Thursday, September 19, 2019

Blessing Fall Athletes: An Opportunity for Joy

In class, I asked my seniors if they were familiar with the theme song to 1981 Academy Award winning film, "Chariots of Fire." I went so far as to try to hum it out for them, only to encounter a sea of blank stares. However, much to my delight, this iconic melody was used to welcome runners, water polo, football, volleyball and field hockey players, golfers, coaches and administrators together for the blessing of Fall athletes. Over 100 athletes and their coaches, school administrators and teachers gathered at the statue of the Holy Family which stands at the heart of St. Francis' campus for this seasonal ritual. This simple time together proved to be grace. 
After welcoming us to this prayerful gathering, a teacher/campus minister/cross country coach called everyone listen to the words of St. Paul. 
Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win.Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one.Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing.No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.
The celebrant spoke about the music that gathered us together. He reminded us of Eric Liddell, the subject of Chariots of Fire's great message. 
I believe God made me for a purpose. He made me for China. But He also made me fast, and when I run I feel His pleasure.
He asked us to glorify God through using our gifts and talents. He reminded us that we too can feel the Spirit—feel God's pleasure in our own sport. He called us to remember those people who make our participation in sports possible; we prayed for health and well being. We offered prayers of gratitude for the gift of sport, teammates and coaches. The gathering concluded with the ancient ritual of anointing with oil. Powerful to see so many young people seeking this blessing.
After WCAL Match #1. Ocean Course: Olympic Club
I moved to the side and stood with my captain. Slowly but surely other players from the girls' golf team matriculated to where we were standing. One freshman, who arrived late asked if she could leave her clubs with us as she wanted this blessing. This simple time and space afforded for something I was not expecting: joy.

We joked that she should take her clubs with her in order to get those blessed. A player quipped, "You mean a spiritual exorcism?!" I followed by offering a terrible pun. "I have a friend refers to her clubs as "weapons of grass destruction." "Oh I get it coach..." they said...though not convincingly. (I suppose that term is a little funnier to those of lived through the first and second Bush administrations). One girl picked up the putter from this bag to check it out. Another pulled a hybrid and started practicing her swing, all while getting input on both her swing plane and the her grip from a teammate. I entertained a conversation on using a utility wedge for the bump and run. Another girl started riffling through the bag looking for golf balls. I said that was ok so long as she planned to use them to juggle. One girl took my words literally and showed us all how she could juggle three golf balls in two hands or two golf balls with one hand. The Dean of students walked over and said "no I mean juggle the ball like Tiger Woods." I have a feeling if you had looked at our team from a distance you would have seen what I felt. Joy. A gift of the Holy Spirit. A gift made possible by the Spirit we called on to bless us. 
I can't say I find joy every day with my athletes. We all have our moments. There is a lot of time together and we're asked to do some tedious and hard things. But I do believe the Spirit bears fruit. The result of hard work, giving your best, sharing yourself, using your gifts and talents in a common endeavor? It's not that complicated. It doesn't cost much, if anything. It isn't prepackaged or planned. No, it's organic. It's palpable. It's shared, not divided. It is joy. Thank you, Lord for that gift.

Photo Credits
@sfhsathletics

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Returning to Notre Dame: A Spiritual, Intellectual and Emotional Journey

Returning from Notre Dame after the home opener in football, I couldn't help but notice everyone posted much more than similar. near obligatory photos. Yes, we shared images of our view of the field—inside the stadium, the Dome in its golden glory and the early autumn skyline framing Touch Down Jesus. Beyond these iconic memories, however, I noticed my friends and classmates describe time on campus in a similar way. To some, it is their "happy place." Most reference it as "home." A friend told me it is my "spiritual homeland." I agree. Why?  To visit Notre Dame is to be nourished spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally—even 23 years after graduation. I hope others find that in their respective alma mater. I can however only speak to my experience. Here's how.
Spiritually: In spite of the fact it feels like a near pilgrimage to get to campus, the opportunity to return is always a gift. For the second year in a row, I returned in June (yay summer!) for the 2019 Play Like a Champion Conference. When I returned to the Bay Area, my real home I felt a little unsettled . My visit seemed incomplete. During morning prayer that week I realized why. I understood what was missing. I did not get a chance to pray at the Grotto.

