Wednesday, December 28, 2016

How and Why We Must Remember 2016

I love my gym for many reasons—am I allowed to say that? I love my gym? To be honest, it's an athletic club and that's a necessary qualifier from, well, a lot of things. Though non-members often think of the Olympic Club as a country club, ask any member about that. It's not. Established on May 6, 1860, the Olympic Club is the oldest athletic club in the country. Joining in 2013 was one of the best decisions I have made (this one I know I'm allowed to say). I've met wonderful people, many whom are tremendous athletes committed to physical fitness and all it takes to improve. I've met even more talented golfers who love the game and have made me the golfer I am today. With two campuses—a downtown facility and the historic and world renown Lakeside venue, the Olympic Club has meaningful and interesting traditions. In a city that just isn't that old and in a place that changes by the minute, to share in traditions that are over one hundred fifty years old means something to me. 
One of those traditions, however, might seem a little macabre. At both entrances of the downtown facility is a humble marquee; its sole function is to post the death notices of recent members. Honestly, it's hard not to look and nearly impossible to miss. I would not go so far as to say it's "death on display" for the spirit is respectful—a 5" x 7" card features the name of the deceased, their photo and the year they became a member. This tradition reminds me that life is a gift and suggests that these folks are more than people who pay dues; they are Olympians. To see that a man became a member in 1932 is inspiring or when you read the name of a friend, it's helpful to know that others carry the loss with you. In my short tenure, a few notices have been heartbreaking to see—one was the father of five boys and one was a famous actor who took his life: Robin Williams. 

I write of this Olympic Club tradition because not only was 2016 a tough year, but we said farewell to many wonderful Olympians, musicians, actors and athletes. The final Sports Illustrated issue of the year runs tributes to athletes and coaches, announcers and sports personalities who are no longer with us. 
  • In 2016 we said goodbye to the GOAT of all GOATs, Muhammad Ali. Because my students need to get a sense of who he was and why he's so important to sports history, we watched "When We Were Kings." 
  • The King, Arnold Palmer died on the same day as Miami Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez. I remember the weight of losing two wonderful men on a Sunday in October. Arnie lived life to the full and Hernandez's life of freedom, excellence and domination had only begun. I will forever cherish knowing that I played golf on the Lakeside course at the Olympic Club—the very same course that Palmer walked—on the day he entered into eternal life.
  • For her incredible success and remarkable legacy, it frustrates me that Pat Summit's passing did not get more attention. Maybe she would have wanted it that way. Regardless, women's basketball wouldn't be what it is today without her leadership and her genius.
  • Other notables include
  • Buddy Ryan football coach and NFL defensive genius. Father of the now fired Bills coaches Rex and Rob Ryan
  • Gordie Howe, NHL Legend
  • Craig Sager, 65, TV sportscaster known for his flamboyant clothes and warm spirit. He died of leukemia on December 15

But to me the tribute had one glaring oversight, the loss of 19 Chapecoense soccer players and the entire coaching staff who were traveling to Colombia for what was to be the biggest game in the club's 44-year history. Avi Creditor of SI writes, that the mangled Arvo RJ85 crashed because of a fuel shortage killing 71 of 77 people on board. The story illuminates the fragility of life as three players were not on the flight. Pictures reveal their stunned faces in their empty locker room at Arena Conda overcome with grief. The 42-year old goalkeeper Nivald stayed at home so he could play his 300th and final game with the club in Chapeco on December 7. 

This tragic story does not end in despair. Over 130,000 fans showed up at Atletico Nacional stadium in Medellin, where 
Chapecoense was scheduled to play, to pay tribute with a heartfelt vigil. Atletico Nacional "implored the South American confederation to award the Copa title to Chapecoense. Brazilian clubs have offered to loan players to the rebuilding team at no charge and have asked that Chapecoense be immune from relegation for three seasons. Nothing will eras the tragedy that rocked a club and a nation. But the soccer wold has shown an example that is as beautiful as the game itself."
Honoring the athletes who have died in any given year be it at the entry way of the Olympic Club or in the last issue of the year for Sports Illustrated is an important tradition to me. The game, competition, the climb—they are important...but only because of the people who make it so. Every athlete brings his or her own style, personality, hustle and insight to sport. And when they leave us....we aren't the same. We can't be—so let's remember, celebrate and believe.

Photo Credits
Ali

Great Athletes
Sager and Jordan
Honoring the fallen
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Monday, December 26, 2016

The Real Winner of the 2016 Sportsperson of the Year....

The death of British singer, songwriter—George Michael—on Christmas Day serves as a punctuation mark on what so many people have deemed a year of total loss. The world also bid farewell to several music icons in 2016—David Bowie, Glenn Frey and Prince (NB: a future posting will be written about the many athletes and coaches who are no longer with us). Though their legacy lives on, their music remains. We still miss them.

I have a sneaky suspicion that on New Year's eve you will read on social media a tremendous number of bitter goodbyes to 2016. I would put smart money on at least one toast at your local party serving as an "F*** you 2016." Never before have I heard so many people proclaim they were ready to be done with these 365 days. I thought even years were supposed to be good? Maybe the "7" in 2017 is something folks look forward to...?.... Regardless, it's more than fair to say that 2016 has not been easy.

The crisis is Syria is so heartbreaking, I have difficulty reading about the plight of these refugees, the persecution of Christians and the violence too many children have suffered. Race relations in the United States reached Fahrenheit 452...one degree more than the temperature at which paper combusts. The violence in our inner-cities: Oakland, Chicago, Detroit—the struggle is too real. And as much as people want this year to end, prior to November 8, 2016, I have never heard so many state that they wanted the presidential election to be over. When it was, a new pandemonium broke out. 2016, you took no prisoners....except for one. Sports...and guess what? Sports won.

