our Mother," our alma mater. Navy stood behind us, standing tall, tipping their caps with all hail to the victor. I don't know another team or program that does this deed of great sportsmanship. Again, grateful to be a part of that.
I wish a military were not necessary. I would rather that our tax dollars be spent on physical and mental health, education and caring for the poor, but the world requires something other. I get but a glimpse of who these folks are that are willing to step into those shoes—the men and women who literally put their boots on the ground—in these games. The exposure to their culture, their modus operandi, their traditions, and their celebrations are something every program could benefit from witnessing.

Next time I'm asked if Notre Dame is playing Army or Navy, I can't wait to tell them "yes." University President, Father Walsh had a vision for that long ago.
 In the 1927 game program, he wrote, 
“Notre Dame, Army, and Navy make an ideal group for a football triangle,” he wrote. “Their students live on campus, they draw their student body from all parts of the country.” 
“The outcome of our games with the Navy and with the Army is not so important as that the best feeling of sport and good-fellowship always prevail. We are indeed happy to have Navy on our schedule: we trust it will continue so long and so amiably as to become a part of our best-loved traditions.”
So grateful he did.

Photo Credits

Sunday, October 28, 2018

To Stay or Not to Stay: A Question in Sports and Spirituality

During the top of the 8th inning, when John Sciambi of ESPN radio reported that Dodger fans were starting to leave the ballpark, I wasn't surprised. San Francisco Giants fans love to explicate their reasons for despising our NL West rival (*notice I didn't say hate). We find it unacceptable that Dodger fans show up late and leave early. Such behavior calls us to question their loyalty. Randy Newman may sing, "I Love LA!" but we wonder how much LA loves its Dodgers. Having been to Dodger Stadium, I understand that Chavez Ravine isn't the easiest venue to enter and exit; I know it's never fun to sit in a parking lot and move but 500 feet in 30 minutes. But, the choices we make about what we attend and how we attend them are worth considering. These are real questions that pertain to both Sports and Spirituality.
At the back of the church where I went to grade school—St. Mary's in Walnut Creek—hangs a small placard above a font for holy water. It reads "The whole mass, not less." As a child, I didn't totally understand its meaning. Though terse, those words stayed with me. They may have formed my conscience. In fact, I know they did as they returned to me years later subconsciously in my faith practice and consciously in an unsuspecting way. I was at a weeknight Giants game and Bonds tied it up at the bottom of the ninth inning. My friend asked if I wanted to stay. In what could have been a simple "yes/no" question I responded with a story about that sign. I concluded it with the words, "the whole game, nothing less." He replied, "that's the greatest thing I've ever heard." We left the yard three innings later.

At mass this evening, I had an internal debate with myself for about 3 minutes before I went to the altar to receive the Eucharist. My preoccupied mind was assessing if I could get to where I needed to go after Mass on time. Should I "dine and dash?" as some millennial Catholics quip. This has rarely been my practice (see conscience formation). I took a deep breath and decided to focus my heart and my mind on where I was and what I was doing. 

Mass is a time to listen to the Word of God, to pray with and for others. I offer thanks and learn more about my community of faith. When I leave early, I pray less. I don't have that conversation with friends and families as we exit, grab a donut or walk to our cars. There's a reason the pastor hung that sign and yet, I can't help but notice fewer people are even going to Mass. I look around the Church in awe of the people who continue to show up, faithfully, in light of recent events. I don't take for granted the fact that anyone will show up. I'm glad they do.

A World Series ticket, however, is a different ball of wax. I've been to numerous NLDS and NLCS games, but never the big show. Thinking it might never happen, I used to joke that I would rob a bank if the Giants got there. It did. In fact, the Giants made it to the October Classic three times in five years. No banks were robbed. I hope to get to a World Series game—someday. However, it baffles me that any Dodger fan would leave early. The stakes couldn't be higher or the quality of the games any better. In Game 3, the men in Pantone 294 tied it up in the bottom of the 13th inning with two outs. They ended up winning five long innings later. As we now know the Red Sox prevailed, but as the fans who stayed now know, we don't call it "the bitter end" for nothing.
Analytics aren't my thing, I would certainly love to know how many fans stayed for all 18 innings of Game 3. They have a story to tell. Don't get me wrong, I have left Giants game early before. I can't write that I am a total purist. but I do think the rule of thumb should be "the whole game, nothing less." I believe the arguments for staying are better than they are for leaving. Game 3 took place on a Friday night. I will only speak for my situation because I know others have various obligations and responsibilities: the only thing I would be leaving early for would be my bed. Some would argue that they don't want to see the final out—the loss and the celebration of another team. Though not fun for the losing team's fans, I think it's important to see these moments too. I need to see my team hug one another. I too hang my head in disappointment; I want to see their tears and their ability to support one another in victory and in defeat!

