Sunday, March 27, 2016

Dear Basketball Fans: There is more than one way to...

There are many versions of the same metaphor:
  • There is more than one way to skin a cat.
  • There is more than one way to carve a turkey.
And to add a third version, 
  • There is more than one way for Notre Dame men's basketball to win a game. 
Their journey to the Elite Eight might be something akin to making sausage. You don't really want to see how it's done, but the end product can and should elicit but one word, "wow!"  

Above and beyond the excitement of March Madness, basketball is a great game because it's easy to understand. Unlike football with first downs, running clocks, off sides and a host of other penalties or baseball with its crazy scoring system, basketball takes little if any smarts for the average viewer to appreciate. Orange sphere must fall through a hoop with a dangling net. This feat is completed in a number of exciting, dramatic, flashy or practical ways from various distances. The points each team earns are visible on an understated scoreboard. 

All of that is true...and not true. 

Anyone who really knows hoops sees the intricacies and complexities woven in the offense and defense. Man to man or zone defense is JV, try a "box and one" or a "nickel defense" and now we are talking. Maybe you caught the moving screen or the offensive charge before the referee did. And maybe you didn't...but you still have an opinion about it. Here's my recommendation, as a fan of the someone who knows how much they don't know, once again I am going to advocate for humility.

I say this in particular to my fellow Notre Dame fans and alums. We are in the Elite Eight for the first time in back to back seasons since 1978-1979. Perhaps the carving or the skinning wasn't pretty, but we did it. Here are a few ways we can reframe our complaints and enhance the experience of other basketball teams everywhere.

All recommendations are based on what I heard at the Irish Times in San Francisco—the official game watch locale of the SFND alumni chapter.
1. "Thanks for showing up in the fourth quarter Demetrius."
Though true—Jackson went 1-for-9 and scored two points in the first half (not his typical showing), it feels much different than a back handed compliment. I understand the frustration, but I just don't see the point in bagging on the player who was awarded "Outstanding Playmaker (2015)" especially when he had two layups, two steal, two free throws and a key steal late in the game. Furthermore, I'm not sure that most fans sitting on their couches, sectionals or with me at Irish Times understands the level of competition in which these men (and women) participate. Jackson a 6'1" guard was up against players who had not only 50 lbs on him, but six to eight inches of height. 

Maybe you could say something like "thank God Jackson turned it up in the fourth." And a great story in the New York Times will only make you root for him that much more.
2. Why doesn't Coach Brey wear a tie?
I can't tell you how often I get asked this question; at least he's no longer sporting the mock turtleneck. Seriously? The man is a three time Big East Coach of the year, CBS and Sports Illustrated's National Coach of the year and led ND to the ACC tournament championship, which they won and we want to discuss his choice of apparel?

Frankly, I don't understand why basketball coaches wear suits and ties, period. When I attended the De La Salle boys' Nor Cal semi-final game, I noticed that the head coach and his assistants were wearing matching DLS polo shirts, khakis and athletic shoes. I thought they looked very professional and sharp. I don't think they compromised the game to any degree by not dressing up. Rather, they were comfortable and prepared to do what they are supposed to do: coach. 

3. Zach Auguste is too emotional
One of my favorite moments during the game was with but six seconds left and Notre Dame up by five points and possession of the ball, the 6'10" forward was removed from the game. Sitting on the bench, he put his head in his towel and let all of his emotions go. He hid his face in a towel and let the water works flow. This should not be a point of criticism; I think the man who said that is made of teflon.

I learned from the "Washington Post" article, incidentally titled "Why Mike Brey Doesn't Wear His Turtleneck Anymore," that coach and athlete worked together—to channel emotions, and passion into an even greater force.
The connection allows Brey to reach players, and even chastise them, in deeper ways than many coaches. Coming into this season, he wanted fiery center Zach Auguste to harness his passion, which last year led to him breaking his hand punching a basket stanchion. Brey prepared film clips, from both games and practices, of Auguste showing bad body language after a bad play. The pair sat and studied them in his office. “I was a type of an emotional player and sometimes I let it get the best of me,” Auguste said. “But over the course of the past few years I learned to channel it in a positive way and really use it to play my game at a high level.”
That high level translates to over an impressive stat: Zach Auguste trails only Ben Simmons for most double-double games this season (22 games). Cry all you want Zach, thanks for bringing all of who you are to what is undoubtedly an exciting, impressive program. You are a significant reason for that.
For so many years, it was painful to watch ND in the NCAA tourney. The past two years have felt surreal. As disappointing as last year's loss to Kentucky was, that game lives on as one of the best (and most watched) in tourney history. I know my loyalty to the Irish is fierce. I know I am not an objective bystander but I challenge fans everywhere to enjoy the ride. Don't lose sight of what these non-professional athletes and their coaches are giving their life to. I'll speak for myself here—it gives me life. 

