Tuesday, June 20, 2017

My Favorite Mistake: The Greatest Lesson I've Learned from Writing

I called to congratulate a friend who published a book. Anticipating the publication of my I wanted to know how he felt. "I can't help but see all kinds of mistakes," he said. I was surprised. Given what he could say about this life achievement, he honed in on something negative. I thought to myself what a terrible response—until I did the same thing. In sharing his sentiment, I wondered Why do we do this? What does it say about us? And if what we see in our creation are its limits and errors, why do we create in the first place?

I held my book for the first time (does it sound like a child or what? Labor does have a lot to do with writing a book too) at the NCEA Convention during Easter week. Upon first glance, I was thrilled. "Go ahead and judge mine by the cover," I said. 

I started flipping through the pages and rather than see my stories come to life or examples resonate their inherent truth, I only saw...oh boy....and then I thought...What happened here? ...oops....Why is that there? I frantically flipped to the end wondering how many more mistakes I might find. I left out an entire introduction to a chapter! There is no "about the author." Headings are misaligned, words aren't capitalized...yuck, yuck, yuck. I extended my arms in solidarity to my friend John on the other side of the country.

My disappointment stayed with me until I learned I could make changes with the second printing. Suddenly I had a goal! Let's sell this baby. But I knew too well, most people would see the first iteration. I had to come to peace with what I created; we all have this task.

I decided to try a Sheryl Crow approach and name my favorite mistake. I figured if she could write a song about one, I could blog about it. However, anyone who knows the backstory of this 1998 hit, knows that the song is about her relationship with Eric Clapton. Given his musical prowess and remarkably handsome good looks, I doubt this mistake is one that she really and truly wants to forget. And not much came to mind as a mistake I was okay with... until one did.
In September 2016, Bruce Springsteen released his memoir "Born to Run." A New York Times bestseller I have LOVED talking to people about it. Though about 70% of the story was familiar to me, I was not prepared for was how good Bruce is at writing. I was convinced he had a ghost writer. I figured the eight years it took him to write the book was a code for six years of editing to his two years of pen on paper. I was completely wrong.

I should have known that Bruce would be a respectable author given that he writes all of his own music. One might think that writing music and writing for the purpose of reading are different—they are not. As I write, I re-read my sentences...my ideas and my dreams. At my best, I read them out loud and on a regular basis I find myself almost counting the notes or rather, my words. There is a beat that I find. When I tune in, that melody underscores my entire message. It's a beautiful feeling to "hear" this type of music, or for Boss fans, it's a "Beautiful Reward."

Writing has its own cadence. It rhythm is reflected in the mood of the article or posting. It has an intro, a crescendo and a conclusion, there are pauses and rest, flats and sharps. Sometimes I don't even realize I have moved from one key into the next. Springsteen and the E Street band do this with every song and every performance. I know because I've listened for nearly 35 years. I believe because I have attended 23 of their shows. 

My Uncle Mark got to meet the Boss in Seattle,
He talked to him about...teaching ;-)
I have been holding this realization about writing and rhythm in my psyche until I read a message from my Uncle Mark. My dad's youngest brother, Mark is the man who is responsible for my love of Bruce. He wrote:
Anne, The two best books I've read this year are "Born To Run and Pray" and "Practice with Purpose." My favorite parts are your personal examples about your high school culture. Your writing is well-rounded (Muslims) and developed (incredulous research).  
I love the line, speaking of students/athletes, "Anytime you get them to be quiet they come to know their identity a little more."  Wow, that's a good thought to take forward. Also, "Time is a limited resource," when speaking of game time. Obviously it fits in with Bruce's coda about The River on the tour following, "Wreckin Ball." Waaaaa! (Ha, ha.)  
Loved, loved, loved, "Perfect should never be the enemy of good." This should be sent to Coach Salazar at Bellarmine Prep.  
Last night I just finished Ch. 78 of BTR. It amazed and bothered me the depth of Bruce's depression and how the book almost ends on this. Wow. He, too, obviously has some observations to live by. (I will have to write these down.) 
One night this late Spring after another not so good day I sat down with a beer(s) and realized, for me, the two most comforting books were yours and Bruce's. I still feel that way.
I read his words with tears in my eyes and wondered how I got so lucky to have an uncle like him. He has given me two incredible gifts: words of encouragement (throughout my life) and the love of music. 

Most writers will tell you to find your voice. They will expound on the beauty of finding and using that voice. They have to—writing is just too hard to not have these deeply satisfying, intrinsic rewards. But for me, it's not about finding or using my voice—it's about finding a rhythm. In writing and publishing "ray and Practice with Purpose," I have come to realize that I write 1). because I teach and coach and 2) because I have found a rhythm.
The stories I tell more often than not aren't even my stories. They are however stories that need to be told. I'm not even telling them with my words. No, the stories come into my life have already been written...they must simply be set for a rhythm for others to hear.

Through "Born to Run," and the love of my uncle, I come to realize "My favorite mistake" isn't the errors, the typos or anything negative about my book. My favorite mistake is that I thought Springsteen couldn't and didn't write his book. The error of my ways, help me to realize how his talent is in no way limited to writing music. 