The World Series is as close as a baseball fan gets to Kairos—God's time. Let Chronos—chronilogical time be gone! And maybe that's the what these questions are really pointing to. We are always fighting Chonos. Father Time is a powerful figure. And yet, Kairos is what makes our lives worth living. How do we reconcile our obligations, pursue our passions, have both fun and faith? These are questions worth considering. Sometimes, a simple sign can point the way.
I admire those who did stay.
Congratulations to the Boston Red Sox and to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Thanks for another exciting World Series and thank you to the players, managers, coaches and fans who made this year memorable in its own way. Until mid-February....when hope Spring Training's eternal...
Photo Credits
Game 3
Empty Seats

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Lessons Learned from the Love and Hate for Notre Dame Football

Someone once said the opposite of love is apathy, but a die-hard sports fan knows that's not true. It's hate. Sports is no stranger to the face of hatred. Hate rears its ugly head in the face of a rival—at his or her success, or can be seen in oneself—for failing to get the job done. Failure is ugly, but I'm here to say that hate is uglier. 
Notre Dame Football is 7-0. The Fightin' Irish are now ranked number three in the nation. I have been treading lightly at work, among football fans, around the gym and beyond—knowing that things can change very quickly. I have yet to brag, trash talk or even hold my head remotely high. And still, or reasons I don't completely understand, I find that some sports fans want me to offer some sort of an apology. "For winning?" I ask. One colleague made sure I was aware how lucky we were to get the "W" in two games (true). Another wanted me to admit ND isn't that good (I don't know what to say. Winning close games is crucial). I've been told that this coming weekend, like the past three contests, is a "trap game"—and we should watch out (NB: not every game can be a trap game....that works against its definition). I've been a Notre Dame fan for most of my life, so predicaments such as these aren't unfamiliar to me. But, they aren't fun either. Perhaps you understand. The tension, animosity, snarky comments, and even suspicion remind me of the weight that comes with being loyal to someone or something...of having a passion and sharing it with the world. The face of hate has served as an invitation to examine something I love.

I love Notre Dame football because it offers a very public face of my alma mater, one that demands my attention and calls me to think of what's happening on campus from September through (hopefully) January. Football is ethically complex and it's athletically fascinating. The plays, passes, runs, tackles, kicks and catches—though violent can be beautiful. Each player does his job in his own way, and yet there are an unwavering standard and expectation for how that ought to be done at Notre Dame. The team is comprised of student-athletes who live, study, party and pray in the same places and spaces I did. In the movie Concussion, Dr. Joseph Maroon says "Football is the most popular sport in America because it is so goddamn fantastic. And that, right there? [points out the window to Heinz Field] That is the beating heart of this city." Though he speaks of Pittsburgh, PA, his words are equally true in South Bend, IN. Notre Dame Stadium is a heart that beats loudly—too loudly for some.
Though I am the first to concede I carry an immense bias—my love for the Irish runneth too deep—I am not entirely blind, deaf or dumb for why people do not share my affection for this team. Some of the reasons for hate include: the national television coverage of games—even in the lean years, the inflated(?) relentless expectations of its fan base to be in contention for a national title every year, the over-zealous, overly-loyal alumni that want you to know within five minutes of meeting them that they went to Notre Dame. I'll stop here for one reason, and it's not that I don't "get it" OR that you can read a book on the topic. No, it's that as much as I understand some of the distaste or misgivings for Notre Dame football, I also believe hate should not be confused with other sentiments.