Sports put up a fight, one of its very best in decades. Sports showcased epic victories in our heartland (NBA Finals and the World Series) on our homeland (Ryder Cup) and internationally (in Rio) that should not be overlooked. Records and droughts were broken. Honestly, LeBron James should not have been named the Sportsperson of the Year. I wish Sports Illustrated had given the honor to....sports. 

As written by the editors of SI, 
Every month, it seemed, unlocked a watershed moment, bigger and more dramatic than the previous one, a sort of Russian nesting doll in reverse. Who, last January, would have been so bold as to predict that the Cubs, a team from Cleveland and a 5,000-t0-1 long shot in England would win titles? Other shocking events—the Olympic excellence of Bolt, Phelps, Ledecky and Biles, a record tying seventh NASCAR title for Jimmie Johnson—bolstered the argument for this being the Greatest Year in Sports.
So if you would like to change the tone of your New Year's celebration beyond resentment, despair, anger, or fear, I'd like to suggest raising a glass to the following great moments in sports. Please post and share your own!
  1. NCAA Men's Basketball Championship Game: Villanova d. UNC. With 4.7 seconds left on the game clock, Kris Jenkins to Ryan Arcidiacono to Kris Jenkins for three and the national championship over North Carolina.
  2. When Madison Bumgarner defeated the formidable right-hander Jacob deGrom of the New York Mets at CitiField, San Francisco Giants fans truly began to believe that maybe—just maybe—a single player could bring another World Series title for the 4 time in 6 years. MadBum led the Giants in their only defeat of the Chicago Cubs in what became a 13-inning game that lasted at nearly seven hours. I kept thinking of my brother, the biggest Giants fan I know who remained awake at 3:00 a.m. to see the finish. Ultimately, Bumgarner did NOT get the win in that game and we know who did not win the Series. That being said, much of America was happy for the Cubs, or suddenly became Cubs fans. The outcome of the Presidential election seemed to rain on their media victory parade. That being said, over one million people attended.
  3. Ryder Cup, Hazeltine, MN. Though 2016 wasn't one of the great years for men's golf—Spieth had an epic collapse at the Masters, the finals of the US Open (which I loved) was fighting for time with Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and the PGA Championship faced one rain delay after another, the Americans took the Ryder Cup title by a definitive score of 17-11. Some folks don't like the trash talking and ardent emotion of match play golf. Golf purists are uncomfortable with etiquette on vacay, but I loved seeing good golf. The competitive spirit was alive and bumpin'. Great job Team USA!
  4. Klay Thompson drains a 3 in Game 5 of the Western Finals. As written on NBA.comwhile Klay Thompson added 27 points as Golden State sent the best the best-of-seven series back to Oklahoma City for Game 6 on Saturday night. The Warriors trail 3-2 and are trying to become just the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 deficit. Thompson's shot that rocked Golden State's world, singlehandedly changed the momentum of that game. The Thunder did NOT want to get on that flight back out to the Bay Area. History proved why. I'll keep silent about the next chapter of this story...a different team, who also came back from a 3-1 deficit.
These are but a bit of my favorite moments from sports in 2016, and there are literally hundreds more. There are folks who left the game: Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Peyton Manning and David Ortiz among others, and those who left us (again, future posting). I do not want to deny that 2016 has been incredibly challenging. The world has seen some dark days—too many—but for all our readiness to put 2016 in the books, I urge you—before you do—raise a glass to the miracles that unfolded before our eyes. Thank you sports.

Photo Credits
Simpsons

LeBron
Nova

Thursday, December 22, 2016

A Season for a Sport

I live in a place that does not really have seasons. Born and raised in the Bay Area, our Mediterranean-like climate is mild and pleasant most of the year. Given that I grew up in the East Bay, I am no stranger to the heat (LOVE it), but now that I live in San Francisco, I find myself unfamiliar with what so many Americans love: winter, spring, summer or fall. Most folks in SF would say our four seasons are clear and sunny, foggy, Indian and rainy. That fourth season was on a stay-cation elsewhere for the past four years. He or she rested well...and is back with a vengeance.
As a sports fan, gaining a sense or understanding of an alleged season is equally challenging. I almost did a double take when I read that the final football game of the 2016 high school season took place this past weekend. High school sports however are not the grand perpetrators. I give that honor to hockey and basketball. Don't get me wrong, baseball now runs into near snow during the October/potentially November classic, but honestly nothing goes longer than those two indoor sports. It seems that I just finished watching the Cavs take the title from the Warriors, only to anticipate the latest rematch on Christmas Day.

So, the purpose of this blog posting is to give each season it's appropriate sport. Love it during its scheduled time frame and then make room for the beauty of the next quarter
I'm so happy I saw Cousins play....

Winter: The short days and long nights are made for indoor sport. Although it would be hard to bet against athletes who play on ice—literally...not metaphorically—I'll take basketball for $500 please. Both boys and girls play (yes, girls play hockey, but not at higher levels) and the sport is tremendously spectator friendly and aesthetically pleasing: basketball players fly. They dunk, nearly leaping over tall buildings. I love the rhythm of the game, the sound of a swish, and what happens when I team swings, defends, and carries out a masterful play.