His example, his gifts, his ability to tell a story move us to tears and to new heights because they have a rhythm that resonates with rock and roll. On a much smaller scale, I now know why I write....I encounter the stories, I live for them and through God's gift in me, I get to set them to their own tune. Next time you read, please pay attention to the rhythm—it's there.

A one, two...one, two three....

Photo Credits
And if you would like to order your own copy of Pray and Practice with Purpose, it is available through my website!

Monday, June 19, 2017

The 2017 US Open: A Few Riches Amidst An Embarrassment of Others in Sports

As a sports fan, I get asked quite often what is my favorite one to watch. I've got my answer down: I love Notre Dame football, Giants baseball, I enjoy a lot of high school basketball but really, my favorite is the PGA. This comes as a surprise to some people, but it's the truth. What is your answer?

My love of golf is palpable when it comes time for the four most prestigious tournaments in the sport—the majors. There's a spring to my step and joy to my world. For example, on Thursday June 15, I happened to be playing in a two-day golf tourney as the US Open commenced at Erin Hills. About three holes in, I turned to my caddie and said "I'm so fired up for the US Open right now." Maybe I should have been more excited about the round of competition I was in.....but on opening day, any one of the 156 golfers in the field has an equal shot at the championship. 

The 117th Open that took place for the first time in Wisconsin had its share of great golf and notable misses (from Phil Mickelson who sat out to attend his daughter's high school graduation to the top 3 players in the world who missed the cut). I would be lying if I told you I shed a tear when Brooks Koepka captured the win; I don't want to take away from his historic feat. Koepka shares the low scoring record with Rory McIlroy, finishing with 16 under par. The 27-year old golfer out of West Palm Beach completed his final round with an accuracy rating of 85% and hit 86% of all greens in regulation. No other golfer has ever been above 80% in both categories on the 55th-72nd holes. And yet, as I turned off the television and closed the chapter on the second major of the year, I was reminded that spectacular victories and memorable final rounds are never a given. 

As a sports fan I don't think I take great wins for granted, however there has been an embarrassment of riches in recent sports history. Although 2016 was a year that many people wanted to forget, last year was epic in terms of sports. And, from this year's Masters to the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, 2017 has not been devoid of them either. We have been spoiled, and we will be spoiled again. Until then, here are but a few ideas that this year's Open has has invited me to consider.

Rory with his father on Father's Day/US Open at Congressional 2013
A great Father's Day Tradition.
Is it just me or does Father's Day take a major back seat to Mother's Day? I am simply raising the question; please do not shoot the messenger.

That being said, I do love that the USGA honors golfers and their dad's on the day of the final round. Call is smart advertising, but I love the duo of this day for my dad and for golf. 

To this day, my favorite US Open was when Justin Rose beat Phil Mickelson at Merion (2014). I was a new member at the Olympic Club and took my dad and family out to brunch. We descended to the bar grill in the basement where we watched the final eight to ten holes. My dad who was allegedly stuffed from a fantastic meal, found room for two beers and the peanuts and pretzel snacks they offer. Why not, it was his day. Thanks Dad!

75% of the golfers on my team learned to play golf with or from their dad. On this day, I honor those men, for without them, I might not have the chance to coach their daughters. 

We need more great fathers in the world. I hope in some small way, that message is articulated even through the US Open.

Why is that okay?
About 10 years into teaching high school students, I struck gold. I found the perfect question for disciplinary purposes. 

A student was distracting me and his classmates once again. I had already confronted the behavior. I had given wait time for said student to stop talking and make amends. He didn't. Rather than lose it, yell or over react, I simply looked him in the eye as he was talking to yet another student and said "Why is that okay?" 

I repeated the question, "I need to know, why is it okay that you are talking right now."
"It's not," he said.

"Thank you," I replied. Matter solved.

Holly Sonders has been a golf analyst on both the Golf Channel and on Fox Sports. While there were four male commentators sitting in the booth and analyzing the tourney, Ms Sonders was standing and interviewing a few players after their round. I looked at her dress, did a compare and contrast with the conservative shirts, suits and ties in the booth, and looked at her again. Why is that okay? was my only question...my sole reaction.

Her dress might not be appropriate for clubbing later in the evening, but I'm not convinced it was appropriate for golf either. 

I understand that Fox Sports was covering the men's US Open. I can comprehend why there are far more men narrating the tourney than there are women. But I cannot understand why Juli Inkster who played on the LPGA since 1983 was heard and never seen and why Holly Sonders, was seen and heard much less. 