Many people, including me, struggle with jealousy, envy, and the inability to celebrate the success of others from time to time. We are limited beings. We compare and we contrast. No one can have it all, but sometimes it appears as though others do. Sports is just one place where truth—this component of our humanity—is revealed. 

I don't gloat over ND's success in football, ever (though I may want to). I (almost always) let another person say to me "great win!" or "how about them Irish?!" FIRST. These words serve as an invitation for me to express my joy and gratitude. Many times, I want to thank the person who initiates a conversation about this topic—one that I love so much. 

Hate has never been necessary for me to understand my passion, but it has helped me examine it in a new light. I wish I could say "let the haters, hate" but that's not really how I feel. Go ahead—jar and jab, pinch and prod, but let's allow for respect, understanding, and appreciation IN SPITE of our differences trump all. No hate is necessary.

Photo Credits
Dan Devine Quote

Saturday, October 20, 2018

How to Build a Fellowship of Coaches: Thank you, Haley Scott DeMaria

Like teachers, coaches can be a tough audience. We are used to creating the program and running the show. We might not be the best listeners but if you find just the right frequency and speak the same language—a group of coaches can be a captive, willing and an extraordinarily receptive audience—as evidenced at the fall Fellowship of Coaches gathering.
Haley with SI swim coaches!
As written by our athletic director, "Fellowship nights are offered to SI coaches to bring us together. A fellowship is a group of people that join together for a common purpose or interest. Although each of our sports is different, we are under one mission coaching at a Jesuit High School. That mission should be interwoven in our coaching—from practice planning to post-game speeches." Fellowship nights offer time to discuss not just the why, but the how we do that, when and where. We aim to offer three of these gatherings—one per sports season—during the school year. 

I speak to coaching staffs at secondary schools throughout the country. In my talk, I urge athletic departments to develop and promote a "sorority and fraternity of coaching." What might this mean? At its best, I hope that other coaches might see ourselves united in a common endeavor. Yes, we speak a common language; some of us even have the same dialect. We carry a lot and we give a lot. Our responsibilities are many. We cannot do it alone, nor should we. We can all learn from one another, no matter your sport or season. Whether or not you coach girls or boys, varsity or JV, fellowship nights can help workers in the vineyard to learn a little more about our ministry, and our craft.
Great for our coaches to get together; both those in and out of season.
On Monday, October 8, the coaches at St. Ignatius College Prep gathered to hear Haley Scott DeMaria speak on "Faith and Triumph." Haley was the ideal spokesperson for this evening. She is immensely professional and personal and offered her own story as chronicled in her book "What Though the Odds." As written on her website
When the Notre Dame women's swim team suffered a fatal bus crash, the lives of those on the bus, their families, and the community were changed forever. Paralyzed after the accident, Haley Scott was told she would never walk again. That was unacceptable to her. With the help of those who cared most about her - her family, her school and her teammates - she chose a different fate and promised not only to walk, but to swim again for the Fighting Irish.
Haley's story is inspiring and tragic, honest and difficult to hear/read at times. And yet, why might it be a message for high school coaches to hear? What does it offer for those of us working with athletes much younger, some less competitive or talented, or others in sports far different than swimming? The answer: much more than I could have anticipated.
Haley set the tone with her presentation through a quote from Lou Holtz, the former University of Notre Dame head football coach. He wrote, “Show me a leader, and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity.” I saw these words as a challenge. As a coach, I need leaders on my team. Furthermore, I want to shape the young women in my care into leaders. I started to think of how coaches work with and through adversity to do that. I wrote down my question to discuss with the others at my table.

After addressing how swimming became her sport, Haley told us about four of her swim coaches and what she learned from each one. Her first coach taught her the importance of loving your sport. Her club coach taught her the importance of having the desire to work hard. Each profile gave me pause to consider the "lesson" she learned and question how/if I do that: To what degree can we help our athletes love our sport? And how do we model our love for it? Do my athletes have the desire to work hard? Do they see this in me? 
When it was time to speak about Tim Welsh, her coach at Notre Dame, she shared his mission statement. It is
The purpose of Notre Dame Swimming is to pursue athletic excellence, with self-discipline and love for one another.
Coach Welsh offered his mission statement to his team on the first day of practice. Haley shared her understanding of it as an 18-year-old. The pursuit of athletic excellence was a given, no explanation was necessary. The second half of his mission, however, required a little deconstruction. At that moment I thought to myself, Do my athletes know of my mission statement? Let's encourage each other to share our mission statement on the first day of practice / put it in the team syllabus. 