Recommendation: if and as possible, attend your local NBA team's final home game before Christmas. I have done this twice now, and it's hard not to delight in the holiday spirit. This year I went to Golden 1 Arena, home of the Sacramento Kings who beat the Portland Trailblazers 119-113. A myriad of fans dawned their yuletide gear for the Ugly Sweater night party. Santa hats abounded. The team's dance crew who always look, well, really good wore Ms. Santa goes sporty and sexy. The captain of the Kings' wished all fans a "Happy Holidays" and you could tell that all in attendance were ready for the break. 
As a sports fan, I believe the atmosphere is secondary to the contest, so it was a real treat that both were tremendous. This match up, even with nearly 60 fouls was exciting and came down to the final minute. DeMarcus Cousins dropping 55 points on the night was the gift that every Kings fan was happy to receive. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good game!

Spring: I waffled back and forth on the better of two spring sports. My final decision? Golf.
My favorite contest to watch in all of sports is The Masters; the first of the four golf majors takes place in early April—the heart of spring. And, Augusta National is bursting with the sights and glory of the season: blooming azaleas and lush green grass. Those spring days grow longer by the minute. With each day of the tourney we see ever more of a sky that must have prompted Crayola to christen a new color in its honor: sky blue. At the Masters, you might see all 64 of those colors in action.

The US Open, my second favorite tourney (I'm not a purist in preferring The Open above all) takes place at the tail end of spring. With its Father's Day finish, it can't take credit as a summer sporting event. I love that the US Open highlights different courses, both public and private throughout the country. I also love that my own club has hosted it five times and will host the Women's Open in 2021.
Recommendation: People always ask me how one can/should watch golf in person. It's not a spectator friendly sport. I wish it were, and even though I know a whole lot more about golf than when I first attended my first major (2007 US Open at Winged Foot), it's still difficult to feel a part of the action. Therefore, it is best to go with low expectations. Who you attend the event with is particularly important; it helps to enjoy their company. If you are able to watch with another patron who is familiar with the course do it. Have a beer or three, bask in the sun and the surrounding natural beauty. Sit for extended periods of time on a hole of your choice and watch the players come through. You will see great putts, players getting out of trouble they have no business either being in or getting out of effectively (and they do) and if you're lucky: a hole in one. 


Summer: Players may refer to the dog-days of summer, but as a fan...and a school teacher this season afforded me to time to enjoy America's past time for what it is. Baseball is a sport without a clock, it's a truly American game. It's 162 games a year and one of the few still affordable professional sporting events. Yes, spring training has an attractive energy about it. I attribute that to the virtue of hope: the dawning of a new year, a fresh start and doing so in the season of spring is hard to deny, but the days of summer is the longest....and the hottest. I think back to this summer when I attended a Washington Nationals game at night with my brother. I started to sweat; I was thrilled. Warm summer nights are the best.

Sportscaster Bryant Gumbel has said Other sports are just sports. Baseball is a love. And it's not a stretch to equate summer with love. I vote to include baseball into that equation.

Recommendation: Watch play-off baseball. It's just so good. In no other sport is the gap between the regular and post-season competition so pronounced. And, because there are fewer teams in the playoffs (although many more than in the past), it's exciting to get a taste of each.

Fall: Fall is for football; a point that is not even open for debate. I know several people who identify autumn as their favorite season...and that's because of the pigskin. Many Americans associate football with their high school or college experience. As a Notre Dame alum, I didn't realize until after graduation that we do not have a homecoming game; each of the six home games serve as homecoming for Irish alum who live throughout the country. 


When this long season finally draws to a close and I get a glimpse at a team's highlight real, I am amazed at the dramatic changes that take place not on the gridiron... or in the locker room, but in the background. The first games are in the blazing sun. Players and fans are wearing but a single and thin layer. Quickly however, the sun loses its grip. It makes its appearances as a pleasant force...lighting the way, helping folks before the shadows take over. Midseason, football confronts its first of any given weather pattern e.g. a hurricane. By the end, you find games in sleet and snow in one part of the country and frozen tundra in others. I don't know how the coaches and referees do it. 
Recommendation: At some point, you have to experience an extreme weather game. Though it's not entirely possible to plan for any such contest, my recommendation is this: You hear it's going to rain? pack the right gear. There's a threat of a wind chill factor below zero? pack hand-warmers and the best gloves you can find. Long underwear is a must and so is a flask. There is something to be said about surrendering to Mother Nature. Let her have her way; it's not worth the fight. Instead, think like a Marine: Semper Apparatus and enjoy.

In Closing: I was hoping that the players and owners in MLB would vote to contract the season to 154 games. Being that professional sports is a business—and a lucrative one at that—to play fewer games means fewer dollars from television rights, and sales of tickets. We don't live in a time or place where "less is more." But, I believe these seasons that extend for nearly six to eight months of the year can't help but detract, rather than add to our love for the game. Maybe I'm wrong...but those people who live in places with four seasons of the year have a distinct appreciation for each one. They anticipate the new and say farewell to the old with ambiguous feelings....much like we do with sports.

Enjoy your given sport during its assigned season. I will allow for the play-offs to commence at the END of your given season, but they cannot hijack or extend to the length of the next one.

Photo Credits
Four Seasons
Kings' Ugly Sweaterness

Augusta National

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Response to the Story, the Legend: Catholics vs. Convicts

When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. —The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
Please note the acid washed jeans

If you've watched You Don't Know Bo: The Legend of Bo Jackson you have seen those words. If you have made sense of this "30 for 30," you understand how they capture the athletic career of a man who many believe is the the best athlete the world has ever seen. And if you see the latest in ESPN's series: Catholics vs. Convicts, you gain a sense of this quote's true meaning: story, sport, spirituality. However, this holy trinity offers more than a legend. It reveals an important lesson: Don't let the truth get in the way of a good story. When it comes to this 1988 contest between the number one and two football teams in the country, you don't have to.