Happy Easter! 

Photo Credits

Thursday, March 24, 2016

An Open Letter to Sports Illustrated: The 2016 Swimsuit Issue

I think I use the word "context" in the classroom everyday. I say it because it's necessary for about 90% of the stories I tell. My favorite teachers told stories, many of which I remember to this day. I aim to pass along the good ones I pick up, and this posting is no different. I could still write my "Open Letter to Sports Illustrated" without the context, but something would be lost if I did. Here goes....

I ran into Walgreens' drug store last week to buy a candy bar. Yes, a candy bar. It's strange for me to realize and admit that was my sole purpose for entering into my neighborhood drug store, but it's true. 
As I walked in, I ran into someone I had not seen in a long time. I wasn't up for talking to her—please tell me that you have felt this way before?!—so I decided I would browse for a few moments until other customers put some distance between us in line. Not really knowing where to go, I walked toward the back of the store where I encountered the magazine section. Standing front and center before me was the 2016 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue (SISI). Since I opted out, I no longer receive what is a multi-million dollar issue for my favorite sports periodical. 

As I have always done in the past, I read the Editor's Letter. I delight in the editor's attempt to describe this issue in an intellectual or justifiable capacity. I realized how strange this must look: a 42 year old woman standing in the back of the store reading—yes reading—the SI Swimsuit Issue. I couldn't help but laugh about this, on the inside of course. I was hoping and praying that again I wouldn't run into another person I know. In my very brief review, an idea was born: my open letter to SI. Here it is.

Dear Sports Illustrated,
As a loyal subscriber for over ten years now, I want to give credit where credit is due. I'm sure you receive letters of both praise and contempt in response to the 52nd annual swim suit issue. Consider this to be both.

Two years ago, I checked the box that allows me to opt out of this issue. As I have written about before on this blog, I could no longer support what you are proud to promote. You complied by extending my subscription with an additional issue at no cost and much to my delight, you did not ask me to opt out on an annual basis. Thank you

I want to add, that I believe you play a very smart game; no one would say otherwise. I see your efforts to keep magazine sales strong with regional covers and the like and this year's edition is beyond savvy. It's brilliant. It's not what you did, but how you did it. And that's why I write.

For too long, I have felt that a magazine with exceptional writers and outstanding photography has a missed opportunity in the SISI. Where you failed, the ESPN body issue succeeds. Athletics showcases the beauty of the human body in a profound way and the athletes that you profile regularly, internationally and intentionally are absent from this particular periodical. But not this year. 

As written on your website "UFC Champion Ronda Rousey has landed the SI Swimsuit 2016 cover wearing nothing but body paint." MMA fans would agree that it's high time that the bantanweight champion graced your cover. But I think it's unfortunate that  it required a bikini and body paint to do so. Is it possible to include more athletes, both male and female into the SISI? Or better yet, could you have more than two issues feature a woman on the cover. In 2015, of the 52 you ran only Serena Williams, Sportsperson of the Year and the Women's National Soccer Team were profiled on the front. By the way, Good job Team USA.

Second, I almost did a double take when I noticed your second cover model. I thought to myself, it can't it is....a plus sized model. As written on
Last year Ashley Graham was in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. In an ad.  
This year the plus-sized model is one of the stars, a 2016 SI Swimsuit rookie.She's not the first model in the issue's history who is considered plus-sized, but her inclusion signals a trend for the 52-year-old tradition. 
Last year Robyn Lawley, a size 12, broke the SI swimsuit mold. Size 12 is pretty average for most women, but not when you're in the same profession as Elle Macpherson and Tyra Banks. 
Graham, a size 16, was the first plus-sized model in an ad in the issue's history (and will be in another ad this year). 
"Thank you to everyone who stood up for curves -- our voices were heard and together we can help me win Rookie of the Year," she wrote on Instagram.
Well played, SI. Well played.

In your "Swimsuit Daily" you wrote, "that's right—all of your dreams have finally come true! A historic moment in SI Swimsuit history, we crowned not one, not two, but three individual cover models." The third model, proves a point I have often wondered about.

First, that's not my dream and never has been. But more importantly. many, too many of the swimsuits you feature don't deserve to be called a swim suit. I've never really understood how fish net qualifies as a bathing suit. Perhaps there is a version with UV enhancements. But rather than just pretend the triangular swath of fur worn by Kate Upton is a plausible or appropriate bathing suit top, this year, you just did away with it, period. Most viewers are already familiar with the strategic arm placement your photographers encourage. This year we have just that and a well designed bathing suit bottom.

