Sunday, March 29, 2015

Inside the Notre Dame Men's Basketball Locker Room: After the Loss

Obviously, I wasn't inside the locker room after Notre Dame's heartbreaking 68-66 loss to Kentucky in the Elite Eight of the 2015 NCAA Men's basketball tourney. I haven't watched a single video recap or read any reports, but, I can tell you what was said and what happened. Maybe you can too.
With 6 seconds to go, and ND down by 2 points, Grant takes the shot....
Coach Mike Brey told his players he loved them.
People have said to me far too often the past two weeks that "Notre Dame isn't a basketball school." Well, seems to me that we have a basketball program and a very strong one at that (our women's team have played in the Final Four four times in the last five years). And the type of program that ND has is one that develops players over three-plus years time. We are not a one-and-done operation.

I believe Brey said this because when you work with student athletes, for what is a considerable amount of time in their young lives, you come to know the absolute best and worst of them....and they in you! You bring them into adulthood, and that is never without its share of squabbles, mistakes and disappointments. That's hard stuff. Today, a lot of those basketball players transfer to another school...another place where they don't have to work it out or work through it. 

But I think of Jerian Grant who lost last season and came back even better this year.

A coach has the unique and special task to lead, guide and inspire. They're supposed to, and when they do, a coach becomes a witness to growth and hopefully transformation. 

In the postgame interview, Brey said "we emptied the tank tonight, and that's all I asked them to do before the game." When your athletes do the one thing you ask and work together in the way the Irish did last night, you can't help but fall in love with your team. 

I think it has to do with working toward a common goal. It's a byproduct of demanding thirteen guys to lose the sense of self for the good of the other. When they do, love—what may be the most powerful force on earth—is what you are left with. How could he not tell them he loved them...??
Demetrius Jackson will be back next year...
There were a ton of tears.
I know this for a fact because I have read about it countless times in personal essays and heard it in small groups on retreat from my students. I've followed up with them on this personal sharing. While a few think it's silly, most of these student athletes admit to how hard they cried. I'm glad, because I also know that the locker room is one of the few places young men in particular are free to openly weep. I was struck by what one of my students wrote. He said,
Throughout many experiences in life, I have denied myself from showing my truest emotions. Recently I attended the funeral of my former lacrosse coach. During many moments throughout the service I felt my eyes begin to "well up." However, I refused to cry as I was surrounded by the rest of my team. At that moment, I felt completely unable to show my true emotions. Even though I knew I was not the only person emotionally distraught by the service, I still did not have the courage to cry openly at the funeral.
In championship play, an athlete leaves the competition physically and emotionally spent. Considering how close this team came to taking down the number one seed, how could they not cry?

The players, in particular captains Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton gave speeches..and each one included a common word: gratitude.
Notre Dame's Athletic Director confirmed what any fan already knows: this team was successful and special because of its senior leaders. He said, 
Leadership. Student athlete leadership. For all our sports it's the delta from year to year. You could have virtually the same guys back. You go to the NCAA tournament one year, the next year you don't. All you really lost were the student athlete leaders. It’s so important in college athletics and when you get it right it's magical. And we had it as right as you can get it this year with Jerian and Pat. That's when you see it. I can name other great leaders while we were here but it's the difference maker.
It's easy for me to say that they thanked their coaches, families and each other, but the point of this posting is to offer what I must. As a Notre Dame alumna, it's impossible for me not to say "thank you." I'm sure that's true for other Notre Dame alumni, Irish basketball fans and those who bet on you in the tourney. Thanks for the joy and excitement. Thanks for sharing your gifts and talents. 

The scoreboard may have said you lost, but this season and its memories confirm something much more. As Eric Liddell said: To win is to honor Him...and her—Our Lady, Notre Dame.