Much has been written about this once storied rivalry. Once again, it has been told and retold—not because the story changes, but because we do. I would like this blog posting to be a reflection on some of my observations in the nearly 30 years since a game—billed as Unfinished Business—took place.

Kids today
We say it and hear it all the time. A gripe and complaint I'm guilty of uttering quite often. Kids today don't do x...In my day, I never would say y....Young people are unwilling to give z. But Catholics vs. Convicts sheds an interesting light onto the Fightin' Irish football team in 1985; one that epitomizes our fears about today's generation.

Jerry Faust was the head coach at Notre Dame from 1980 until his resignation in 1985. During that era, players asked for shorter practices. The 1984 team voted three times whether or not to go to a bowl game, because the outcome of the first two polls was in favor of not going. Three times!

Knowing that Notre Dame often draws crowds throughout the country, they are a much sought-after team for a bowl appearance. During some years, given an anemic record, I have wished that we did not play in one. As my dad assured me, this is a flawed mentality. The importance of playing a bowl game—whether its the Rose, Sugar or what not is that your team gets an additional month of practice. Furthermore, if you win that game, it builds momentum for the following season. 
proof that the momentum changed...
Knowing that this team wanted shorter practice, did not seek post-season practice confirms two things:
  1. the words of Miami defensive back were true— the fight was no longer in the Fightin' Irish
  2. before we think kids today are that much different, it's wise to reconsider....
That being said, it's important to note the Notre Dame team that faced Miami in 1988 was different. They sought perfection...and earned it: a 12-0 season

Three Questions: The Relationship between Coach and Athlete
Tony Rice and Sweet Lou. Perhaps ESPN should create a "30 for 30 short" about these two. The story of how Rice came to Notre Dame is a great one, but it is best understood through three questions.

My first weekend at Notre Dame, Coach Holtz addressed my entire freshman class and our parents at a convocation for the Class of 1996 in the JACC. He said that players had three implicit questions about a new coach—the same questions the coach has about players. He added that they are valuable in any meaningful relationship—professor to student, among roommates, etc. They are:
  1. Can I trust you?
  2. Are you committed?
  3. Do you care about me? 
The story of Catholics vs. Convicts is evidence that those three questions were not philosophical ones for either Holtz or for Rice. They were not heady or esoteric. They were grounded in that relationship between coach and his quarterback.

Tony Rice said, "The Lord is my shepherd but Lou is my coach." I have a strong suspicion—were he asked—that coach Holtz would have said, "The Lord is my shepherd but Tony is my QB." Love both you guys.
Emotionality
If you had asked me to identify the quarterback in a line-up of these so called "Convicts" Steve Walsh is the LEAST likely face, name or persona you would ever imagine. One of several respondents, what I appreciated learning from this tall, athletic, tough and smart athlete from Minnesota of all places is what he described as the "emotionality" of the game. I had never heard that word before....but even watching this contest 28 years later, the emotionality is self-evident.

The raw, sheer emotionality of football is one of the many reasons I continue to love this game. I'm not sure there is a sport that reveals more of it than football. It prompts me to consider "What is the emotionality of baseball? Describe the emotionality of golf." Thanks Steve.

Speaking of which, after the Irish lost to Texas A&M 35-10 in the 1988, Coach Holtz noted that only one player was crying. He said, "it was a player who didn't even play in the game or all year (the 1987 season)." Who was it? Chris Zorich, a nose tackle who emerged as one of Notre Dame's greats, one of the toughest athletes I have ever seen. Period.

Holtz challenged his team by telling them, "this is the only type of player I want on my team. Those who care...who are seeking much more." The emotionality of both Zorich and Holtz is exactly what my colleague and friend John, who is also our head football coach responded to in this "30 for 30." He said "you can give me all the talent in the world, but when you coach kids who care? It's a totally different season."  No wonder Coach Holtz has Question #3. 


Guts AND Glory
A respondent to Catholics vs. Convicts: The Story Behind ESPN's Shirt of the Century, wrote "
As much as I despised Jimmy back in the day, I always respected that he went for two and didn't settle for a tie." Being on the winning side of history, maybe it's easy to agree, but in the program Johnson admits "we didn't come to South Bend to leave with a tie." Another player adds, "we were the number one team in the country, we needed to prove that." Most likely, today's game would offer another chapter, entitled "overtime." Instituted in 1996, overtime would determine—who knows?—another winner? Certainly a different score. Regardless, one of the key players who prevented Miami from winning, might not also be in today's game....

It's hard not to love many of the respondents, both blue and gold as well as orange and green in this 30 for 30. Heck, I even had a strange and newfound respect for Coach Johnson. #shocking. And the diversity in their personalities, insights and athletic abilities reveals another reason we love football—it has room for a spectrum of them. While Miami running back Cleveland Gary and Irish cornerback Todd Lyght win an award for "best looking today," the lynchpin...the difference maker in making this story a legend is Pat Terrell.
His imitation of Lou Holtz is priceless—primarily because he is at the expense of so many of his jabs. To see Holtz—a 5'8" 140 lb man in coke bottle glasses— control the destiny of Terrell who came to ND as a quarterback, was moved to wide receiver and graduated as a free safety is nearly implausible. But he does...he did...hearing Holtz's lisp and all. I think about highly recruited athletes today. So many of them—too many of them—transfer if things don't go their way. I'm so grateful Terrell didn't.