The littlest of things can delight us
Rickie Fowler wears orange and white on Sundays to honor his alma mater, Oklahoma State. Perhaps you noticed what was not necessarily a clash of colors, but just a whole lot more of it on and around the 9th ranked golf player in the world during the Open. Fowler had his caddie Joe Kkovron carry a green and gold Cobra golf bag to honor the Green Bay Packers. Great call in the land of cheese heads Rickie.
Wisconsin's own native son, Steve Stricker had an outstanding performance at Erin Hills. Though 50 years old, he shot the same score in today's round, a 69 as the 23 year old Jordan Spieth. What I love about Stricker isn't just his surname (we've got to be related), but the fact that he has a female caddie. That's right. There's no need to discriminate on gender. A caddie must know the game, take good notes, make astute observations and be encouraging. That person for Stricker is his wife, Nicki.

Springsteen fans yell out BRUUUUUUCCCE! at every show. Matt Kuchar is developing fan calls that rival the Boss'. Have you noticed? KOOOOCH may also be giving Steve Kerr a run for the money as another man who has no enemies. Kuchar might be the most beloved player on the tour, which I can support. I swear it looks like he is smiling and enjoying every hole. How is that possible? Must be the fan support.
On Sunday, the final round, the absence of my favorite players forced me to reconsider who to cheer for. Always a fan of Rickie, I hoped he would win his first major. Second on my list was Justin Thomas, simply because he went to St. X in Cincinnati, a brother Jesuit high school My third and final hope was in Patrick Reed, and here's why. According to Golf Digest,
"Captain America," as he's known to fans, broke out the team trousers for Round 3 at Erin Hills, and they do seem to have brought him good fortune today. He shot a 7-under 65 for a share of the lead and a shot at U.S. Open glory. 
Unfortunately Reed did not post the memorable round that he did at Hazeltine, but I still treasure the riches from the US win (another great sports moment in 2016). 

For those who live in and around Erin, WI the 2017 US Open can't help but be memorable. Extending hospitality to the golfers and patrons from around the world is a privilege and a blessing. For those of us who watched on TV, through highlights or reviews in the paper, the 117th championship doesn't stand out as extraordinary on a grand scale. But to love a sport, and to see athletes strive to make themselves, their competitors and the game better as I did over the last four days...well, that's priceless.

Photo Credits
Patrick Reed

Brooks Wins

Friday, June 9, 2017

What You Can and Can't Say About the Golden State Warriors

Half way through our conversation on Sports and Spirituality, Brian, an athletic director in Buffalo, New York wanted me to know how much he loves the Golden State Warriors. I am willing to listen to his tune 24-7, 365. Allow me to follow up with every cliche in my arsenal. I am on board with this team and appreciate it when others recognize how special this super team really is. 

Brian and I were kitbitzing loud and proud until he said "Can we say sweep?" His question was answered with silence. You could hear the pin drop on the other end of the line. "Anne? You there?" he queried. I said, "Brian, every last part of me wants to say "sweep," but there are things you can and can't say as a Warriors fan." Here's my list
What you cannot say: #Sweep
The reverberations of Cleveland winning the 2016 NBA Finals after losing the first three games were felt all season. The collective memory of the players, coaches, owners and fans is not short. Warriors fan cannot and should not say "sweep."

As many of my sports buddies know, I detest the cheer "We believe that we will win." I never say it; I never will. Fans shout those six words over and over, louder and louder, but I don't. I never do. Not until the clock is precisely 0.00 do I believe anyone will win. Victory is never a given. Again, look to the 2016 NBA Finals.

I'm totally ok with not saying "sweep." I will not bring my broom. Once bitten, twice shy (one of the more interesting cliches out there).

What you can say: I've Got Your Back
This is my message for the man who has no enemies, the head coach of the Dubs, can you hear the cheer from Oracle right now? That's right, after he is introduced Warriors fans yell his name in unison: STEVE KERR. I wanted to print out shirt that says I heart Steve Kerr (please insert emoji for heart/love). I believe that shirt will win. Kerr is da man. 

When he returned to coach Game 2 of the NBA Finals after missing six weeks, a friend poignantly asked Why would Kerr coach now? He added, "Coach Kerr has everything to lose. IF the fate of the team changes, he is to blame. Regardless, he gets the credit. Why do it?" 

At first I was annoyed at his question. Puh-lease. Coach Kerr has to be out there! I realized, his question however was a good question—one that I shared this question with a coworker and friend, who is also a coach. My colleague said—with total sincerity—one simple answer "the magis. Isn't that why we do what we do?" I don't know that I have ever found a better definition of or for the magis. 
What You Can't Say: The Real MVP
Should the Warriors complete the sweep, I truly believe we can no longer say that Wanda Durant is the Real MVP (even if it is trademarked). Her second born son, Kevin, has given this wonderful woman a whole lot of credit. We have loved him for it, but given his performance throughout the 2017 postseason so far, he really could, should and would be the MVP. The real one.

What You Can Say: A House Made of Klay
In the parable "Two Foundations" Jesus preaches the importance of a solid foundation.

Matthew's Gospel, he says;
“Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.”When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
But when we apply this parable to "Strength in Numbers" the official motto of the Warriors, we must consider the house that has been built on Klay—that's right, the other original Splash Brother, Klay Thompson.