Your magazine continues to provide excellent material from which I raise questions—moral questions, trivia questions, dynamic questions. But I think it's important that you know the ones I raise from the SISI are far different than the others. For a magazine that claims to have a subscriber base that is 23% female, that has fewer than 5% of its content about women's athletics and even less on the cover, I will continue to ask that you play your game—a smart one—in different ways.

By the way, I noticed the editor of this issue is female. Again, good move. I urge you to seek talented female sportswriters. I can't name any from your periodical. Thank you for reading.

Anne Stricherz
St. Ignatius College Prep

Teacher, Sports and Spirituality
Coach, JV girls' golf

Photo Credits
3 Covers in 1

Fish Net

Monday, March 21, 2016

Rules for Fans, Especially Under the Age of 18

Ok...I'm going to be "that person." You know, the negative Nancy or Debbie downer who ruins what was meant to be a "feel good story" for music fans everywhere. Though most people I know think the story "Bruce Springsteen writes school tardy note for young fan" is wonderful, I don't. Hear me out.
The upshot: a fun and unique part of any Springsteen concert is the creation of signs from the audience. These typically feature requests and dedications. Wit, wisdom, and wishes are made known. They combine flash and faith, hoping that The Boss will notice and respond. And Springsteen's recent stint at the LA Sports Arena was no exception.

A 9-year old fan wrote a sign that said "Bruce, I will be late for school tomorrow. Will you sign my note?" Not only did Springsteen sign a note, he let "his people" know that he wanted to meet this young man and his father back stage to give it to them.

First, let me speak by way of analogy. I have a personal credo: no one under the age of 18 should ever be allowed to sit court side at an NBA game. One of the things I love about basketball is just how up close and personal fans sit with the bench, other coaches and the action on the floor. However, these seats cost THOUSANDS of dollars. If a 13 year old boy or girl sits court side, what more do they have to look forward to? How or when does it get better than that? I suppose I can make an exception for the retiring of a jersey—pending that you are the offspring of said athlete—but honestly, a young kid isn't concerned about seats in the way an adult often is. And that's a good thing!

Like all analogies, this one is also limited. These seats didn't cost as much. Father and son's seats were $175 face value (each). They did luck out in terms of location. So let's give them props for that and for being prepared. 
Second, as much as I LOVE the fact that the Boss is rockin' for 3 hours and 30 minutes, I don't think a 9-year old should be at his concert. I don't.

I remember when Springsteen came to the Oakland Coliseum (outdoors) during the height of the Born in the USA tour. It was 1985 and he was selling out to crowds of 30 to 40 thousand on a regular basis. I was all of 11-years old and I remember wishing and dreaming that I could go. But I was doing that in a way that an 11-year old does. At that age, our imaginations loom large and part of me wanted to grow up so badly, but his show is an adult experience. Springsteen sings of adult themes, especially on "The River."
“By the time I got to ‘The River,’ I think I noticed that the things that bind people to their lives or their commitments — family, love — I wanted to imagine and write about those things. I wanted to make a big record that felt like life—like life for an E Street Band show. I wanted the record to contain fun, dancing, laughter, jokes, politics, sex, good comradeship, love, faith, lonely nights and of course tears. " —Bruce Springsteen. 
I get it. Taking your child to a concert, especially their first one, is an exciting experience. And the Boss won't live forever. But I'm going to push for something different. Have a dance party with your kids in your home. Rock out in the car. Kareoke?! But taking your child to a concert that is a treat for adults?  As they say—it doesn't leave much for the imagination. Let those events come to them in due time. 
My brother Mark, 3 years older than me, much to my chagrin did get to go. Our family was friends with these "cool parents" one of who worked in the music industry. Mark, who was almost 15 got to go with them....but he also did yard work for them to pay off the ticket that summer. It made for a great story and fun memories. It also made him prove how much he wanted to go. I'm sure Xandi did too. But there's a difference between somone who's about to be a freshman in high school and a fourth grader.

Third, please don't let your child dictate when they will be late for school. For me, being tardy only occurred pending an accident or mishap. It was never scheduled or planned based on something like a concert or movie from the night before. I work with said students who try to tell me what they are going to do and I aim to help them reframe some language. Asking permission and some humility is a good thing. Please note: Springsteen wrote that he "may" be late for school tomorrow. I can appreciate that.
Last winter, I met up with my friends and their kids to watch the SI girls' basketball game. Their daughters picked their "favorite players" and after the game, we got to meet those females athletes and talk to them. It was equally exciting for my students to be the person a youngster looks up to. I remember feeling that same way when I was little and yet I don't remember what—if any criteria—I used to determine the player I liked best. I have a feeling it was the girl who played the same position I did, the girl with the prettiest hair and the one who smiled a lot. That's what I enjoyed when I was 9-years old....that and staying up until 9 pm to watch M-TV videos.
The cost of the SI ticket? $5.
Springsteen: $175.
Concession cost at SI: $2-$5.
LA Sports Arena: $8-25. 