The story of this Notre Dame swimmer is how Coach Welsh's mission statement was a lived truth, a reality that extends beyond even just those men and women on the team. What might our athletes say?

While it might be obvious that self-discipline propels a swimmer to train harder and smarter, Haley came to realize how important it is out of the water too. A student-athlete is not unfamiliar with the demands of balancing training, competition and being a member of a team with getting to class on time, studying, and following up with teachers accordingly. However, in college, those responsibilities fall on an individual, especially a student-athlete, in a new way. Given the absence of parents, the support of day to day home life, of no detention for missing class/no tardy for being late, one must flex the muscle of self-discipline in ways that are challenging or even counter-cultural to collegiate life....but not totally unfamiliar to athletes. Coach Welsh named self-discipline in his mission statement to speak to its primacy. Athletic excellence is deficient without it. As I listened, I considered the self-discipline that golf requires. How am I helping my golfers focus and improve in self-discipline? How do they model it for one another? How is that "training" paying off outside of golf?
Haley would come to learn first hand, swimming at Notre Dame under Coach Welsh was fueled by love for another. She admitted that her original interpretation of the words "love for one another" as an 18-year old on a co-ed team was much different than what she came to know and live. Her personal story—the one she shared with our coaches—is a chronicle of what love for one another can do for a person, a team and a school community. Love for one another meant that one of her teammates sat at her side at the site of the bus crash until paramedics could help, love for one another meant that we visit the sick and feed the hungry. Haley was in three different hospitals and had five surgeries. Her visitors ranged from the University President, Father Monk Malloy to the parents of her teammates who died. Hungry for news of everyday life, Haley's teammates and classmates visited in the ICU and even in San Diego. I wondered how my own athletes grow in "love for one another" as a result of our time together. I wanted to know how they interpret these words.

In 1 Corinthians 13, St. Paul writes "so faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love." No greater act of love could have been demonstrated to or for the Notre Dame swim team than when Haley was able to return to the first time to compete. Coach Welsh placed Haley in two events: butterfly and freestyle—the favorites of Meghan and Colleen. To honor their legacy, Haley swam these strokes with no other ND swimmers competing against her. This decision permitted the team to cheer, celebrate and remember those they loved and lost. Humbled and inspired by his plan, I wondered if I would have the vision that Coach Welsh did for his team? I said a silent prayer and asked God for the wisdom of Solomon...or in this case a coach like Tim. 
Haley's presentation—her talk, her story, her very presence—prompted thoughtful conversations with other coaches. I have never received the number of "thank yous" and questions from my colleagues as I did in response to her message. One cross-country coach shared with the coaches who weren't able to attend her key takeaways. They are 
  • How are we building life skills in our athletes? If they were never to compete again, how would their participation on xc (or any sport) best serve them as young people?
  • When students are injured, how are we supporting them? Are there ways we could be more inclusive and supportive to those who are struggling with both the physical and emotional challenges of not being able to compete in the ways they wish they could?
  • How are we participating as members of an athletic community? Haley spoke about how present the rest of the athletic community was as she recovered-- not just the swim team. 
For me, it was nice to hear from an athlete (and a coach) who participated in an individual sport that works as a team. Quite often we hear from the perspective of the coach of a team sport e.g. basketball, football or volleyball. And yet, many sports like tennis, golf, swimming, and diving require a leader to work with a group of individuals who become something more.
My seniors!
The seniors in my Sports and Spirituality class read "What Though the Odds" and were able to hear a similar presentation and meet the author! The woman behind the story and journey we have shared. I loved knowing that some of their own coaches could share a conversation about their own takeaways and what they have gained from her message. 

A fellowship of coaches—a fraternity or sorority of men and women united an endeavor that aims to bring a young person from one place to another over the course of a season—is worth creating and developing. The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Let us support and encourage, love and celebrate those workers.... Thank you, Haley, for reminding us of the primacy and impact of what those workers do.

Photo Credits
Haley and Tim