Tuesday, November 28, 2023

What we see and don't see: Lessons Learned from a Coach Kerr's Clipboard

Have you ever had front row seats? Have you ever sat court side for a game? I think the closest I've ever sat to the stage was in the second row for a George Strait concert or five people deep in the pit of a Springsteen show. I love, let me underscore, love being so up and close and personal. It's as though you're consumed by the sight, the energy and the intensity of what lies in front of your own eyes. But yesterday, I was reminded sometimes, you have a better vantage from the back. Sometimes, you can see more from afar. It's also possible that when you look at what's in front of you, you lose sight of what's behind or in back of you—both literally and metaphorically. 
Oakland Coliseum, 2013
For the past two days, I have been teaching in a classroom that is not my own. The teacher assembles her desks differently than I do and as I sat in her desk—located in the back room—I realized that though students don't see you, you see them...and everything they do. From this perch, I was reminded that perspective changes everything.

In the same classroom, I picked up the clipboard that the TA uses to take attendance. While I should have focused on the roster clipped to the front, I was more interested in the message taped on its back: Ten Rules for Sportsmanship. And, as someone who uses a clipboard for both teaching and coaching, I thought about my own clip board—and the messages I send—again, literally and metaphorically—from it.
Coaching XC. Crystal Springs. Love this memory and runner!
The clipboard helps me do what I do, for the benefit of my students or athletes. I use it to get to the information I need, the notes I want to review, the work out plan and more. My audience only sees me looking at what I will use for them, but I started to wonder what else do they see when I use it. 

I believe an important question for every teacher and coach to pose it what messages are we sending both directly and indirectly to those who sit in front of us. What else are they learning, doing, achieving and striving toward when we stand in front, beside or behind them?

I realized that Steve Kerr's clipboard says a lot. Whether it's chipped, broken or complete, he is always giving his players a message. That's just one reason he was awarded Coach of the Year in 2015.

One of my favorite stories from the Warriors 73 win season was told by the unanimous MVP Steph Curry about Coach Kerr and his clipboard. With the team up by but a few points late in the third quarter of a game against the Sacramento Kings, Kerr called a timeout. 
The team did not execute the play as practiced and in the process of explaining how the team failed, Kerr broke his clipboard. Curry admits he had a hard time holding back his laughter. "Here we were, the number one team in the league and Coach Kerr is coaching this game like it's the NBA Finals." With or without his clipboard, no one questions how much Steve Kerr cares. His became material for the Warriors "silly fines kitty," as written in the article "Joy Ride: On the Road with the Warriors." 
  • Kerr breaking only a small corner off his clipboard during a halftime rant in January. "Kind of weak-ass break," Green says. "At least break it in half." Kerr: "It was defective!" (Fine: TBD)
No doubt Kerr sent a message in breaking his clipboard. And his team sent one right back in "catching another Dub committing a Silly Fine for which he must contribute between $250 and $500 to the kitty. When the kitty gets big enough, there’s a half-court shooting contest. Winner takes all. Everybody gets a chance—equipment guys, trainers, even reporters. Except for Curry, who recuses himself. Unless everyone else misses."

Maybe coaches and teachers ought to start their own kitty....

We should consider what messages we are sending verbally, in writing, and by our example. Whether it's the clipboard we carry, the place where we sit or the spot where we stand, cognizance, awareness and appreciation of what our students and athletes see and don't see is worth pursuing. Ask them. Invite their responses. Inquire about their perspective. Break the clipboard if you have to....it shows that you care.

NB: I started this post on 7/18/16 and never finished it. There was some great material here. Had to finish the job!

Photo Credits
The Boss
Steve Kerr

Monday, November 27, 2023

Life in Five Senses: Stories of Celebrity Sightings and C-Mac!

The blog post Life in Five Senses: Two Stories of Voice Recognition, asks you—the reader—to determine if you have ever voice recognized someone? I recommended bringing it to your Thanksgiving table (or next social gathering). Any good stories out there? Perhaps an easier question to ask a group is Who is a celebrity—an actor or athlete, musician or model, politician or person of import they have seen in public? In other words, name a someone famous you have recognized in person. My sense is that a few good stories will follow.

In the same way that Americans have rules for what constitutes visiting all 50 states, I have mine for a bona fide celebrity sighting. For one, it must be unexpected—nearly spontaneous. If you weren't paying attention you might miss this auspicious encounter. Furthermore, it ought to occur as part of every day life. For example, seeing Aaron Rodgers with Danica Patrick at Tahoe Edgewood during the American Century Classic Golf tourney does not count. Nor does playing Blackjack next to Travis Kelce at Harrah's that same weekend. Who plays in the tourney is public information. Who pays in the casinos...well that is too. But let's use the Kanas City Chiefs tight end as an example.