It's not hard to get a sense of Terrell's great athletic ability. And yet, the beauty of his athleticism is that it was coached to do other things than he may have thought and...it brought the Irish the glory (one interception AND the final play!).

Pat, I think you could go on a speaking tour. I'd be in the front row.

In Closing: For many years, I have had that famous "Catholics vs. Convicts" t-shirt hanging in my classroom. Just this past week, I took it down and brought it home. The "30 for 30" addresses the insensitivity of that title, our desire for more cultural sensitivity and a need to move beyond labels that is our America 2016. I know that I will tell that story...the legend a little less to my students, but if or should it come up, I'm happy to point them in the direction of the work of Pat Creadon, Pat Walsh, Joe Frederick and Mike Caponigro. Unfinished Business is replete
From the campus debut of the film: October 28. 2016. So happy I could tailgate with you Joe & 'Roll—creators of the shirt
Photo Credits
Tony Rice

Unfinished Business
Two Coaches
The Shirt

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

For Coaches of Winter Sports: 3 Gift Challenge

Dr. Timothy J. Cook of Creighton University has written, "teaching religion is arguably both a ministry and a profession." Agreed. And might I add...so it coaching. 
Athletes and sports fans can articulate with ease what the coaching—as a profession—entails. Coaches plan practices and workouts, construct plays and strategies. They work with the talent they've been given, hoping that the sum is greater than its parts. Coaching is a demanding endeavor. It's a profession where the bottom line determines how and when you are hired and fired. But ask an athlete or fan about the ministry of coaching an odds are, you will learn about the story of their season. They are integrated, for how a coach tends to the personal, emotional and spiritual needs of their athletes is but one chapter in that narrative. Coaches pray with and for their team. They give much more than their expertise or time; coaches give themselves—strengths, limitations, and all.

I work with but a few people who coach two sports in the same academic year; most of us don't know how they do it. I know there was a time when there were a few coaches who coached three sports (as far as school sports are concerned, there are three seasons). Like the three-sport athlete, these folks are a thing of a the past...albeit legends we still like to honor. 
Every sport and every season has its unique challenges and demands. I loved coaching cross country for many reasons, but one of them was not for the weekend invitationals. Selfishly, renouncing my Saturdays in the fall—read: college football season—was a huge detractor. That being said, I have always thought those men and women who coach a winter sport are the most selfless. They give up their Christmas and Thanksgiving breaks, the days are short and the nights are long. I honestly don't know how soccer coaches bear the rain and frigid temperatures. And still, I believe with every sacrifice, something else is gained.  Therefore, I'd like to believe that the holiday season is so spirited, maybe some of that holiday cheer bleeds into practice. If not, here's one way it can.

At the conclusion of the week, my golf team participated in a prayerful ritual known as "Thanks, Help, Wow." I got the title for this weekly practice from one of my favorite spiritual authors, Anne Lamott. In her book, "Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential PrayersDescription: http://ir-na.amazon-adsystem.com/e/ir?t=sportandspiri-20&l=as2&o=1&a=1594631298" she writes:
I do not know much about God and prayer but I have come to believe, over the last twenty-five years, that there’s something to be said about keeping prayer simple. "Help. Thanks. Wow."

This exercise is a revision of the gratitude circle and “rosebud/thorn” activity, and asks student athletes to say more than a high/low or word of thanks. I ask each of my athletes to share an insight for each, and decided to re-order the sharing in this way: Thanks, Help, Wow.
Thanks: What are you grateful for this week? What happened at practice? At home? School? In your life that you want to thank God for giving you?

Help: Who is in need of our prayers? Who needs God’s help? Is your mom sick? Does your dad need a job? Are you struggling with friend this week? Offer words of supplication to God.


Wow: What amazed you with joy and gratitude today? What inspired you on or off the field. What do you want to share that even might be difficult to put into words. Give it a shot. We all need more “wow.”

For Advent, I would modify this exercise in a fun and spirited way. It still invites personal reflection and sharing, but it also asks something of the athlete...self-awareness, honesty, insight, and a little homework. Though young people will disagree, homework is not a bad thing!

It's rooted in the "Four-Gift Challenge," a way of keeping the Christ in Christmas. I'm happy that it's gaining some ground. In her great wisdom, my friend Eileen amended this exercise and told her son that "Jesus received three gifts, so you will too." The three gifts are framed around a poignant theme: something you need, something you want, and something to read. How fitting...and here's a suggestion, Sports and Spirituality style. Student athletes will need to be informed about this sharing in advance so they can adequately prepare.
Something you want: What is a skill you would like to develop this season? What is a character trait you might be lacking that your sport can help you develop? What do you want for this team? Be specific. What do you want from your teammates? What do you want to give them?

Something you need: What do you need to get better? Do you need to stay more focused in practice? Do you need more sleep? Our needs might be funny: I could use six inches and 30 pounds of muscle, but encourage your athletes to identify and share a real need....one that might even be within their grasp. This will help you as a coach or staff to help your team.

Something to read: I sincerely believe that athletes and coaches mutually benefit when they study their sport; today, there is no shortage of material readily available to share. I can easily find several articles on how to hit a down-hill lie, a fade, a draw, etc.  Also, reading is a discipline; it is different than watching a video. The critical thinking involved, the time to process, another point of view might help an athlete develop what they "want or need!"  Reading need not be limited to tactics and technique; consider an inspirational article for the entire team to read and discuss. Don't just give....get! Assign seniors or captains to find and share their own material to disseminate and require the team to read. What a wonderful gift.