Bedtime post SI game: 9:30 pm.
Post-Boss time: 1:30 a.m.

It must be hard to determine what's appropriate for kids these days. I also know neither father nor son regret the decision they made. It's another chapter in their book of Springsteen. Bottom line, that is what really matters. Springsteen was instrumental in making that happen...and as always, much more! This negative Nancy, Debbie downer can agree to that. 

Photo Credits
Bruce with Xandi

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Rapid Fire for Coaches & Teachers: Thank You David Ferhety

This Lent, I have had a different faculty member speak for 5-10 minutes at the beginning of class about a spiritual discipline they employ. It has been a wonderful way to commence Sports and Spirituality and stay mindful of the Lenten season..I have been humbled by the beautifully thoughtful practices my colleagues employ. Some of them include:
  • The Examen
  • The Rosary
  • Motherhood
  • Corporal Works of Mercy
  • Spiritual Direction
  • Marriage.
As a fun and new way to introduce these faculty members, I have adapted the Golf channel  popular show "Ferhety" into my class.
On a weekly basis, the former golf pro, now analyst interviews a celebrity in the context of golf. While it should be no surprise that former guests include Jordan Spieth, Tiger Woods and Bubba Watson, others include George W. Bush. Donald Trump and Charles Barkley.

The show waffles back and forth between the in-studio interview and his conversation before a live audience. The Northern Irishman is never short on humorous anecdotes and his quick wit serves him (and the show) well.  It's a fun program, but the highlight of each episode is the singular minute entitled "Rapid Fire: Short Answers to Pointless Questions." It's a game of "forced choice" and each set of questions is catered to a specific person and their passions. What unfolds in that repartee is insight into the guest in an unexpected, lighthearted way. Here's what was shared during the recent interview of the number one golfer in the world, Jordan Spieth.
Question: Sherlock Holmes or James Bond?
JS: Bond

Question: Social Media: Twitter or Instagram?
JS: Snap Chat

Question: "Anchorman" or "The Hangover"
JS: oooh....both...I guess Anchorman

Question: Michael Jordan or LeBron James
JS: Jordan (who coincidentally is named after Michael Jordan)

Question: College Football of the NFL

Question: Who on the tour would you prefer to play a round of golf with?
JS: Webb Simpson (GOOD answer!!)

Question: What island do you prefer Maui or Manhattan?
JS: Maui  (a no brainer for any golfer)

Question: Favorite moment as a sports fan / spectator?
JS: Dallis Mavericks 2011, it's really my only real championship (I love what he said here)

Question: A word to describe Ricky Fowler's sense of style is
JS: different than mine

Question: What's on your iPod?
JS: a bit of everything...maybe a bit different than what's on Ricky's

Question: How many Taylor Smith concerts have you been to:
JS: Not enough

Question: How excited are you that in a few years you'll be able to rent a car?
JS: head back, deep laugh. (I remember what a great moment that was for me 17 years ago!)

Teachers, Coaches and anyone who is hosting a guest speaker, "Rapid Fire" is a fun and innovative way to familiarize a speaker with the audience. Though talking about one's spiritual discipline isn't overly personal or difficult, the questions I have asked via "Rapid Fire" have made the adult standing in front of my students a little more relatable.

Below are many of the questions I have used. Amend them for your classroom, community or team. Enjoy!

Question: Warriors or Giants
Question: Stephen Curry or LeBron James
Question: Under Armour or Nike
Question: Matthew, Mark, Luke or John
Question: First word that comes to mind when I say "St. Ignatius?"

Question: First word that comes to mind when I say "Notre Dame?"
Question: Creamy or Chunky...peanut butter

Photo Credits

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

What I Would Say to Bruce Springsteen, Musician, Performer, Athlete and Inspiration

On the first day of class, I model an icebreaker activity with  my seniors entitled "Three things you might not know about me." I share with them this fun fact:
  • I have seen Bruce Springsteen live, in concert 22 times and yet I don't want to meet him.
They don't get it. What? Why would you not want to meet the Boss? they ask, incredulously. I do what I can to explain my sentiment. There is no way I could express all that needs to be said. A conversation would never capture my feelings, and my experience, I add. I know I should just say "thank you," but I'd rather avoid the whole thing.

But today, I have something to share. I can no longer reveal that truth. Why? Because show #23, The River Sessions in Oakland California changed what I have felt for so long. How so? I left last night's 3 hour and 25 minutes performance with one total and complete conviction. Were I given the chance to meet Bruce Frederick Springsteen I know exactly what I would say him.