Photo Credits
Final Shot
Demetrius Jackson

Monday, March 23, 2015

Why Be a Basketball Coach: Look to Mike Brey

I am one of five people on a committee to hire the next head boys basketball coach at the high school where I teach. In the middle of March Madness, I have often wondered "why would anyone want to be a head basketball coach?" 

A basketball coach is under scrutiny like no other. The gym floor is a giant fishbowl. Unlike the other *higher* profile sports (football, baseball and maybe soccer) we see but five athletes in action at one time. It's amazing what one can see when perched 10 feet above athletes who are quite recognizable (from the bleachers that sit at an angle mind you), isn't it?! 
Coach Mike Brey came to Notre Dame from the University of Delaware. He has a great story about going to Rehoboth & getting the call for the job...
Watching the number of high school, collegiate and professional games that I do, I am amazed at just how many people believe they know more than the coach. They know better on any given play what should go down. However, I have yet to see their applications for the job. They are being accepted until the end of the month...

Mike Brey has been the head coach at my alma mater since 2000. He has been heavily criticized for his inability to take teams "to the next level." In seven post-season appearances (including this year), the Fighting Irish have played in the Sweet Sixteen but two times. Perhaps Notre Dame fans are barking a little less this week...and they should. Why? Not only did they defeat Duke and UNC to win the ACC Championship, but reading about Coach Brey in the Chicago Tribune revealed to me the personal sacrifice he has made for this group.

It also shed some insight into why men and women often seek the job he holds:
  • They have been shaped by other great coaches.
  • They have a life coach.
  • They are unselfish—they know that the work is never about them.
  • They don't shy away from the intensity and hard work.
  • They understand something about the psychology of winning.
  • There's a deeper force that guides everything they do.
Mike Brey celebrated his 56th birthday on Sunday, the day after his team, the 3 seed in the Midwest bracket won in an exciting overtime game against Butler (67-64). With my heart full of adrenaline, I shared with the world two words: Survive and Advance. Let's do this Irish. Brey looked calm and relaxed, satisfied and joyful.
My mother's maiden name is Naughton (a derivation of Connaughton). I have joked with other fans that I think we're related.
But as I came to find out from David Haugh, earlier on game day morning, Mike Brey's mother, Betty Brey, died of a heart attack. She was 84 years old. She was his "life coach." She might also be a reason that he applied for the job he did. Mike Brey didn't tell his team about his loss. He wanted the night to be about them and for them. 

St. Thomas Aquinas writes "to love is to will the good of the other." To me, Mike Brey must love his athletes and his job. But we also know he loved his mother. And she wouldn't have wanted it any other way. Get the win, Irish. Survive...and Advance.

Photo Credits
Connaughton & Brey

Saturday, March 21, 2015

What Bubba Watson Taught Me About St. Joseph....

Our school liturgy on Friday honored St. Joe.
My mom believes that Mother's Day and Father's Day were made up by Hallmark. She got this from her father, my grandfather. They don't think there should be an arbitrary day set by a company to profit on something we should do everyday. After all, honoring our mothers and fathers is one of the commandments. But the truth of the matter is if my brother, sister or I forget to call our mom or send our dad a card on this day, we will hear about it for years to come. All of this is my way of saying that I think many Spanish speaking countries have it right—the Feast of St. Joseph is also Father's Day—Dia del padre. Whether or not one is a Christian, the example the Joseph provides is one that all men can learn from and appreciate.

One of my favorite Father's Days was spent with my mom, dad and sister at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. After brunch in the main dining room, we went downstairs to the grill room/bar area to watch the men's US Open (golf). My dad, who proclaimed how overly full he felt from the buffet was still able to order a few beers and make room for their addictive peanuts and pretzels. That's my dad, he always has room for a beer, especially when an a good sports event is underway. Some of my favorite memories with my dad are going to Pac-10 football games with him to watch his brother, my uncle referee it. We've been to more than our fair share of Notre Dame football games together, traveling far to do so. He saves highlights and interviews of athletes and coaches for me he knows I'll enjoy. I do the same for him.
I came to love ND through my dad.