From time to time, Klay can go silent—but that does not mean he isn't working, hustling, and playing what has carried this team so far: DEFENSE. Klay Thompson is unflappable, one of my favorite qualities in an athlete. He is quite possibly the purest shooter in the game. He has played a critical role in this franchise that has played in the last three NBA Finals. And, I dare say he has done so with the cool factor like no other.

It is no stretch for me to say the house built on Klay is a solid one. 
Can't Say: What LeBron has thought about...
I heard someone on my local sports talk radio station say "deep in your heart, you know that LeBron has thought about what it would be like to play for the Warriors." Bold statements and ridiculous speculations such as these are why we love sports. Of course those of us in Warrior-land would think that is true, why wouldn't we? #Bias

Sports fans, we are in for a treat in but a few hours. Quicken Loan Arena will be bumping with all the title defense energy it can possibly muster. I can't wait for the game to begin. Play Ball! (Can I say that when it comes to basketball???)

Photo Credit
Heck Yeah Coach Kerr

Strength in Numbers

Monday, June 5, 2017

This is Success: AMDG

Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote 
To laugh often and much; to win the respect of the intelligent people
 and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics
 and endure the betrayal of false friends;
 to appreciate beauty;
 to find the best in others; 
to leave the world a bit better
 whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition;
to know that one life has breathed easier 
because you lived here.
This is to have succeeded. 
I'm sure Emerson's poignant words grace many a graduation card; they should. With the conclusion of another school year and 375 new alumni of St. Ignatius College Prep, it's only natural to look back on the success of the past year....of those we shaped and formed...those who have left their mark and those we will miss.
At SI, like many Jesuit schools throughout the country we have a paradigm of success in a the Grad at Grad. This profile identifies what a graduate of our schools ought to be. There are areas of strength and always room for growth, but our mission is to educate the young men and women who enter the hallways at 2001 37th Avenue into the Sunset and shape them into men and women for and with others. They ought to be Open to Growth, Loving, Intellectual, Called to Leadership, Religious and Committed to Justice. These tenets remind us who we are. To be more direct, one could say they justify the cost of tuition. I like to think they are our raison d'étre.

In the past month, I have witnessed what we proclaim. In other words, I know we have succeeded. Here are but two examples.

At graduation, the administration confers the four highest honors in the school: the Loyalty Award, the Anthony P Sauer, SJ Award, the Valedictorian and the Ignatian Award. As written on the SI website, 
The Ignatian Award is the highest award our school offers. It is conferred upon the graduating senior who has consistently put the welfare of students above his or her own interests. This award winner is chosen from the graduating class for generous service on their behalf, dedication to the Gospel message, and devotion to the Christian ideals enunciated by the patron of our school, St. Ignatius of Loyola. 
Allow me to share what our Principal had to say about the 2017 honoree
This year's recipient is a humble leader and genuine role model for classmates and teammates. An honors student who consistently strives to do his personal best to develop intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually; this student has been a retreat leader, a leader on Student Council and an Eagle Scout. 
What sets him a part are his distinct passions which he has managed to develop and share these past four years. He has been on SITV, served as a Big Cat, and as a Kairos Retreat leader; he ran Cross Country, performed in the musical, and was in Speech and Debate. This young man's talents are many and varied because of his insatiable quest to discover and master new opportunities. He was a founding member and leader of our Robotics Team, a member of the California Scholarship Federation, and a regular at daily Mass in Jensen Chapel and still found time to complete over 897 hours of community service.  
He is a young man blessed with many gifts – he is intelligent, morally upright, and full of integrity; he is a leader and has touched our hearts and challenged our minds the past four years. His good-natured, outgoing, and winning personality, positive approach to life and learning, and genuine concern for those around him have earned him the respect, trust, and admiration of both his teachers and peers.  
Fr. President, ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure to present the 2017 Ignatian Award to Nathaniel Dejan.
Nathan who served as senior class president is known to his friends and even his teachers as "Sunny D." His disposition and personal demeanor is one of joy....yes, real joy. He is kind and positive, and lives life differently. I have to believe his faith has something to do with it.

A memory I will forever treasure of Nathan is the time he was recruited at the very last minute to join a modest group of eight students from SI, myself and another faculty member on the 2017 Walk for Life. He was the difference maker. Twelve students from Brophy accompanied us and Nathan initiated all the outreach to what became a band of brothers. His sunny disposition warmed up a cold day. He talked and listened to those we encountered on all sides of the issue. It's hard not to love life, all life, when you know Nathan!
But my lasting impression of Nathan will remain something I have never seen in the 14 years I have taught at SI. When Nathan's name was called for the award, all of his classmates stood up to applaud and cheer, channeling the joy he has always given to us. He hugged every administrator on the stage and when it came time to exit, he took off his motor board and bowed. The clapping and the cheering grew louder; my own eyes began to well up with tears....tears of joy. He walked off the stage and stopped, only to bow again. His example, his simple act of humility was just one of the great gifts he bestowed upon his classmates and on me. 

If we can graduate young men and women like Nathan—I have absolutely no doubt that we have succeeded. And as everyone inside War Memorial Gym can attest, we did. Again, thank you Nathan.