I have taught theology for the past 15 years. The demands of the profession are many...of the ministry, even more...ever more. Though coaching may be a little different, the opportunities for ministry—those too are ever more. Whether you coach soccer, basketball, wrestling, indoor track, downhill skiing or weight-lifting, I hope your winter season goes well and your break, even better. Peace.

Photo Credits
Jackson and Jordan

Four Gift Challenge
Great book!
Athlete in prayer

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Football Wins!

Not much about the Oakland Raiders has ever resonated with me. As written in the article "Fade to Black?" Austin Murphy writes, "All this leather and face paint! So many spikes, chains and skulls! It's as if Dia de los Muertos parade wandered into a biker bar, and they all decided to check out the underground Goth discotheque next door. If this were a movie, it would be a collaboration between Steve Sabol, the late cofounder of NFL Films and George Miller of Mad Max fame." So when a friend asked me if I would like to join her and two others to Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills, I might have surprised even myself when I gave an emphatic "yes! I'd love to go." 
On Sunday December 4, 2016 I entered into new culture...a place known to most people as Raider Nation. The official language they speak—football— isn't unfamiliar. Nor is their home turf. I grew up going to baseball games in the multi-purpose facility known as the Oakland Coliseum. In fact, my high school's football team played several NCS championship games inside the home of the number one team in the AFC. RAIDERS! Still, I felt a little bit like a stranger in a strange land.

As a sports fan it's not often that I am able to attend a game with little to no expectations. Too often, emotion, irrational allegiances, biases and heated rivalries get in the way. So as I hopped off the BART train, I realized I was able to spend my Sunday with eyes wide open. Wearing only silver and black, I realized any blinders I typically wear were not with me. Without them, I saw a lot, and felt even more. But I walked away thinking: today, football wins....especially when shared with family and faith.

Faith: Every time I enter the games at a sporting event, my adrenaline runs high. Therefore, I usually have a pretty good sense what is going on around me. Not on Sunday. As we were waiting to get into the stadium, my friend pointed out that the entire Carr clan was standing in front of us. Of course they were...every single one of them including Dallas—the three-year old son of Raiders' quarterback Derek Carr— was wearing his jersey.
I came to find out that Carr is a devout Christian in the article "Faith, Family and Football." The opening quote caught my attention.
“And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.”
—Hebrews 5:4
But one week ago, had you asked me who either Derek or Aaron is or was, I could probably muster a good guest. Literally one week later, I have a much stronger sense of both leaders.

Aaron makes the Jewish Master Story possible. The Israelites are freed from the bondages of slavery in Egypt because of a great leader: Moses. However, we often forget that Moses felt unqualified for the task. He implored the Lord, seeking an assistant. Aaron, his brother proves worthy and became a great prophet. He was called to serve in a special way, as was Moses...I would like to believe we are too. 

Many football fans are familiar with David Carr, Derek's older brother. Taken as the number one pick in the 2002 draft, he completed a successful 10-year career in the NFL. Both men have committed their lives to Christ. Their gifts and talents, which football fans revere are the ways they seek to honor God. 

I see something different in Derek Carr. I believe he would want me to...the honor is not for himself, but the Lord.

Family: My favorite sports cocktail involves an exciting game, sharing it with good friends who are also great fans. I'm not going to lie, warm weather OR an extreme weather condition (think Snow Bowl...Notre Dame beats Penn State in 1992) mixes well.

Sunday had all the right ingredients as I attended the Raiders game with two long time friends with whom I went to both high school and college, and one friend's lovely 12-year old daughter. Over the years, I think we have grown to appreciate and recognize just how special it is to have a friendship consisting of such significant, shared experiences. While they truly are family, they happen to be cousins, they feel like"family" to me, too. 

Although my own family isn't that big, I have always believed I have another family that is quite sizable. This family spans the country and ever more, the world. I usually see this family over the Thanksgiving break at Stanford or at USC for the last football game of the regular season. It's the Notre Dame family. Though I didn't go to the LA Coliseum this year, I did spend the day with other members of my ND family. And this past Sunday, after looking at both team rosters for any player from Notre Dame, I realized that the people I was sitting with were my friends long before we all traveled from the Bay Area to South Bend. Years later, we remain connected in Notre Dame, in football and much more....that's family.
This might have been one of my favorite moments in the
game. Cooper lept into the arms of adoring fans