The Grotto Beautification Project that began on June 3, 2019  made this sacred space inaccessible for several weeks. This prayerful place was fenced in for improvement to the main staircase and the installation of natural stone pavers/ new memorial benches. The necessary work of summer, however, reminded me that spiritual significance of the Grotto should never be taken for granted.

The Grotto is the spiritual center of campus. Students, faculty, alumni and visitors from far and wide go there to pray, light a candle, and lift their minds and hearts to God. Miracles happen at the Grotto. Prayers are answered. Peace comes closer. 

The reason I returned to campus mid-September is because I am now a regional representative for ND Women Connect and our annual meeting took place in the days prior to the New Mexico Game. Following one of our primary initiatives, "Campus to Career" the other leaders were piling in a car to return to our hotel. I said I was going to walk back; I wanted to visit the Grotto. Another woman asked if she could join me. There was nothing extraordinary or surprising about the fact the two of us, who just met the day before would opt to walk to this holy space, late at night. And what a sight to behold—the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes on a warm September evening—replete with the glory of lightning. My trip may have been complete in that moment.
love this student artwork inside Duncan Center
Intellectually: A friend of mine teaches "Ethics in Sports" in the Mendozza College of Business. Reading his course syllabus alone offered enough intellectual nourishment for a week. I encourage my students to pay attention to the details; occasionally I follow my own advice and fortunately, I noticed that I would be on campus the same day he was hosting a guest speaker—an alum who worked in MLB. The good professor did the right thing and asked his guest if he was ok with a Sports and Spirituality teacher sitting in on the session (NB: this is a good rule to follow). 

The generosity of this speaker is not to be underestimated. Not only did he welcome me into the conversation, he shared his professional story with candor, humility and grace. Out of respect to the professor and the speaker, I will follow the shared understanding that "what happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas" and keep the details private. What I would like to express however, it my sheer admiration for this speaker to impart the life lessons he did.

His journey from Notre Dame to MLB was compelling, his work ethic inspiring. Unfortunately, he made some bad choices and didn't get good advice. For the students to hear a message of this nature, one that is not your canned or rah! rah! Go Irish/We Got this!/You Can Do Anything/We are ND was jarring, important, essential and what an authentic education ought to provide. I am confident those students will not forget this class, the speaker, their professor and the importance of ethics in all of it.

Before class, I inquired about the demographics of the class—males and females, athletes and non-athletes. People ask me this same question all the time. The professor said he had a few basketball and football players as well as other athletes. He did not offer names or give specifics. Much to my delight, the quarterback walked in early for class and an outstanding wide receiver sat next to me. One day before the home opener and student athletes are doing what they are supposed to be doing: going to class. They are just like everybody else. I knew this, because I too was once a student who had class with high profile athletes; I just needed the reminder. Oh and it didn't stop me from saying "Good luck tomorrow, Clay."
Best small world story ever: Classmates in both preschool and at ND.
Emotionally: Returning to Notre Dame is a spiritual shot in the arm for countless reasons. Yes, this shot is spiritually and intellectually fortified but its emotional charge is strong. Why? I have always believed and still do: the best part of Notre Dame is the people.

To return to campus is to encounter old friends and new ones. Once it's out on social media that you are at ND, classmates and alumni can't help but chime in. "I am here too!" or "Call Me!." "We are tailgating in the South Lot, Pole 2." 


I make a point to meet up with beloved friends who work on campus. Football weekends must exhaust them, but they are forever generous in making a connection work.