The Ignatian Award winner embodies a motto that guides our school, AMDG. I think we ought to add those words to the description. AMDG or "Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam," is the Latin motto for the Society of Jesus, meaning "for the greater glory of God." Truly AMDG is the hallmark of a Jesuit education, and perhaps our greatest indicator of success. I was reminded of the significance of this motto in my senior final presentations when a beloved student recalled the example and impact of Andrew Phillips as encountered in Sports and Spirituality

In my book, "Pray and Practice with Purpose: A Playbook for the Spiritual Development of Athletes," I noted that the trajectory of Sports and Spirituality forever changed in my life when the principal of SI shared me with the photo you see here.
In this two-page landscape photo ("Leading Off, Sports Illustrated 2012) Stanford football player Andrew Phillips embraces his teammate following an epic victory. Phillips has his helmet off, his eye black is smeared and inscribed on the athletic tape around his wrist are the four letters: AMDG.

Though all Christians are called to do what they do for the greater glory of God, those involved in Jesuit education share this philosophy in a very concrete way; AMDG is part of a shared lexicon within the school community and among who share the same tradition. AMDG is visibly promoted. Not only do students write those letters on their work, AMDG can be seen in religious art on campus, on printed material from the administration. And, after reflecting upon the image of Andrew Phillips, the leadership at St. Ignatius College Prep decided AMDG would be printed on every athletic uniform, too.
AMDG is not meant to be another decoration. AMDG is far from a marketing tool; the spirit of this motto should never ring hollow or untrue. Therefore, coaches are called to actively lead with AMDG in mind. Athletes are instructed to compete in a way that gives glory to God. They are reminded that sports is another way we can use our gifts and talents not just for personal gain, but as part of something much bigger than ourselves. Those letters are printed on team jerseys lest anyone forget.

The image of Andrew Phillips proves that some student athletes do not forget. Phillips wrote AMDG on his wristband four years after his from Georgetown Preparatory High School in Bethesda, Maryland. No one at Stanford, a non-religious institution would require him, or any a student athlete to wear AMDG. But Phillips did. Why? 

As I was writing the introduction of my book, I realized, I should just ask him. Phillips told me, 
The Jesuits taught me that everything you did should be done with the knowledge that your actions were giving glory to God. I always took a mindset as a player that my play wasn't just helping my team win, but as an expression of my talents it was actually a personal way of giving glory to my Creator. There was something very centering in my ritual of putting those letters onto my wrist tape, and my wife even surprised me by having AMDG etched into the inside of my wedding ring. Though I hung up my pads several years ago, the principle of 
Ad Majorem Dei Gloria is still something I use as a guide in my daily life.

I had no expectations...no idea how he might answer my question. Phillips words were not much different to me than Nathan's bow. Humble, joyful, grateful, and evidence of the magis. 

We will know we have succeeded in education, in forming young people of faith when they respond in a way that embodies our mission...when the people in their lives know the words and ideals that have shaped and guided them. Their success is our success, leaving an imprint on our hearts and in our minds. 

Photo Credits

Saturday, June 3, 2017

They Call Me Coach

Walking down Fillmore Street, I looked at the man standing in my path with a vague sense of familiarity. We made eye contact and I could feel my brain scanning its contact files to match a face and a name. Apart from his blue eyes and friendly demeanor, nothing stood out as extraordinary about him ...until, something clicked. I turned around and said what anyone in my situation should say, "Hi Coach." He smiled, and said "Hi there" and gave me the thumbs up. 

Steve Mariucci was the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers from 1997 to 2002. Mooch had great success in the NFL, finishing first in the NFC west three times and yet he was fired after a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Divisional Playoffs (My dad is still upset about it...oh and the Bucs went on to win the Super Bowl). Today, he is a analyst for NFL Gameday, but as sports fan can and should know, he will always be "Coach."
I love being called "Coach." I am proud of the fact that the school where I work, St Ignatius, has a tradition of referring to their coaches with that very title.When I coached at another high school, I was "Ms. Stricherz." In fact, I came to SI before I taught there and yet my rowers never even asked what they should call me, the precedent had been set. "Coach" is a title I take seriously; I know many other coaches feel the same. Our athletes do too.

In the 30 for 30: Catholic vs. Convicts, Tony Rice—the quarterback for the Fightin' Irish—said "The Lord is my shepherd, but Lou Holtz is my coach." I smiled when I heard his words; far beyond the documentary, I have a sense of the relationship that existed between this coach and athlete, and the entire 1988 National Championship team. Rice's words paint the perfect picture of what was, and remains true. Holtz was his coach then, and that's what he is to Tony Rice et al today.

In my book "Pray and Practice with Purpose: A Playbook for the Spiritual Development of Athletes" I wrote about the significance of coaching as a profession and a ministry. I said:

It isn’t uncommon for Americans to name a coach as their personal hero. Whether or not they are enshrined in national or local hall of fame, many coaches are icons, mentors, partners and friends. They are fascinating individuals. We admire them for their unique gifts, their vision, their passion and their success. But their success must be more than just wins; great coaches transform individuals into a team—a band of brothers and sisters, a family that can both play and pray together.