Sports have taught he a lot about my father. He earned a tennis scholarship which allowed him to attend Seattle University. He is the one who signed me for lessons at the age of 12. I still remember what he said: I hope you enjoy this sport as much as I do. It's one you can play for the rest of your life. He was right, I enjoyed it as much as he did, maybe even more. Of all sports, I consider tennis as "my first love." My dad also comes from a fanatical sports family. You could say that it rubbed off on me. Sports is just one thing I have come to love through my father.

From time to time I have wondered what Jesus came to love through his own early father. In "My Life with the Saints," James Martin writes, "Before his public ministry, we know that he must was trained in the trade of carpentry (The Greek word used in the Gospels of Mark and Matthew is tekton which can be variously translated as "craftsman" or "woodworker" but traditionally rendered as "carpenter.") And with that, Joseph would have passed on to Jesus the values required to become a good carpenter: patience, judgment and persistence.

The life of St. Joseph is considered a "hidden" one. Joseph, Jesus' earthly father speaks no words in the Gospel and there are but a few lines written about him. Although we know very little about him, his impact had to have been tremendous. Let that serve as a metaphor for relationships we have with others. I think of my friend Chris whose father died 10 years ago. I know they were very close. Even though I never met his dad, part of me feels as though I have. March 19 is a wonderful day to do that.

So Mother's Day is Sunday, May 10, 2015 and Father's Day is Sunday, June 21 (always the final round at the US Open if you need an easy way to remember).
Maybe Watson, now a father of two--he and his wife have adopted a boy and a girl, will win this year's US Open!
And the reason I write all of this is because I have been commissioned to write regularly for a blog about a holy woman named Cora Evans. There is a movement toward her canonization and this arm of social media aims to draw attention to her cause. Linked here is the reflection I wrote entitled: The Dream of St. Joseph. One of the golfers my dad and I both love made me think of St. Joe in a new way. Enjoy.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Sports & Spiritual Thought of the Day: Humility and Keeping it Real

From time to time, I wish I had more discipline to blog or tweet a thought from the world of Sports and Spirituality each and every day. Content wise, it certainly wouldn't be hard. People tell me I should, but I prefer to let my thoughts "marinate." 

Teaching the book "Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion" by Greg Boyle, SJ has helped me understand why I don't. Rascal, a homie who has given up gang banging but remains a tough man to counsel says to "Father G", "You know, I'm going to take that advice and I'm gonna let it marinate," pointing at his heart, "right here." 

That image speaks truth to power for me. I hold people like Patrick Willis who retired last week in my heart. I can't wait to unpack my thoughts on hating Christian Laettner (not sure that I really do) as there's no room in the heart for hate. And wait for it...yet again...I'm ready to write about Bo Jackson (my NCAA men's basketball pool is going to his cause). With Bo, my heart all too often overflows.

But for today, I would like to share a simple Sports and Spirituality Thought of the Day.

Pride makes us artificial, humility makes us real. —Thomas Merton

Humility is no easy virtue to acquire. It demands knowledge of one's limitations and acceptance of our humanity. It may even come at a cost—embarrassment, failure, and ridicule are the price to pay. One may need to ask for help and remain vulnerable. But, it can also serve as an invitation for God's grace. Dependence on God and trusting in Him is never a bad thing. 
Wait until you find out two very important facts about Ida Pieracci
One of the greatest compliments I have ever received is from a friend who said "Anne, I like you because you are real. There are a lot of people out there who aren't. I mean that." I was humbled by his words. I appreciate what he sees in me, in particular because I have a zero tolerance policy for arrogance (which I don't see as all that far removed from pride—Am I sounding too full prideful as I write this?)

My roommate and I remind each other all the time to "keep it real." This always makes me smile. Think of Merton's words to remind yourself what that will take. 