Football: No time to mince words. I saw a great game. The Raiders outright WON that game. Down by one point at the half, they did The silver and black ran into the tunnel at halftime down by one point. They did not score a touchdown in the first two quarters, just three field goals. The Bills returned in the second half and the point spread only increased. But what was so memorable and exciting about this game is that is reported by Jimmy Durkin for the San Jose Mercury News. He writes
A 15-point deficit quickly turned into a two-touchdown lead Sunday and the darlings of the NFL extended their winning streak to six games with a 38-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills. 
 “We’ve been really good about staying the course and staying in the fight and finding a way,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “Today was another example of that.” 
In what seemed like a flip of a switch, the Raiders (10-2) showed the rest of the league just how dangerous they can be. Facing a 24-9 deficit with nine minutes left in the third quarter, Oakland scored 29 unanswered points and dominated each phase of the game to do so. 
 “We feed off each other, that’s for sure,” quarterback Derek Carr said. “You can always tell when someone makes a play, the stadium gets going, the momentum starts swinging.” 
It was the offense on Sunday that got it going in the right direction. Following the Bills’ second straight touchdown to open the third quarter, Carr shook off an unimpressive first half to lead a nine-play, 75-yard touchdown drive and the offense suddenly had its rhythm going.
I would like to testify that rhythm found its momentum; this team could not be stopped. Equal parts offense and defense led to 29 unanswered points. 29! God, I love unanswered points; it's such a strong statement. Those points were made possible by the efforts of incredibly talented athletes like Latavius Murray, Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree to name a few. I literally saw them pull the pigskin down from the sky, I saw another leap into the air as if he had springs in his shoes. They looked hungry and gritty. When they made mistakes, they regrouped quickly. They let Carr lead and the Raider machine took flight.
Sitting in a stadium that may not host this team in a few years, I thought about all the challenges that the game of football faces today: the NFL's leadership, concussions, domestic violence, the rising costs for fans, and more. I realized all of the problems and challenges aside: whether or not you have the worst stadium in the NFL or one of the newest and most technologically advanced (Levi's), quarterbacks who sit, kneel or pray, when the game is good, sure the scoreboard indicates that one team wins....but really, it's football that wins. On Sunday, football won....and maybe that's what fans really want to see. Keep the faith.

Photo Credits
D-Carr
RAIDERS!
Black Hole
Amari Cooper

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Friday, December 2, 2016

They Call Me "Coach"—Reflections on a Season

On Sunday morning, I woke up to see that Brian Kelly, the head coach of Notre Dame football was the number one person trending in my social media loop. The day before, Notre Dame Football completed its first losing season in nine years with a loss to long-time rival USC (45-27). The Fightin' Irish finished 4-8; they did not win two games in a row all season. My greatest wish for Coach Kelly— who I have grown to respect and admire tremendously in his six-year tenure is that he take some time to reflect back on this season—which I know he will do...but in a way that is prayerful and poignant. I don't know if he writes, has a spiritual director or a consigliere, but I sincerely hope that he has someone with whom he can unload his thoughts, concerns, regrets, hopes, desires, and more.
I feel like we saw a lot of this, the past season.
For the second year in a row, I coached junior varsity girls' golf at St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco. This year, we finished second in our league. When I got home from our final match, a tough loss to St. Francis, all I could do was find my bed. My roommate saw me and asked me how I was doing; I couldn't even answer her question. I started to cry. I was totally exhausted. Earlier, a parent said I should be out and having a drink to celebrate a good season. I couldn't move. In that moment, I realized I had given my team everything in me. It should have been a sacred moment...it could have been. And that's why I have to write about it. At the time, I emptied the tank...I had nothing left. Today, I see things a little differently. I'm sure coaches understand.

Jim Yerkovich puts such moments and the demands of coaching into perspective in his essay, "We: A Model for Coaching and Christian Living." He writes

If you ever doubt the significance of your role as a coach just consider as Father John Cusick invited coaches to do at a conference entitled "Coaching is Calling" in Chicago 1998, that apart from father or sister, "coach" is the only person in the school who is called by their title. He pointed out that students don't say "teacher" or "principal" but the coach they call "coach." Father Cusick reflected on what it was like after his ordination to suddenly have people calling him "Father." He felt good about the fact that people were giving him the sign of respect after all those years of preparation but also felt the sense of responsibility that went along with this title and role. Likewise, when our students call us "coach" this is a sign of respect, but there is also a great responsibility to be a positive influence in their lives.
I'm grateful that he named coaching as a calling. He pointed to the power of the position, one that people don't often understand. For example, what people to say to me about: a) coaching JV girls and b) coaching golf is interesting. I have been told that girls don't care about winning, I have been informed that the only thing that matters is that my athletes have fun and get along. I have been led to believe that I am a glorified van driver. Whenever anyone even tries to hint at that role, I say "not on my watch." I mean it. I take coaching seriously. I am a teacher and a coach. As much as I would like to try to separate one from the other I can't do it. So much in the same way that teachers are called to reflect upon their practice, I believe coaches should too. We have to....after all, we have a very special title. Here are but a few take-aways from this season.
1. The more you know about your sport and love your sport, the more fun coaching will be.
This should seem obvious, right? It is and yet I would like to reaffirm its value. I came to golf later in life. Though it's not a language I speak with the same proficiency as other sports, what I know every week, every month and every year is ever-increasing. This reality made coaching more fun and more worthwhile for my athletes.

I have always told my team that I am not a swing coach. I don't try to be someone I am not. I love it when they can help each other solve swing problems, but I aim to be a helpful voice. I design our practices, I determine what part of the game we work on week by week and I should—I spend a whole lot of time with this cruel game. I have surrounded myself with some outstanding golfers; men and women who truly love the game. They have been my teachers, my coaches and my companions. All that time and money I put into golf has only benefitted my golfers...and that development, both theirs and even mine has made coaching that much more enjoyable.


I would like to point out that Coach Brian Kelly would say, the more you care about your players, the more fun coaching will be. Totally agree. 

2. Befriend other coaches.
For mental health purposes, I believe every coach needs but one other colleague/friend—who is or has been a coach. I have kept sane by checking in for all of two minutes with my friend Haley, the head girls' field hockey coach, during our respective seasons. She listens to me as another coach. We speak the same language. Her challenges are far greater than mine—playing time, executing strategies, she is the head of a program, she is managing more girls, etc. She has never once made me feel like what I do doesn't matter or is of any less value. No wonder she's been Coach of the Year.