I would tell him: every time I see you perform, I leave wanting to be a better teacher. I would want him to know how I feel this deep down in my soul. And then I would explain how and why.

I watch what he does on the stage and see a performer and an actor, an athlete and a poet. He doesn't mail a single song in. There are no easy buckets. I wonder "does he ever go on auto pilot? Can he ever just "check it" for single minute?" 
In his live performance, I am a witness to the spiritual gift of friendship.
Stevie Van Zandt & Bruce have been friends for 50 years.
Looking at Bruce, one can't help but be inspired by his energy, his vulnerability and his joy. When he stands on stage, I am moved. I leave his show and recognize that I am a witness; I must testify. I want to be better at every single thing that matters most to me in my life. If I were married, I would leave there wanting to be a better wife. This is how his music and his message affect me.

I know why he speaks to me as a teacher. In the classroom, there are days when I am a performer. I expend a lot of energy to get my students into the curriculum. With my second semester seniors, this can be taxing. I need to take them to where we need to go—no teleprompter required...although a few notes (some of which are musical) do help. I tell stories, I touch those in the crowd. I check in with them and get a read from their energy. Being at last night's show reminded me of all of that.

The set list was tight. I love that the band was scaled down to many of the originals—to name a few, just Gary Tallent on bass, Roy Bittan on piano, Max on the drums (I think he is working almost as hard as the Boss and that says a lot). I could feel the communion of saints as Bruce paid tribute to Clarence "the Big Man" Clemons and Danny Federici. A video montage played on the large screen of images of them on the sax and the organ and Springsteen sang "Tenth Avenue Freeze Out." 
This song, one of my top 10 favorites, brought Bruce out to a mini-stage in the middle of the floor. I got to touch his hand several times as he sang. Hoping to make eye contact as a way of saying "thanks," I never did. He was singing it from a different place—one of tribute and honor to those who he...who we, remain connected to in love. 

My friend Kathy noted that I have said "he makes me want to be a better teacher" at several shows in the past. She's right—I have. And yet, I know why it took me until this show to figure out this truth. Last night was a spiritual experience.

With the predetermined set-list of the 21 songs from "The River" in place, I feel as though we fans could relax and enjoy each song as it other shows, the temptation to get caught up in what's next is so great that I sometimes lose sight and appreciation of the present.

After the completion of "The River: side A and B" Bruce and the band turned up the energy with fan favorites: "Badlands" and ascended into Prove it All Night (one of my top 3)" But a few songs later, the crowd was thrilled to hear "Candy's Room." Even though this is not a song I particularly enjoy, I loved witnessing the reaction of those who were standing beside me for two plus hours prior. The energy didn't subside. Bittan started the haunting notes of "Because the Night on the piano and the crowd wailed in ecstasy. I looked around at one point during this song and realized the energy inside of Oracle was so unbelievably high. Bruce was taking the crowd to a place it was wiling to go. It was spiritual, it was sexual, it was communal, it was transcendant. It's exactly what he aims to do. You can say it's art, he'd say it's Rock 'n' Roll. 

Today, I woke up in a total daze: exhausted from standing outside for over two hours "with the rain falling down" for our place in the GA line., sitting on the floor without a seat for over an hour prior to the band's arrival and after three plus hours standing, dancing, jumping, screaming, laughing and crying. I said to my colleagues that  I was running on an emotional high, one that reminds me of falling in love. You walk around in a fog. You just don't see anything the same way for a while. You can't. That's what love does, it breaks you out of yourself and into the arms of another person. Though a concert is different, in many ways, it's not.....because we are never the same when we love someone or something.

So this is my love letter to the man and more importantly the music of Bruce Springsteen. You make me want to be better at every single thing I care about deeply and what I give my life to. THANK YOU for that.

Photo Credits
All from

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Humble in Victory, Humble in Defeat

With but one minute of class remaining, a few of my seniors asked me "Ms Stricherz, are you going to watch the fight?" The year before, I was asked that same question about Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. This year, they were referring to a different kind of fight and a different kind of fighter: UFC/Mixed Martial Arts. Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz. I love that they asked me this question. 

When I pay better attention, I gain a sense of what my students are excited about...and McGregor is one thing, one person on that list. Thanks to the cover story of Sports Illustrated, I was armed with a little information about the number one UFC fighter in the world. I admitted that I probably wouldn't watch the fight, but I wanted a report from them.