In the fifteen years I have taught in the Religious Studies department at St. Ignatius College Preparatory in San Francisco, CA, I have also coached three different sports: girls’ rowing, cross country and golf. When I leave my classroom and head to the coach’s locker room, I carry another attendance sheet, agenda and a different kind of lesson plan. According to the school schedule, students have six periods in a day. But ask any coach, and he or she will tell you there are seven. The places where we practice and train are much more than a classroom without walls, they are privileged places where young men and women are formed according to our values, with our school slogan or team motto as the guide.

Jim Yerkovich articulates coaching as both a ministry in his essay, "We: A Model for Coaching and Christian Living." Coaching’s import is so significant that it merits its own title. 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.

When I walk the hallways at school, in the eyes of many students I am a teacher. To others, I am a coach. For some, I am their coach. The relationship between athlete and coach is a special one. Much like teaching, parenting or pastoring, it is not without its challenges and demands. Being called “coach” is a privilege and an honor. It’s a title that demands many skills and abilities.

Seeing Steve Mariucci out on the street reminded me that being a coach is a critical component of a person's identity, one that remains long after a season—the wins or losses, the championships, defeats and even the firing. In that moment, I could have said "Steve" or "Mooch" or "Mr. Mariucci" but I chose the one I deemed most fitting in an instant. Based on the smile on his face and on mine, it was the right one...the best one. Thanks Coach.

Photo Credits

Holtz and Rice

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Move Over Lou Gehrig

As I exited my flight from Eugene Oregon to SFO, I thought of what a friend told me about her life in retirement. She said "I am the luckiest person on the face of the earth....besides Lou Gehrig." Considering that I spent Memorial Day weekend in Bandon Dunes, Oregon: four rounds of golf in four days with 20 dynamic woman who also happen to be outstanding golfers, I realized Lou Gehrig might not have anything on me. Here are but a few reasons that I am giving the late and great Pride of the Yankees, a run for the money.
1. The shoulders upon which I stand.
I don't know a Notre Dame without women. The only St. Ignatius College Prep I have worked at is co-ed (thank God, I love having both!!) and the Olympic Club I joined in 2013 has women and girls as members. However, I am also aware that a much different reality existed for many years prior to my experiences at said institutions. I have never taken for granted the opportunities I have and the community I am a part of because so many women (and men) worked tirelessly for the right to gain membership. Because of their efforts I am able to participate, survive and thrive at places that truly enrich my life.

The group with whom I traveled to Bandon Dunes—the Women's Golf Network— has been a significant force for inclusion and development of women's golf at the Olympic Club, an athletic club that began accepting women has members in 1993. Many of these women had to be outspoken, diligent, and resilient. It was never a given that we would get tee times or board support, opportunities and much more. The program that exists today is the sweet fruit of their labor.

The WGN seeks excellence far beyond golf. I am impressed by the WGN's efforts to continually recruit and retain more members. We have tournaments, casual play, on-going instruction and education. We travel, compete and most importantly we have fun. One of the group pioneers raised a glass to toast the leadership team who gives so much of their time and talent to make our group go. I had to raise another in gratitude for those who did so over 20 years ago.
2. The golf
Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, situated along the southern Oregon coast is considered by many to be the Cathedral of golf. Golfers travel from far and wide, near and far to hit these links—a word that is used too often in association with the game. Not all courses are links style, but in Bandon, they are. Whether or not a golfer prefers this style of golf course, the links in Bandon give the game of soccer, known as "the beautiful game" its own run for the money.

As my golfing buddies know, my heart (metaphorically) and back (literally) prefer warm weather golf. I came to Bandon having heard that you must be ready for all types of weather—the least common of which is sunny and warm. I packed accordingly and left my expectations behind. We were treated to the full palette of Bandon Dunes golf and weather. I froze my tail off, I felt my face and lips chapped by the wind, I was very comfortable in a skirt and polo shirt on Day 3 and exercised my rain gear on the final round.

The elements, the Pacific Ocean, the vistas, mammoth greens and range of elevation made for challenging golf but great golf. I had to dig deep many times...and I had to smile when I heard that the caddies refer to their job site as "BanDiego" on the sunny day we received. #Grateful.
3. The Index...of Improvement
I loved coaching girls' cross country for many reasons, but chief among them was the index of improvement. I knew, professed and believed that any girl who committed to training with our program would see results. The head coach worked tirelessly to plan workouts that were the perfect mix of speed and strength training; we kept our runners healthy and hopefully happy. Their times dropped and PRs—personal records—were achieved. 

In both track and cross country less is more; the same is true to golf. Golf is a sport where a negative is a positive (birdie is -1 on the score card, the eagle is -2).  And spending time on this trip, I have seen among the women I started with in the WGN, improvement in their game and on the scorecard. 
I love discussing with the other members what it takes to improve. I ask about their "training regimen." I look to the examples of some truly great golfers, hungry to discover what they do that has helped them improve....how they are scoring new PRs.