Be humble and stay humble. And if that's a challenge for you, I suggest that you take up the sport of golf. In the last month alone my handicap has gone up by 3 strokes. Fellow golfers say that means I'm just more honest. I think they're right....And should you need an example from a woman to keep you humble, check out this video about golf legend from the San Jose Country Club, Ida Pieracci. I don't want to give much more away... enjoy! 

Again the video is here. Thanks to the EWGA Chapter of Marin, Napa and Sonoma for sharing!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Story and Spirituality: Viewer's Guide to "You Don't Know Bo"

ESPN may have named their "30 for 30" about Vincent "Bo" Jackson: "You Don't Know Bo." But, if you follow this blog you do. Why? because I have now written about the two-sport athlete four times.

ESPN's website says, "Even without winning a Super Bowl or World Series, Bo will forever be known as a cultural icon and one of the most famous athletes of all time. This film will examine the truths and tall tales that surround Jackson, and how his seemingly impossible feats captured our collective imagination for an all-too-brief moment in time."
He does much more than amaze non-sports fans and /or stand before us as a physical specimen. Yes, he captures hearts and imaginations, but Jackson reminds me of why we need stories—good ones. We need stories because they ground our spirituality. As one of my students wrote:
  • Story enforces spirituality
  • There's an element of faith in both stories and spirituality
  • Bo Jackson is an example of someone who proves that the impossible is possible
Indeed he does. And his story is not only non-fiction, it's much more.

I've decided to create a viewer's guide to the program, one which I use in class. In our recent faculty newsletter, I was reminded this is an important tool for every educator by our academic dean as she shared with us a resource from Education Update. 

“To make the shift from vegging out to tuning in for learning, students must develop the skills to critically view videos, listen to them with purpose, and have meaningful academic conversations about their content.” Do this by choosing videos with strong quality and relevance, teaching students to listen with purpose, and creating opportunities for meaningful discourse about the video.” ~Sarah McKibben
With that here is a thematic guide that intentionally links questions and images to help you, your students or family understand some deeper truths and life lessons that Jackson's athleticism, talents, and story offer us. The first two questions are just for fun. Enjoy!  

Forced Choice: Fiction or Non-Fiction
Why I Don't Read Fiction...Bo Jackon

If you could go back in time to witness two teammates play together, who would it be and why?

"He made great athletes look good" —Howie Long
My answer: Two running backs: Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen (even though he went to USC)

How does Bo Jackson reflect the wonder of God’s creation?  What TALENTS do you find particularly interesting, awesome or inspiring?
Jackson missed training camp, preseason games and at least the first four of the regular NFL season. Makes you wonder what his stats would have been like had he played on the gridiron only....
Bo Jackson was in the American spotlight at an interesting time.  Comment on the era in which he was a pro athlete.
Under the promotion of athletes like Michael Jordan & Bo Jackson Nike surpassed Reebok as the most popular
athletic shoe company in the world! Nike used sketches of Jackson to influence their cross training shoes!
Many athletes face adversity in their personal and professional lives. What are the challenges that Bo Jackson encounters? How do they shape him? 
Jackson easily could have avoided this (football) career-ending injury had he stepped out of bounds but he said: "That's not the nature of the beast." He popped his hip back into its socket and is the first pro athlete to have played with an artificial hip. But my favorite part of the story is that he immediately looked to his wife in the stands to let her know he was ok. He wasn't.
“When I run, I feel God’s pleasure.”  —Eric Liddell, Chariots of Fire How does Jackson feel God’s pleasure?

“To win is to honor Him.”—Eric Liddell 
Who does Jackson honor? How?  Comment.
Jackson promised his mother than if he successfully rehabbed, he would hit the first home run for her. 
Beyond inspiration, what does Bo Jackson offer us? What do we learn from his story?