This year, I had the blessed opportunity to meet 12 other outstanding women who also serve on the ND Women Connect alumnae board. We had 2.5 very full days of meetings and it was inspiring for me to learn about their unique stories, their ND experience, how their gifts and talents have been of use in their local chapters and what we can offer for our regions for the benefit of current female students—future alumna et al.


Leaving Notre Dame—that home away from home—is always bittersweet. I know however, I will be back...and when I return to this spiritual homeland Cheering Her Name, it will be with family and friends, old and new, ready for the opportunity to make new spiritual, intellectual and emotional memories—of the heart.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

"The Why" Question: Thank you Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff and Gary Woodland

I have received some form of the video clip featuring Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff's emotional post-match interview at the 2019 U.S. Open from no fewer than ten people. Whether my friends follow tennis or not, this exchange has the sports world buzzing. The question is "Why?" 
  • Are we starved for examples of good sportsmanship? 
  • Do we need a reminder that though talent and hype, poise and pressure lead us to see otherwise, Coco is just a 15-year old girl...and that is how a teenager in this situation really can and should act? 
  • Or as Serena and Venus Williams approach 40, are we looking...prepared....and now ready to embrace the next generation of female tennis players? 
What is your response? Why was this moment meaningful to you? Was it?

This Fall, I have given three different talks to groups of coaches, athletic directors, and parents and though the communities are different, the question I emphasize is not. I call it "The Why" Question. 
I started thinking intentionally about "The Why" when Gary Woodland won the 2019 US Open at Pebble Beach. After receiving his trophy, he placed a FaceTime call to Amy Bockerstette—a young woman he met at the 2019 Waste Management Open. Woodland hosted Bockerstette, the first person with Down syndrome to earn an athletic college scholarship, on the 16th hole and her unforgettable par was captured on video. It has since become the most widely viewed video of all time released by the PGA.



A friend asked me why he did that. At first, I thought his question was a ridiculous one. I said, "What do you mean—Why did he do that? It's the right thing to do? Why wouldn't he?" And then I realized, his question was a good question. Why DID Woodlawn make the effort, place the call and include one of his biggest fans in one of the biggest moments in his life. 
Fortunately, someone thought to ask.


This experience prompted me to think about "The Why." I want to know WHY my golfers golf. I think the should know why I coach, and—if they are interested—also why I play golf. 

Asking our athletes about "The Why" is a great way to start the season. 

I am at a new school and working with a new team. On the first day of practice I shared with my team why I coach. I have asked the captains to prepare a reflection on why they play golf and play for St. Francis High School. Over the course of the season, I will be giving other girls a chance to share their own thoughts on "The Why." 

I sincerely believe this might be one of the more important AND interesting things that we do. Why? Because the responses are revelatory, unique, surprising and inspiring. Some struggle to articulate "The Why" and that's ok. Quite often we do what we do without reflection or intention. Inviting a young person to consider his or her "Why" is an exercise in self-knowledge, wisdom and...dare I say it: gratitude.
I loved reading Osaka's WHY for including Coco into the interview. Chuck Culpepper of the Washington Post captures it well. 
“No, I mean, it was kind of instinct because when I shook her hand I saw she was kind of tearing up a little, then it reminded me how young she is,” Osaka said. She said she figured that “normal people don’t watch the press conferences unless they’re fan-fans,” and so, “I was thinking it would be nice for her to address the people who watched her play.” And: “For me, I just thought about what I wanted her to feel leaving the court. I wanted her to have her head high and not walk off sad.” And: “I feel like the amount of media on her now is kind of insane, so I just want her to take care of herself.”
Osaka's WHY reveals that, even in a moment of sheer triumph—she won the match handily in straight sets (6-3, 6-0)—she is not unaware or unable to see her opponent for who she is: young, overwhelmed by the pressure and disappointed. Furthermore and perhaps without knowing it, in seeing Coco she was able to see herself—who she once was and has been. Anytime we get a glimpse of that, we win....

I invite you to spend some time this season / this year considering "The Why" question. Ask others to do the same. Share your responses...and pass it on. Why not.