Cross country is much more of a team sport than anyone outside of it could ever possibly imagine. Thanks to the WGN and the women I know who truly love the game, I've come to understand that golf isn't that different.

4. The trash talk.
There's a good reason that dreams of my WNBA career came to a halt in in 7th grade (the year I stopped playing on a basketball team), I am a complete trash talker. Contact sports, like hoops, invite competitive jabber more than others. Let's be honest, it's just not easy to talk trash from the backcourt while playing tennis or yelling across a river or lake while rowing (Crew). Trash talking is not consistent with my belief in good sportsmanship, so it is probably best that I remained a competitive athlete in sports that inherently limit the temptation. Too bad....it's just so much fun.

At Bandon however, I was paired for two days with a caddie who brought out the best I've got. For example, I may have dropped an f-bomb on him for clubbing me up (translation: he doubted my power/ability to hit the ball far). Later in the round as he was telling another caddie about an NCAA golfer who blew a three shot lead on the 18th hold, out of nowhere, I said to him with a straight face and absolutely no affect "I wonder if her caddie clubbed her up too." It was the perfect riff. 

Usually trash talk is exchanged between opponents, but so long as it's playful I don't see why it can't be among teammates. It's purpose is to fire up and motivate an athlete. I got three skins out of this....musta worked!

5. The 19th Hole
I always notice the music that plays in the background at a restaurant, bar or in this case lodge. On Saturday night, my ears were treated to the Allman Brothers, a band I have loved since I saw them perform FIVE times! at the Concord Pavilion (where I worked in high school). I felt supremely relaxed as I was able to enjoy the long holiday weekend, the Oregon coast, and early summer skies with some classic Rock 'n' Roll. Later that evening, my sister told me that Gregg Allman, the lead singer and songwriter of the band died. She and I both love tributes and I will remain ever thankful that his music...his writing:  Midnight Rider, Sunny Day, Melissa, Ramblin' Man now frame my memories of Bandon Dunes as will the conversations I had later that night.

We are told to never talk politics or religion at dinner. And yet we are starving for conversation and true dialogue about issues that matter. I dare say this group is willing to go there, and I think it has something to do with the fact that we play together. When you recreate with folks, it's just that much easier to enter into a different kind of dialogue (or not!). Because I teach Religious Studies, I am an easy target for some big questions, friendly debate, challenging ideas and personal sharing. And, I am grateful to say that exchange was a perfect way to conclude our final evening. 
We discussed the sex abuse crisis, why people have left the Catholic Church, what they have as images of God and their admiration for Pope Francis. Honestly, these conversations are never easy for me. When people are hurt or angry at the Church, I listen. I must. I seek to understand. I know many of these stories all too well, and yet I also know each one is unique. True dialogue expects nothing less than for us to listen without judgement, to be honest in response and open to what is revealed. I also believe the most important dialogue I participate in is captured by St. Francis who said, "Preach the Gospel at all times, when necessary, use words."  I try.

In Conclusion....
The late A. Bartlett Giamatti, philosopher and commissioner of Major League baseball wrote in "Take Time for Paradise: Americans and Their Games," 
Sport is an instrument for vision, and it ever seeks to make the common—what we all see, if we look—uncommon. Not forever, not impossibly perfect, but uncommon enough to remain a bright spot in the memory, thus creating a reservoir of transformation to which we can return when we are free to do so.
Four rounds of golf in four days, 20 talented golfers and one outstanding game... I maybe transformation isn't that far away.

Photo Credits
Thanks to the Babes of Bandon photo sharing!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Strength in Number 35: Why I Love Kevin Durant

One of the more interesting Sports in the News presentations in Sports and Spirituality was the topic of Player Loyalty. A group of four young men, all Golden State Warriors fans, questioned the ethics of building a super team. They raised questions like: Is it okay for a player to leave a team or city to pursue a championship? How does that change if they're leaving for more money? Does it? And to what degree does a player have a relationship and some sort of commitment to a city?  Given that relationships do not run one way...I would like to know To what degree do teams and owners in particular have a loyalty to a player? Do they?! 
Student artwork at St. Ignatius. Some kids think it's creepy...I love it.
The reason we discussed and debated "Chasing Rings" is because the hottest team in the San Francisco Bay Area is on the *winning* side of the issue. On July 4, 2016, the Golden State Warriors signed Kevin Durant, a free agent out of Oklahoma City. And like Dubs fans everywhere, I'm glad he did. Kevin Durant is my favorite Warrior. 

I am sure the tenor of this conversation would be much different in OKC or in Cleveland after LeBron headed south in 2010. Some of my students' claims were interesting e.g. I think it's selfish for any city to want to keep it's players only to have another student admit that he would break down and cry if Steph Curry got traded. A day later I asked him if he would take a bullet for Steph. "During the play-offs?" he asked...."maybe." 