I wasn't sure how the hype would compare to the boxing match that took place last May. I checked in on Saturday afternoon and realized it was underway, but not for long. As written in by Josh Gross in The Guardian
The colorful career of Conor McGregor hit a speed bump when Nate Diaz clung to his back and interrupted the flow of blood to the Irishman’s well coifed head, forcing a tapout at 4:12 of the second round in the main event of UFC 196.
And yet, it wasn't the fight that stayed with me. No, it was McGregor's words. Known for his trash talking, McGregor said, "I'm humble in victory and  in defeat."
Humility—the quality of being humble—is a virtue I revere. But there's a big problem with humility: how you gain it. We gain humility when we are humbled...and more often than not it's just not fun. Humble pie is anything but tasty. When we lose, mess up, are ridiculed or embarrassed, when we confront our limitations, we get yet another glimpse into our humanity. And, we grow in humility.

Since I think about humility on a regular basis, I have three ways that you too can grow in it. Though difficult, I believe these steps toward humility can lead you to something bigger. I'd love examples of your own.

1. Play golf. 
Nothing, I repeat nothing humbles a person like this wicked game. One day the nonmoving target that is 1.8" in diameter couldn't travel further off the tee. It's as if the entire course is a fairway, and the only other clubs you need are wedges and a putter (I wish). Moments later, you swing and miss. While it's not uncommon for a beginner to do this,  I've done it several times since those early, painful days.

There are numerous lessons to learn through golf but the greatest is one I've discovered is from other golfers. A good golfer will never tell you how good he or she is. Although the handicap has been established to tell you just that, a truly skilled and talented golfer knows how difficult and demanding the game is. They are humble because the game has made them that way. This is a quality that separates a golfer from a person who plays golf....and it's no different from...
2. Learn another language.
I have spent an egregious amount of time and money studying Spanish. I have likened it to a relationship—albeit a bad one. We spend a lot of time together, grow very close, it invades my thought and consumes my free time...and then it gets too hard. I have tried to break up with this language for years and I keep coming back to it. Unless, I fully commit to Spanish (i.e. live for at least a year in a Spanish speaking country), our relationship will only go so far.

I say this in the context of humility because I have asked people how they became proficient. I seek advice from those who have achieved some level of mastery. Every single one of these people (non-native speakers) will never tell you that they are fluent in the language. Why? they know what they do not know. They are keenly aware of their limitations. There's a constant, nagging sense that they are "slipping" or not what they used to be.

I think this is a true test, a barometer for a person who is proficient. They maintain a healthy humility about their experience.

3. Have students lead or write their own prayers.
My class begins with prayer, which is led by students. Before we begin, the prayer leader offers his or her own petition and asks their classmates: "For who or what else shall we pray."  Some classes share many intentions and others are silent. 

This year, my classes haven't felt as comfortable sharing their petitions, so I asked them to write one on a sheet of paper. I informed them that we would be offering these out loud. We put them in a glass jar and everyday, the prayer leader reads two of them. I didn't know how that would go, and I've been humbled in a new found way each day.

Students have offered  their prayers for those without access to clean drinking water, for their neighbor, and their sister who is struggling with depression. Others have prayed for refugees and for those without shelter in this rainy season.

I have grown in humility in being a witness to the prayers of my students.

Thinking back to McGregor's words, I wondered is it easier to exercise humility in victory or in defeat? No doubt, both are important. But my sense is that both offer their own set of challenges. Humility wouldn't have it any other way....

Photo Credits
Foreign Language
SI Cover


Sunday, March 6, 2016

Advice for Coaches of a Common Sport, Common Season

There is a shared experience between graduates on both sides of Winton Drive in Concord, California that can sometimes be difficult to explain. Having graduated from Carondelet High School, I hold the same amount of school pride for my alma mater as I do for De La Salle. When either team succeeds, I savor the victory—without distinction. Call me a glutton for glory. Who knows. Furthermore, having taught at St. Ignatius College Prep for the past 12 years, I delight in the success of my own students' accomplishments in sports. Looking at photos from the NCS and CCS boys and girls basketball championships, I am reminded of what athletes can learn and gain from sharing a common season. 
Congratulations to Carondelet for winning the D-2 NCS title!
Coaching junior varsity girls golf for the first time was not only more worthwhile than I anticipated, it was more fun too. But, it would have been even more fun had our season included one thing—the boys' team. Last spring, I drove the varsity boys to the CCS championship and played with them during their practice round. They pulled all kinds of pranks that only boys do. They hit for sheer power off the tee in the way their egos need them to. They trash talk and yet they help one another in subtle ways. It was different than what I encountered with the girls' team. My girls await psyche buddy gifts on game day. They get stronger and even more flexible than you might think. Their putting is totally up and down (that works for everyone). The uniqueness of each team could easily add to a great mix.
I love the team photo because it reveals something about this Spartan family. Again, if you didn't know what the head coach, AJ Kuhle looks like, I don't think you would from this either...
Unfortunately, local golf courses cannot manage boys' and girls' programs during a singular season. Consequently, girls play in the fall and boys in the spring. The same can be said for tennis and for volleyball. Indeed, some things are lost in this separation, but I know other things are gained, too. Regardless, I appreciate what develops between athletes, teams and programs when they share space, time and common goals. In many cases, it's similar to a sibling rivalry. One competes for attention and glory. Resentment and jealousy can breed. But I would like to think at their best, like brothers and sisters, a rich bond can develop. I do not believe however this is the norm. 