A brilliant pun if I do say so student said that Bo Jackson retired only to become "Bow" Jackson.
Jackson has said that he would like for his tombstone to read: "Here lies a ball player. One that gave as much as he received." What do you want yours to say? 

Another ballplayer, Tiggs.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Here Lies A..... Ballplayer...Priest

Why do we re-read books? Why do we watch certain movies over and over again? By way of contrast, I can easily tell you why I return to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street band any and every time they come to town or other forms of "live" entertainment. With every Springsteen concert, I'm in for a new set list. His energy changes, so do the crowd's, the latest hits and more. Every Broadway show has a new cast. Not a single baseball game is the same. But, literature, a film or even a documentary program contains something that doesn't change. So why do we revisit them? Not because they change, but because we do.

This past week, my students watched "You Don't Know Bo," about the legend of Bo Jackson; it is my very favorite in ESPN's 30 for 30 series. You might be surprised to learn how it offers me life lessons and insights in a new way. I'm not. 
At the conclusion, Jackson says: 
People always ask: would I ever go back and change anything in my past and my answer is "no."
I enjoyed what I did. I enjoyed what I did.I dance to the beat of my drums, not nobody elses.
I love that Bo says exactly what he means and he means what he says. After a silence, a reporter or maybe the director responds by saying "You wrote in your book that you want it to say on your headstone: Here lies a ballplayer."

Jackson nods and repeats, 
Here lies a ball player. That's all.
Here lies a ballplayer that gave just as much as he received. Period.
That's all it should say.
That's all it should say.
His words hit me in a sentimental way as the University of Notre Dame has mourned the death and celebrated the life of its great leader, Father Ted Hesburgh, CSC. Should you go to Notre Dame's front page, you will encounter the magnitude that this man had on the university. His image is striking. His life was long. And the one quote on this page speaks to who he was until the day he died: a wonderful priest. He said,

I never wanted to be anything but a priest, which is in itself a great and unearned grace. I hope to live and die a priest, nothing more, but nothing less either.
As much as I love the stories he tells about his adventures—he met every sitting president, he is the only civilian to have flown in the SF-71, and he's been to all seven continents! what has impressed me the most is that he remained grounded in one thing: his love for the Mass and specifically the Eucharist. In the homily at Hesburgh's funeral, the current President, Rev. John Jenkins CSC said "he prayed that on the last day of his life he would be able to celebrate Mass. At 11:00 a.m. at Holy Cross House, Father Ted joined the community and concelebrated." He died later that night.

Thinking about Father Hesburgh's tombstone, I know that it will be indistinguishable from the others. He is laid to rest under a simple cross, one that is the same as his brothers in the Congregation of the Holy Cross. But if he were to write it, I have a feeling his wouldn't be much different than Bo Jackson's. Hesburgh's would say:
Here lies a priest. One who gave as much as he received....maybe more. 
Jackson's message hasn't changed. Events in my life however have. His words offered me the opportunity to think of Father Ted in a special way and this prayer 
  • Thank you, Lord for the grace that you extended to Father Hesburgh in the gift of the priesthood.
  • Thank you for the gifts you have extended to Bo Jackson as we witnessed for a short but glorious time.
  • And I cannot let this tribute go without adding why I show "You Don't Know Bo" in the first place. It was a shared joy between a former student of mine, Brendan Tiggs. He died too young. He too was a ballplayer. 
  • Thank you, Lord for the gift of my students. Amen
Photo Credits
Bo weighs in

Screenshot of Father Ted from

Friday, March 6, 2015

Getting Closer to God Through Sports: 5 Elements

My senior course is about so much
more than Angelo Taylor's prayer of gratitude
after winning the 400 m in Sydney
When people ask me what I teach, I often pause. If I'm at the dentist or a place where I don't want to engage, it's just so much easier to say "English." Unless I encounter a voracious reader or Shakespeare-phile, I'm let off the hook. But given the time and space, I admit I teach in the Religious Studies department. It's such a formal title, no? I then add that I teach a required course for juniors—Ethics, Morality and Social Justice; I also teach a Spirituality course to seniors.