As much as I love these gatherings, this tourney doesn't count for celeb sightings.
Listening to this story on KNBR this morning got me thinking about vision and sightings. It also reminded me of the joy of those encounters. As written on NBC Sports Bay Area,

Christian McCaffrey and Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce have only faced each other twice during their NFL careers, but that didn't stop the 49ers' All-Pro running back from spotting the star running back in passing while the two were in New York City.

McCaffrey shared a hilarious story about this chance encounter with Kelce during an interview on the "B Scar TV Podcast," hosted by his former Stanford teammate Brennan Scarlett.

"Fun Travis Kelce Story," McCaffrey told Scarlett. "I've met him twice. One was in passing over the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. Just like a, 'Hey, what's up, man?' The other, I was in New York. I was picking out Olivia's [Culpo] ring. I was in New York by myself. I'd taken the train from Rhode Island to New York. So, I get off at Grand Central Station. I'm sitting on the corner right there. By myself, I'm looking for a cab because I'm going to the spot- I blend in well, I'm not like a get-the-black car- I'm taking the train. I'll get in a cab and get to my destination just fine. 

"It took me a while. I'm in New York. It's busy. I'm standing on the side of the road, and all of a sudden, I hear, 'C-Mac! C-Mac!' I was like, 'What the hell is that?' That's when Travis was shooting SNL, so he's riding in the car, he's in the back of a black car, and he rolls the window down, and he's like, 'C-Mac! C-Mac!' And I was like, 'Yeah!' And that was it. That was the only other time I've ever met him. Ever since then, I'm like, 'That's the coolest guy ever.' I knew him as much as someone I'd only met once. So much energy out of the window, I was like, 'I f--cking love that guy.' Great energy. Authentic, that's who he is."

And what I love most about this story is how unexpected the event was was to both Christian and me/ the listener. Hearing C-Mac relay this memory, I CAN picture how he would blend into a crowd....The people involved, the place it happens are not entirely unlikely but they are unsuspecting. That's what makes sightings a surprise.

I associate most surprises with something positive, but that might not always be true. In the airport in Belfast, my mom and I saw Ian Paisley. A loyalist politician and Protestant religious leader from Northern Ireland who served as leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, in the 1960s Paisley led and instigated loyalist opposition to the Catholic civil rights movement in Northern Ireland. That being said, I suppose he is my only celebrity sighting of that tenor. Do you have one too?

I have fiends who have a penchant for seeing people—famous people, semi-famous people and the rest of us—out and about. Their vision fascinates me. Over the years, I have learned and leaned into the power of peripheral vision. I tried to pay better attention and eliminate distraction. I've also learned to trust that vision. My gut instinct is usually on point. For example, this summer I walked by the professional golfer Tommy Fleetwood at Wimbledon. That sighting was confirmed and made sense, given that the British Open began but four days later. Therefore, here are but a few of the other sightings that count.

  • Walking down my street in San Francisco, I have seen Joe Montana and his wife Jennifer, longtime Giants outfielder Pat Burrell and former Niners head coach, Steve Mariucci. 
  • I have exited the PGA Superstore in Palo Alto only to ask Steve Young if he was getting ready for Tahoe. 
  • Right after telling my friend's brother that my golf club doesn't really have celebrity members, I invited him to turn his head to 4:00. Barry Bonds was walking behind us. Just the home run king. NBD. 
  • I've wished Steph Curry good luck before his round and gotten the shimmy shimmy from him after yelling nice shot (he was walking toward the green above where I was standing on the fairway). 
  • My friend Cort and I have attended two US Opens together. At LA Country Club, he introduced me to former Irish quarterback Jimmy Clausen and at Torrey, I got to meet Niner GM John Lynch. Clearly he has one eye on golf and another on those around us. #Grateful 
  • There are plenty more—Festus Azeli, Patrick Beverly, Seal (the musician) but my all time favorite sighting was recognizing Michael Keaton in a tiny pizza place in Mt. Lebanon, PA. As a student at Notre Dame, I did not come home for Thanksgiving. Instead I traveled to the Fronduti home outside of Pittsburgh, PA. I went to use the bathroom in the back of the restaurant and I realized I just walked by Batman. I asked the waiter if that were true. He said "Bruce Wayne, indeed."

Sight and and vision are essential components, core to the curriculum of Sports and Spirituality. The athlete must hone in and never lose sight of the ball. In the spiritual life, we are called to pay attention, to see and take notice of the ways God is at work in our lives. I profess the words of the Nicene Creed with conviction. I believe in things visible and invisible. We can learn to see both. 