I offer a challenge and some humble advice to those coaches who work with a single sex team that is "in season" with another: enhance that relationship as best you can. Here are but a few suggestions of what you can do.
St. Ignatius girls' win the CCS title at Santa Clara University
Make a point of attending the other team's game at some point during the season. It will generate a different type of conversation between the athletes. They will raise questions, they will appreciate what they do, they will pick up on nuance and fine tune their own. Good stuff. A loftier goal might be to attend a preseason, regular and postseason game if/as possible!

Play with and against one another. Competition between the sexes can be ridiculously fun. There are ways to handicap the contest so as to equalize the playing field; this need not be viewed as a negative thing. Be creative! Invite your athletes' input. 

I think "play" in practice is under-utilized and under-appreciated by my fellow coaches. I will never forget the cross country runner who wrote on coaching evaluations that "practice is boring. All we do it run." While we wondered if this student athlete had totally missed the memo about our sport, I understood what he/she was talking about. Make time for recreation within your sport.

Coach the other team's practice. Why not? Run your workout as you would with your own team. Share your unique skills and drills. A different point of view can add a lot.

Attend a collegiate or professional game together. Take both teams to see how it's done on the next level. It's possible that this contest will favor the men's sport over women's, but the shared experience can help all student athletes see with new eyes.

Pray for one another. I cannot stress this enough. I think teachers should pray for their students everyday. I believe that coaches ought to pray for their athletes everyday. Teams are no different. Pray for each other regularly, and invite prayers for the boys or girls team. It's a shared endeavor—competing in a sport. Ultimately, athletes are working toward a common goal. Pray in a way that invites God's blessing on both communities.

Serve together. Our teams love to be known for who they are and what they do. This point of pride is a wonderful thing but best when coupled with humility. Sometimes it's harder to be served than to serve. I've never participated in a corporal work of mercy when the ones I thought I would be serving didn't end of serving me and teaching me more than I could have anticipated.

The day after our big rivalry game, the Bruce Mahoney, the SI girls team came to school still upset by their performance. The boys' team didn't. They held their heads high and reveled in the praise that echoed throughout the halls. At CCS, the tables turned. Our girls beheld the winner's trophy and the boys were deflated by a loss in a very close game. That contest didn't end with handshakes on the court. No, they looked up to find their fans offering a standing ovation; many who were leading that cheer were the same varsity girls who played a few hours before.

Our athletic programs have the inherent ability to cultivate so much of what a family can: shared joy and agony, winning and losing, friendship and faithfulness. I think the choice is...the coach's.

Photo Credits
All from Twitter @Carondelet_HS, @dlsathletics and @SIScores

Friday, March 4, 2016

A New Vision: Much More than a De La Salle Play Off Game

Returning to the De La Salle high school gym on for their NCS D-1 semifinal game against Castro Valley High School earlier this week, I realize what I see now is far different than what I did as a student some 20+ years ago. Sure, some of what isn't—a man to man defense and the value of a player who continually crashes the board hasn't changed, but today, my vision captures moments.They are the subject of this blog, Today, when I go to a big game I collect insights that add up to much more than a mark in the win column or a ticket to the next round. They are Sports and Spirituality....and here are three of them.
1. A new coach, a new era
De La Salle is led by a new coach, AJ Kuhle (pronounced "Cool"). Coach Kuhle played on the 2000 championship team under the former head coach, Frank Allocco. Kuhle left his position as a long time assistnat coach at University of Denver to return to his alma mater. I get the sense that his players are glad he did.

Without a doubt, Kuhle has big shoes to fill. His predecessor is considered by many to be one of the best high school coaches, period. With over 600 wins to his name, Coach Allocco is now across the bay at the University of San Francisco as an assistant to head coach Rex Walters. USF fans are hopeful he will help the Dons' return glory back to the Hilltop. 

A a personal friend of Coach Allocco, I missed seeing him on the Spartans' court. Friends delight in seeing their friends succeed and that's how I felt when I went to DLS games during his time there. An expert of fundamentals, his teams were tremendously well coached—truly a basketball purists' delight. And to no one's surprise, Coach Kuhle's team isn't much different. Granted these guys played under Allocco, many for three straight years, but what struck me isn't what I saw on the court by the players, but what I didn't see from the coaching staff.