The timing of this conversation maintained relevance as the Yankees retired #2 for Derek Jeter, a player who spent his entire career in one city, with one team. Meanwhile, back in Oakland—a city that will only be the home of the Dubs for but one more season—this super team steadily and easily made its way to their third straight Finals appearance. The opponent will be the same...that's right, hit repeat on the 2015 and 2016 series and we shall see what unfolds. "LeBron has never played better in his life" But what facts and stats won't let you forget, as much as he would like for you to, is that Kevin Durant is in his first NBA Finals since 2012. Here are but a few reasons I love him from the lens of Sports and Spirituality.

1. Closest thing to a 7-footer
Athletes are defined by their stats: height, weight, wing span, vertical leap...the list goes on. It's more than safe to say a given number of them are inflated. I would like to stand next to Isaiah Thomas to see how he and I match up. I have a sense that he stands 5'9" on a very good day. However, there is no need to single out the Celtics star point guard for I don't know a single player in the league who doesn't do the same...except for one Kevin Durant. Listed at 6'9" that is a lie. He's 7'0" or  rather a bit shy of it. 

I love what this indicates about who he is. In a culture and a league that up-sells, here's the guy that remains understated.

2. His ball-handling skills baffle me.
The fundamental skills of the game: dribbling, shooting and passing among these professional athletes has to be exceptional, and it is. Still, I often view the game through the lens of position oriented view: guards bring up the ball, forwards rebound down low and inside. But that's not true when Durant is on your team. When he first became a Warrior, I was surprised to see how often KD dribbled the ball up the court, swinging it high and low only to cut inside, dribble and shoot. He handles the ball with ease and with efficiency (even at 7'0"*). Why? I friend told me that KD played guard for many years. He had a growth spurt—about 6" in one year's time—and transitioned from one position to another. Those ball handling skills didn't go away...he adjusted them to his new frame and it's a joy for us to watch, and his teammates to handle.
3. Mom, Wanda Durant remains the Real MVP and a model of...
It's hard to miss Kevin's mom. Loud and proud, Wanda Durant stood court side to congratulate her second born son after the Warriors claimed the West. Dressed in a bright yellow skirt to reflect her loyalty, she looks like the inspiration that she is,

Aristotle said there are three requirements for humanity to acquire virtue(s). They

1. must be taught, 2. practiced and 3. we need role models. Resilience is a wonderful virtue and I dare say a popular one. We want young people to become resilient as they navigate the rough waters of adolescence into adulthood and beyond. 

Ms. Wanda is a good role model for what resilience means.  As stated on the mailer for the Support Circle event, "Durant, lovingly known as The Real MVP is an inspirational speaker who propels women, single mothers, and children to follow their dreams and set life goals. She is looking forward to sharing her upbeat message of resilience with us on April 12." Those of us lucky to hear her speak have a much better sense of what this virtue is all about, how to develop it and why it's worth having. 

4. His hero
Speaking of role models, I encourage all people—young and old—to have them. Maybe you refer to these folks as heroes or mentors. The need for examples of people who use their gift and talents AMDG for the greater glory of God never wanes. The Catholic Church recognizes this in naming holy men and women as saints. In sports, we honor certain athletes by memorializing them with an award or entry into a hall of fame. But I'd like to let people in on a secret I always consider when I think about my heroes: I want to know how THEY admire. Who do my role models look up to? Who inspires THEM. 
When I learned who that person is for Kevin Durant, I admired him even more. Is that possible?! The article, "You Can't Give In: Monty Williams on Life After Tragedya must read mentioned in this blog posting revealed KD's special relationship with Monty Williams. Chris Ballard writes: 
Durant, who worked with Monty for a season in OKC, says, “He’ll hate that I say this, but he’s the best man that I know. And that’s no slight to my dad, my godfather, my uncle or any coaches that I’ve had.” For Durant, lots of men have tried to fill the role of mentor. Most had lots of advice; few wanted to listen. Fewer still shared the hiccups in their own life. “Monty listens, allows you to vent,” Durant says, “but then he’ll bring you back in and keep it real with you.” 
Which is why when Durant needed advice last summer, while trying to decide whether to sign with the Warriors, he called Williams. A man most recently employed by the team he was considering leaving. (Williams didn’t try to sway him: “The only way I could help was to say, ‘Look, don’t let anybody else make this decision for you. Your family or your boys or your shoe company. It’s your decision.’ ”) 
Says Durant, “I was on the phone with him the second I made the decision, right after, right before. A lot of people keep their mind in this basketball bubble and he looked at the whole life. He was there for me as a friend first.”
5. He gave the Bay Area the best 4th of July...ever.
I don't know that gift giving is a part of Independence Day, but all Warriors fans got one on July 4, 2016 when Kevin Durant signed with the Dubs. I remember exactly where I was when the ESPN update came through on my phone. I was watching the 4th of July parade with my brother and nieces in Danville, CA only to have that ESPN ring tone followed by a deluge of text messages about the acquisition. The buzz in the air about the strength in numbers now was as loud and bright as the fireworks we saw later that evening. 

I suppose our freedom is the gift worth celebrating on our nation's birthday, but Kevin Durant signing with my team? Yay America!!!

Photo Credits