How did Travis Kelce happen to see Christian McCaffrey? Why does it even matter? The fact that this story has been told and shared suggests why. We are known. We not invisible, even if we think we might be. We are meant to see and be seen. I would argue, it's a spiritual exercise. Give it a go.

Photo Credits
Kelce and C-Mac
Tommy Fleetwood

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Mindfulness: Worth Teeing Up

Words, names, places to travel, even root vegetables trend in an out, up and down. Ask your friends and colleagues for examples of each. I think kale and sweet potatoes are past their peak. I hear kalettes and broccoflower are on their way in. According to Forbes, Sardinia Italy is tops for 2024. The following questions arise: Does this mean that time, or a new house in Whitefish, Montana is on the way out? Will I still have at least three girls names Sophia and four boys named Jack in my classes in the future? And what will replace mindfulness in the years to come? Hopefully, nothing. How? Why? I hope it's here to stay. 

Mindfulness: Still Trending

To me, mindfulness is a word we hear often, but what does it really mean? I know it's a key concept in the PE/Wellness course required of all ninth graders at St. Ignatius College Prep. #Mindfulness is still trending. And this section of the bookstore (since I still frequent those!) has not slimmed down. I imagine we all have our own path toward understanding and appreciating mindfulness. I found mine through golf. Though some golfers might find this ironic as golf is such a demanding, exacting game—I found it helpful.

In the USGA Golf Journal reports 

Mindfulness isn't just a buzzword, it's a life skill—one that can help you enjoy the game more. 'Mindfulness is a quality of awareness, in which you consciously block past or future interpretations, judgments and fears from affecting the present moment,' said Sharon Salzberg, author of 'Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and Change the World."

Rather than allowing a bad hole to blow up your found, apply the practice of "letting go," Pause, take three deep breaths, say to yourself, I'm starting over, and...let it go.
This is equally important in golf as it is in life. Ask me to name three things which might need letting go, and I can give you thirty. Where should we start? Grievances, shoulds, should nots, numbers, and much more. You can list your own.

Mindfulness however calls us to live in the present. No wonder Salzberg also suggests learning how to "return." 

If you catch yourself thinking about that report you have to turn in tomorrow, gently say to yourself, Not right now. Doing so exercises the letting go muscle, which per Salzberg, "allows you to return to the present moment quicker and with more grace or clarity." 

Let go. Return. Repeat.

If mindfulness is still beyond your grasp, perhaps this example from Olympic Club golf columnist, Gerry Stratford will help. In "A Sojourn" he writes,

I suppose that I am a sojourner on the golf course, and therefore need to cherish not just the 20 minutes that it takes me to hit the ball 80 times, but the full four hours or more that I spend in that special place. 

I occasionally go for a walk in our neighborhood with my wife, and she sets a brisk pace. With long strides and swinging arms, we get terrific exercise, but I would prefer to saunter.

Hal French once explained to me that the word saunter probably derives from the term "saunterer," which was once applied to the traveler in the Middle Ages who was en route to the Holy Land (Sainte Terre). And, if a golf course is in a way our own Sainte Terre, should we not reflect on what is there around us? Not the distance traveled, but the place where we are in the moment. The shots already made are history. They are gone. The ones to come are not yet here. They are beyond our control. Neither of them matters in the moments in between.

All that we really have now is the present, and if in this moment we hear the call of a red-tailed hawk from high in a cypress tree, feel the wind on our face with a taste of fog, or see a rainbow in a bright blue sky, we should savor that. And then, when it is time to feel the slope with our feet and imagine our target line two balls to the right of that beckoning hold, be fully in that moment also.

Mindfulness teachers us to reach out, to become aware of our surroundings. To not be distracted by our recollection of someone's latest swing tip, but just to be the fall and fly with it on its journey home.

This excerpt from "Tee to Green" invites us to consider our own Sainte Terre. Where can you be present? When do you savor the moment? What helps you to become aware of your surroundings? And when you are, what do you see? 

The practice of mindfulness need not be a passing trend. It need not be esoteric or even unpractical either. It's as simple as letting go, returning and making time to saunter....

Photo Credits
Tee it up
Mind Map
Here and Now

Saturday, November 25, 2023

Here Come the Irish: Over the Mississippi and Through the Redwoods—A Thanksgiving Weekend Tradition

"Over the River and Through the Woods," is a Thanksgiving poem written by Lydia Maria Child. Although the stanza actually says,

Over the river, and through the wood,  

To Grandfather's house we go;

the horse knows the way to carry the sleigh

through the white and drifted snow.

since 1844, Americans have changed the words to fit their holiday travels. Growing up, we would sing "over the Bay Bridge and through the Caldecott" and we meant it. Thanksgiving was spent at my grandparent's flat at 35 Ashbury Street in San Francisco. Today, it's wherever is most convenient. Regardless, holiday travel presents it own set of challenge and adventure for many— but not for all!