I've also realized we coaches understand one another, quite often, without even talking. During the height of our seasons, we can be maniacal. I remember looking over at our head football coach during our common planning period. As much as I enjoy chatting it up with him—and I aim to do so regularly—I realized that was not the time. He was in go-mode. The man has no free time. Coaches won't tell you that...but it's helpful to know it. 

In the 15 years I have worked at St. Ignatius, I have coached three different sports: crew, XC and golf. In that time, I have also befriended several of the other coaches in our league. We share war stories, exchange ideas, frustrations, challenges, and best of all, the sport itself. In the past, I ran with my two friends from St. Francis High School and today, I play golf with several of the WCAL coaches. One of my golfers loved to tell me, "Coach, the struggle is real." Agreed. I would also like to add "so is the bond." I am so grateful to have these coaches as my friends.

As much as fans wanted the defensive coordinator, Brian VanGorder to go...and all signs are pointing to the athletic director pulling the trigger, I have wonder how that loss affected Coach Kelly. I know they are friends; it's not easy to lose another coach mid-season.

3. Always put your best team out on the field.
Ah BK, this one's for you.....and I was reminded of this truth the hard way. We lost our final match because I excused one of my top golfers from playing. I regret my decision and though you can never blame one single team member, as the coach I take responsibility for not putting everything in place to win. I made an assumption about our opponent and it proved untrue.

Coaches know we can only control the controllables. Putting your best team in the game is certainly the first one at that.
4. Sometimes, the best song is silence.
So the van driver accusation has some merit to it. Because we are a in an athletic league with Catholic Schools, several of our opponents are in the South Bay. This year's golf matches took us to Milpitas and East San Jose followed by too many stops at In and Out Burger.

One of my golfers, armed with a portable bluetooth speaker played DJ for the 90 minute ride home. Though I really do like some of their music, by the time it was 8:00 pm and we still had 30 minutes in the van, I had nearly lost it. Please God, no more Rhianna. Girls would offer their next request and dedication about 45 seconds into the song currently playing. After hearing Lil Wayne for the third time, I said, the next song is silence. It was wonderful. Silence has never tasted or sounded so good....and then it was gone.Broken by Beyonce's "Halo," even I had to join in the singing, resulting in new heights of joy and team bonding.

When we finally pulled into the parking lot, one of the girls yelled out BEST VAN RIDE EVER! The truth of the matter is we won our match by one stroke against a tough opponent and the team played great. The music only their accompanied their enthusiasm for the team effort. As sweet as silence was, I'm glad they hold that memory.

For the record: the next van ride home was accompanied by the sound of the Giants' Wildcard play-off game. That may have been my best van ride ever.

4. Sometimes, when you lose, you lose
Every team faces a low point in the season. Ours came in the form of a crushing loss. We were defeated by over 20 strokes (in golf you take the lowest 5 scores of your 6 player team. We carry 9 girls and typically 8 girls play). The team that beat us was very talented so it was not shocking that we lost, but on that day, I asked my team, "Did you know that sometimes when you lose, you can still win?" They shook their head to say "yes."

I replied by telling them "today we lost and we lost. We came out here unfocused. From the start, our attitudes were abysmal. All I heard from the get-go were complaints—I'm tired, I'm sore. I didn't hear anyone talking about strategy. We have course knowledge, this is our home course. We had more of an advantage than we ever considered.  That being said, failure has been one of my greatest teachers. What I have learned from losing has made me a better athlete and coach. So let's leave both losses out here....what did we learn?"


Teachable moments like that one come about every season. I had to take a deep breath before my diatribe and frame my words carefully, so that message could be heard. 

Coach Kelly, I'm positive you had several of those conversations this past season. The fans will never know what you said, how often you had to say it and more. I'd love to know what worked...what stuck...and what you wish you had said.

6. Pray together
Probably my favorite ritual of this season—and we have a few—involved gathering at the end of year week to share a thought in the format of "Thanks, Help, Wow." I took the idea from title of a book by spiritual writer, Anne Lamott.

I loved hearing what the girls were grateful for: their teammates, the game of golf, the beauty of the day, a playing partner's positivity, psyche buddy gifts, making good contact, you name it. Those prayers were never hard to share.

Their prayers of "help" were very personal. I appreciated how seriously and candidly girls offered their hopes and fears. A prayer for help shows vulnerability: it's personal and yet its communal.


The prayers of wow, had to be the most fun. Girls would call out birdies...a near hole-in-one, one athlete's sense of style and her abilities. And wow! is just so fun to say...

The success of this prayer ritual is that it was what it claimed to be: both prayerful and a weekly practice. This was especially important because after my speech on losing and losing (see above), I realize it was time for "Thanks, help, wow." Girls were able to say a few prayers of gratitude. When it came time for help, one girl—whose twin sister is also on the team, said a prayer of help for her mom. The rest of us had no idea what these two girls were carrying on this day...this week... We grew silent and prayed for their mom. When it came time for "wow" the team just gathered in a warm, full and real group hug. The hug was the wow...and the prayer.

Every season brings it highs and lows, surprises and challenges. I'm grateful for it all...and the ability to know in victory and in defeat, "coach" is a worthy title.

I would love to read what Coach Kelly might say about Team 128. I know we lost a lot of close games. I know it's never easy having two quarterbacks. I know that people have very short term memories; he coached a team that was 10-2 last year. I truly hope for the best for him, his coaching staff and Team 129. Go Irish.

Photo Credits
A huge thanks to a team parent for our wonderful team shots!
Coach Kelly