Friday, February 10, 2017

It's Not What We Lose, but What We Gain from Sports....

With the increased specialization and competition in youth sports, I hear a lot of discussion (and disgust) about what student-athletes lose. For starters, as a teacher, I am acutely aware of how much class time gets lost for travel to competitions both in the league or with club teams. I know that many families miss out on other obligations and opportunities as pursuing a sport becomes a top priority for not just the athlete but the parents who make it possible to play. Too many of today's athletes lose out on learning from different coaches and developing other skills that relate to a second, third of fifth sport. But, a recent conversation between two notable Notre Dame alumni with sports announcer Ted Robinson reminded me of what we gain from athletics.

On February 7, 2017, with approximately 200 other Irish alumni, I attended the Notre Dame Northern California Initiative launch party. The Golden Dome has been seeking to extend its education, efforts, ministry, and mission west, and more specifically into the heart of Silicon Valley. To commemorate the opening of this campus west, and in efforts to welcome the current undergraduate students enrolled in the program this semester, the University asked the Dean of Students: Patrick Flynn, as well as two prominent alumni to speak. If you know football, and many of the Notre Dame faithful do, their names are not unfamiliar.  Jed York '05, the owner of the San Francisco 49ers and Joe Schmidt '14, captain of the 2015 football team added a special dimension to a celebratory evening. 
Sports announcer Ted Robinson, as always, did a wonderful job emceeing the event. He easily could have talked about his impressive career; I would have gladly listened. The voice of the 49ers, he has broadcast at numerous Olympic games and been the lead at Wimbledon. One friend in the audience named that you don't become the voice of a major world sporting event unless you're supremely talented. That's Ted Robinson. Instead, he said little about himself, and more about meeting his wife at Notre Dame and what it has meant to have his children attend his alma mater. 

No stranger to the media, it was obvious that both Joe Schmidt and Jed York felt especially at ease with Ted Robinson. All three speak with proficiency in my favorite languages: sport, spirituality and Notre Dame football. I was excited to hear their message and what I would learn. What struck me most wasn't Jed York telling the public—once again—that he's not afraid to fail...we know Jed, the 49er Faithful was actually something that Joe Schmidt did not say.

Joe Schmidt's personal story might be one of the more under-appreciated tales in all of sports. A walk-on out of Mater Dei high school, Schmidt who played linebacker, was named the 2014 MVP of the team. Schmidt earned the distinction over several other athletes who have already met notable success in the league— Jaylon Smith, CJ Prosise, and Will Fuller are but a few. I have heard the defensive woes of this year's team can be attributed in small part because of the void left by the fifth year captain Joe Schmidt. Team leadership should never be underestimated.
Today, Schmidt works in venture capital. He joked about graduating with a degree from the Mendoza College of Business with a major that no longer exists: management-entrepreneurship. Robinson laughed and responded by asking, "What classes, in particular, prepared you for what you are doing today?" Schmidt paused, and though he gave an answer, I wasn't convinced it was one to his satisfaction.

Sure, our classes and academic offerings sharpen our mind and train us to succeed in a specialized area. Even 20 years after graduation from ND, I know this is true; I can point to a few specific examples as evidence. But I also know that my greatest preparation has been from the experiences I have had as a member of the Notre Dame family. For me, my participation in the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE program ) shaped all that I am as a Catholic educator and coach. For Joe Schmidt, his experience as a D-1 athlete at the University of Notre Dame must translate into his qualification and preparation for his work today.

As a star of "A Season with Notre Dame Football," fans got special insight into how Schmidt might answer that. As seen on the Showtime series, the 6'0" athlete out of Orange CA spent countless hours doing much more than working out. Schmidt analyzed game tape, learned plays, counseled teammates, talked to the media and worked with the coaching staff. He balanced a schedule and succeeded in managing priorities. I think he could talk to Ted Robinson for quite some time about much more. I'm not sure how that experience couldn't prepare you for a demanding career. 

We want to believe that sports prepare us for much more than just a 12-0 season. I want to know that though I may lose some things in committing to a sport, what I gain proves to be that much more. It's time to reframe the questions and rethink our vision. 

Give thanks to God for the experience that a person gains as a student an athlete. Our passions are never limited to just one domain. We are that much richer when we can see how one can influence another. Thank you Joe and Ted, and the University of Notre Dame for the family that you are and the experiences you extend beyond the Dome. Go, Irish.

Photo Credits
Jed and Ted

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