I've long lived the reality of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." I respect that my brother watches this as part of his Turkey day tradition. But now that I live close to my parents and where I grew up, I don't have to travel. That is a gift. But, sometimes the best gift is when family travels to YOU. 

The effort to purchase a plane ticket, pack up, and put yourself in another time zone is not for the faint of heart. To me, having visitors—friends or family—come from far (and near) is a bonus. But for the past 20 years, there's been a double bonus—my Notre Dame family, the Fightin' Irish football team comes to Palo Alto to play the Stanford Cardinal. 

People ask me if I plan on attending the game. I've always found this question a little baffling. How could I miss this? Seeing my team requires me to travel but 45 minutes down Highway 101. The Irish have come to me (not specifically...obvi ). I am grateful.

The Legends Weekend Trophy: Waterford Crystal atop a Redwood Base

Every other year, my Thanksgiving weekend is characterized by these visitors. It prompts other questions such as Who's in town for the game? What gatherings will surround the game? Where is the team practicing?  This year, the flew in on Friday and did not practice. Where are they staying?  The Marriott in San Mateo. What will the weather be like? Sunny and not a cloud in the sky. What time is kick off? 4 p.m. What are you bringing to the tailgate? Fireball, what else?! Who will win? Irish are favored by 21 but one never knows. Will ND fans sing "I Will Always Love You" to Sam Hartman out west? I'm willing... and able.

In my blog post, The Three F's of Thanksgiving: Family, Food...and Football?! I asked the question: When you think of Thanksgiving—is "football" one of the three F's that come to mind? I cannot say otherwise. It is about family—my own family and the Notre Dame family. Football is a significant reason we come together and today, this Thanksgiving weekend why they came over the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, through the Redwood forests. Let's take it to the House Irish!

Friday, November 24, 2023

Cookies, Cocktails, Food and Fasting: A Holiday Challenge

There was a time when people woke up in the wee hours of the morning to get their Black Friday on. With e-commerce available 24/7, I wonder how many Americans head out the door to knock out the proverbial Christmas shopping list. Instead, maybe they're hitting the gym or pounding the pavement. I know I ate enough carbs to fuel a marathon. While I did not wake up with a food hangover, I went to bed in a food coma. Black Friday is now a day of personal reckoning. HBU?

With the holiday season in full swing, I said to myself, I can't feel this way for the remainder of 2023. I don't want to wake up in the new year with diabetes. The sheer amount of Christmas cookies and cocktails, snacks and seasonal treats has me thinking I need a game plan, a positive approach, a path toward "better than yesterday." One thought came to mind: intermittent fasting. 

If this catches you by surprise, it should. That's so 2018, right? According to The Fasting Cure Is No Fad, "Fasting is one of the biggest weight-loss trends to arive in recent years. Endorsed by A-list celebrities and the subject of a spate of best-selling book, it was the eighth most-Googled diet in 2018." But fasting shouldn't be dismissed as just another fad, and that is what intrigues me most.

Michaelsen argues there's a logic to intermittent fasting. "Fasting can contribute to brain health and happiness." It can help with "an array of chronic conditions and when combined with exercising can spur distinct inccreases in the best known nerve growth factor, BDNF and might even be effective in preventing the recurrence of cancer." Wow.

Sports and Spirituality views (intermittent) fasting as a timeless discipline—relevant to both domains. For example, as Michalsen writes, "fasting overcomes an instinctive need in a way that gives us physical and mental strength. As a practice, fasting is more than simply restricting calories or nutrients. For many people it is also a spiritual experience. Over the course of our lives, we encounter many kinds of deficiency, whether of money, success or affection. Fasting is a conscious renunciation, a controlled exercise in deprivation. That's why successful fasting increases self-efficacy—we overcome an instinctive need in a way that gives us physical and mental strength."

What a thoughtful way to think about entering into the Advent—a four week period of preparation for the nativity of Jesus Christ at Christmas. It is challenging to live the spirit of Advent given the abundance our consumerist culture promotes, starting November 1...long  before Black Friday! Rather, Advent is about waiting—patient waiting—and reflecting on how we can prepare our hearts and homes for Christ's birth in the world as it is today. And let us remember—Advent comes to a close on Christmas day. Joy to the World!

So why not enter into this time before Christmas with a different mindset, not to mention a physical and spiritual discipline? Give (intermittent) fasting some consideration. Try it on for size. Let me know what you think.... Happy Holidays!

Photo Credits
Kettle Bell Snowman