If I'm talking to a sports fan or someone who I sense is open to a creative spirit, I go deeper. I share that I teach a course that I designed: Sports and Spirituality. "It's how to learn about the spiritual life through the analogy of sport," I say. As you can imagine, a range of questions and comments flow from there. Some are so thoughtful and inquisitive. Others, are confused. This past weekend, I was asked "so does that mean God cares who wins the Super Bowl." I tried to appreciate their—joke? quip? but I couldn't. That's precisely what we are NOT talking about. 

In "Vision of Enhancement" Richard Rohr, OFM writes "Spirituality is about seeing. It's not about earning or achieving. It's about relationship rather than results or requirements. Once you see, the rest follows."

Far too often, the only thing people "see" are the "measurables"—the point to the sky, the prayer circle after a game or the inclusion of God as someone to thank. But I see things differently; I equip my students with the ability to do the same. I think this is critical in society today. Why? Because as Martin Siegel writes in the article "Good Sports:"

If a millennium from now someone were to examine the artifacts of our civilization, he or she would discover that in many places sports facilities were the largest and most prominent buildings. This discovery might lead to the conclusion that sports were one of the most powerful influences in our culture. And that conclusion would be correct. 
Past civilizations left behind colossal cathedrals to glorify God because for them ultimate power resided in religion. We will leave behind colossal sport stadiums, because these are, for many, our cathedrals. Sport is our shared religion.
To further his claim, Rabbi Siegel examines five essential forces that connect humanity to their Creator in daily life. Sports offers an expression of these energies. They are:
The image featured in "Good Sports." American Mag writes: TEAMWORK. Gonzaga and Wichita State during an N.C.A.A. tournament basketball game on March 23, 2013
1. Breath: It manifests the original energy of the Creator. The word "Spirituality" which stems from Spiritus literally means "breath." God breathed into Adam giving him life. The Risen Christ breathed onto the disciples in the locked room. Our spirituality invites us to think of the breath that fills our lives and animates our days.

As a coach and an athlete, paying attention to that breath is fundamental. What are great golfers trained to do before taking a critical putt? Take a deep breath. Try it.

2. Sound: Music expresses the energy of the Creator. Indeed it does. Nothing gives me life in the way that music does. It has invigorated me through dark days. It connects me to people past and present in a profound way. I love and respect certain people in my life simply for their taste in music ;-)

When I watch a good basketball player with excellent ball handling skills, I notice that they almost dribble to their own soundtrack. I try to imagine the beat that underscores their craft. It's awesome.

3. Nature (or the created world) is the most extensive manifestation of the Creator that humans can experience. 

I once believed God's greatest creation could be found in human beings. The sheer diversity of talents and abilities...even cultures, language and physical beauty is astounding. Then I climbed Half Dome at Yosemite....

4. Physical activities are the part of nature through which the energy of the Creator is manifested most intimately for human beings

My next posting is a viewer's pictorial guide to the "30 for 30: You Don't Know Bo." I think everyone should; so does the director John Bonfiglio. Jackson's physical activities and capabilities reflect the wonder of God's creation. As Howie Long said, "He made great athletes look good."

5. Symbolic intellect human beings create forms to express their deepest knowledge to themselves and to each other.

Throughout his career, Andre Agassi asked himself time and again "Does it really matter?" I believe professional athletes confront this question more than we realize. My answer is an unequivocal "yes, I does." It matters because as Siegel writes: Sport provides a real and symbolic means through which individual life potential can be realized and experienced. This experience of individual and communal self-transcendence is the deepest desire of human beings.

"Good Sports" captures how and why I should teach a Spirituality course that connects to Sport. I encourage you to read his reflection. It's a great step toward helping you "see" as Rohr invites us to do. The rest will follow.

Photo Credits