Looking at the Spartan bench, I saw Coach Kuhle and his assistants sitting for the majority of the game. He seldom stood up; if you didn't pay careful attention, it's conceivable that you could have left the game and not known who was who. Whereas many coaches pace the floor, stomp their foot, talk to the ref, or get in the ear of their players, as written on Twitter: "Coach Kuhle lives up to his name." I have joked that one coach in the WCAL probably gets his 10,000 steps recommended by FitBit in a single game, but not the head coach of the Spartans. Every coach has his or her own style; it's interesting for me to see how they do what they do.

I believe Coach Kuhle's sends a powerful message to his players: it's one of trust and respect. It's one that says—without words—a lot. During a game, the players must take ownership for what they have been coached to do. A team practices set plays and it's their job to execute. A good coach will make adjustments and intervene with players and officials when necessary, but ultimately, it's up to them. Timeouts and half time serve that purpose for coaches and players in a different way. It was neat to see. 

I don't know if an unintended consequence of Kuhle's stoic nature gave rise to this, but from my perspective I felt that the team—collectively— became a noticeable source of support and raw energy. When a time out was called, everyone stood from the bench, clapping and cheering. At one point, I wondered, "is the game over?" I say that because the team lined up to greet each player as they came off the floor with high fives and hugs. It's as important a game as it gets, so I would hope that any team would do that, but I do wonder: to what degree does standing back give rise to something new/different?
I have since learned that the legendary Coach John Wooden often coached from his chair. We know the consequences—intended and unintended—of that. 10 national championships.

2. The role of Mary, Our Mother

A colleague who teaches a senior elective course, "The Ignatian Way," informed me that her class studied the life of the Blessed Mother this week. She was sad to discover that so many students were largely unfamiliar with who Mary is and why you would want to develop a relationship with her. But, one student came to the rescue, as they often do.

This student said "think of it this way, people listen to their mother. If you need something from Jesus, talk to his mother. It works." I love that a high school student articulated what I have found to be true in life. And I saw that very truth in action during the game.

My parents and I happened to be sitting one row behind the mother of one of the starting players. In the middle of the fourth quarter, with the score closer than DLS had hoped, a foul was called on this athlete. He stood alongside the key while the opposing player took his free throws. With his back standing to us, his mother yelled "Jordan, tuck in your shirt." The game is on the line, it's fairly intense and amidst the focus on the court, what does Jordan do? He tucks in his shirt. But since it was not to his mother's liking, she yells it again. Without even looking at her, Jordan's teammate runs behind him to tuck in his shirt for him. 

It was hard not to laugh and smile in that moment. Doesn't matter what the stakes of something may or many not be, we know our mother's voice and we listen to it.
Brian who oversees @DLS151 took this photo
& interviewed Coach Kuhle

3. #TraditionNeverGraduates 
After the game, I brought my parents over to the other side of the gym to meet up with my brother's close high school friend, Brian. In the middle of talking to Brian, he tells me that two others we know from high school—the Barry Brothers were also at the game. 

The sons of Warrior legend and NBA Hall of Fame player, Rick Barry, Brent played for 14 years in the NBA and Scooter played on the 1988 Kansas national championship team. I learned from Brian that they met with the team after the game and had a chance to talk to them. I would have loved to have heard stories that they told about their days on the same court and what memories they carry. Those are for the 2016 Spartans to have and hold. Someday, they will share their own. 

De La Salle holds the motto, "Enter to learn, leave to serve." I appreciate the way that Scooter and Brent have done this through basketball and the relationships they maintain in the DLS community. I know what their simple act of showing up and meeting with the team means because I hear about it from my own students and athletes. I have heard what they think, what they hear and what they learn from those who have walked their path before.

I will conclude this posting with something I read by a friend of friend. He posts a message of gratitude daily, and thie latest one resonates with my vision of returning to a familiar place...a space that holds great memories and powerful stories that are born from sports. Indeed, they are the seedbed for what I find spiritual.

I need to get my eyes checked. I read with 2.0 reading lenses. When I looked down at my dinner last night it looked kinda blurry...tasted kinda blurry as well...wasn't one of my better efforts at the grill. I can still see things far away...but get too close and you take on fuzzy edges. I think I'm kinda grateful for this. I prefer to have a sharper view of things further away...distant...both in space and time. I'm grateful for the ways that distant vision keeps the immediate in proper focus. This has helped me with own and students I've taught. All it takes is a momentary glimpse of what someone might be in time or what a situation might be in time to re-inspire me to endure, to work, to believe that the twitch or the blurry edge is just now...and not forever.

Photo Credits
DLS book
AJ Kuhle: Developing Men of Faith

Coach Kuhle