Monday, December 31, 2018

Reflections on: 18 For 2018

My good friend Erin has given me many gifts—an introduction to Spring Lake, NJ, most of my beloved Dunkin' Donuts paraphernalia, and a sporty pair of shoes replete with interlocking ND—but her greatest is one that has done what it claims to do: make your life a little happier. In June of this year she wrote, "I wanted to let you know I’m dipping my toe into the podcast world! Have you listened to Happier with Gretchen Rubin? She’s the one who wrote The Happiness Project that I scoffed at for many years but finally read and loved. She has a podcast with her sister with all sorts of fun and interesting tidbits. Check it out, I’ll be curious if it’s up your alley!" 
Image result for to do 19 for 2019
I listen to several podcasts and this one ranks among my favorites. I've been inspired and integrated many of their recommendations—one of which is the idea behind this posting. 

In Episode 199 "Evaluate Your '18 for 2018' List," Gretchen and her sister/cohost Elizabeth Craft reviewed the 18 goals they set for 2018. I am going to set 19 for 2019, but for this final posting of the year, I will offer 18 accomplishments and actions that occurred and that...made my life a little happier. I hope you might consider a few to make your 2019 a little happier, too.

1. Listen(ed) to Happier
I had to start here. Without listening to the podcast, this list wouldn't exist. It's one thing to receive a recommendation and another to implement it. As with anything, consider the source of the rec. and take the appropriate action.

2. The creation of: Sports and Spirituality Synopsis 
The Sports and Spirituality development of 2018 in which I take the most pride. This bi-weekly resource is for coaches, athletic directors, parents and athletes who are seeking tools for athletic ministry. It's free! You can subscribe through my blog (box is one the side panel). Please share it with others!

3. Read Qaddafi's Point Guard
An easy read and a pressing one. This is the story of Alex Owumi, a Nigerian native who emigrated to the United States at age 11. Owumi's exploits on the basketball court led him to a successful career as a small college player. Undrafted by the NBA, he pursued his pro basketball dream overseas, eventually signing with Al-Nasr of Libya, a state-run athletic club privately funded by the family of then-Libyan president Muammar Qaddafi. 

Owumi's tenure with Al-Nasr was interrupted by the Libyan uprising and resulting civil war. Imprisoned in his Benghazi apartment for more than 2 weeks with no food, phone, Internet, or hope, Owumi wondered whether he would make it out of Libya alive. His faith in Jesus Christ was a source of strength and sustenance that you must read to understand.

4. Listen(ed) to Why Sports Matter
A great resource for deepening your awareness and appreciation for how story can deepen our spirituality. One of the best stories I have ever heard came to me through this new podcast. Read more here.

5. Ate an Apple a Day
Thanks to FIERCE, I was ever more encouraged to use Advent as a time to prepare for the coming of Christ. I set nutritional, spiritual and physical goals and used the on-line journal to hold myself accountable. Eating an apple a day is a good nutritional habit and an easy one. I haven't seen a doctor in a long time...

6. See(ing) Your Team in Enemy Territory
Attending a game "on the road" or as a guest sharpens your vision—as a spectator. The simple compare and contrast that occurs from entering into enemy territory has enhanced my experience as a fan and faithful follower of the Irish...the Giants...etc. AND, winning in someone else's house? Not bad.

It really was this beautiful out.
7. Attend(ed) a game at your high school
In September, I returned to Winton Drive to see the De La Salle vs Bishop Gorman football game. I went to see the Spartans play on Owen Owens field for four straight years when I was in high school. It was good to be back—even though some things have changed, a whole lot hasn't.

8. Play Together
Whatever sport you play and practice, include others. Invite new people to join you. Play often, play alone...but play together with your children, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, your team, your friends, your frenemies. Something transformative can happen in the act of play....

9. Play(ed) Dominos
Like cards, there seems to be an infinite number of games one can play with dominos. You can play games with one person or many more. Dominos are easy to transport—play indoors or outside. Play with the young and the old. Play for money or pride, or both!

10. Practice(d) with a Friend
Critical to becoming a great golfer is the willingness, the discipline and the wherewithal to practice. This is true for any sport, activity or passion you pursue. I have told my own golfers that if they aren't partial to practice, they must trick themselves into doing so. Listen to music, set up a schedule or for me what it takes is to practice with a friend. I did. The time goes by so much faster.

11. Got the Best Kind of InsuranceIt's possible that I might need more excitement in my life, but in March of this year I paid what I consider to best the best insurance possible. While most people get insurance for that can go wrong, I got it for what I hope goes right. I now pay $4 a quarter? a year? for what is known as hole-in-one insurance. Should I get one, I won't be paying the bar bill. I would like to thank the Olympic Club in advance....we'll see.

12. Find our the athletic heroes of your heroes/favorite athletes of your favorite athletes
I was not surprised that George W. Bush Presidential 
museum in Dallas featured his love for baseball. However, I was surprised to learn that his favorite baseball player was Willie Mays. I am always interested in learning who inspires others. To know that W values the Say Hey Kid...San Francisco's own, made me respect 43 in a new way!

13. Celebrate an Achievement
I did not grow up in a home where we toot our own horns. Our personal achievements have always been viewed as something we ourselves, should enjoy and hold as intrinsically valuable. I'm glad my parents value humility, however, once in a while, it's ok to go for it. That's why when I hit my first Eagle, on the Lake Course of the Olympic Club in January, I let it be known. I hope to have many more...I might not. Great venue to get this done! Still celebrating...

14. Give Blood
I write for Genesis, the alumni magazine of St. Ignatius College Prep, where I teach. My favorite article to pen this past year was about our annual blood drive, organized by the Block Club. I learned so much about the importance of giving blood and the selfless and priceless gift given by countless student athletes, coaches, teachers and others thanks to the mobile blood bank. To find out where and how you can give blood, look here.
15. Breathing as Prayer
It is still difficult to think about the extent of death and destruction caused by the wildfires in northern and southern California. We continue remember those who lost so much in our prayers.  One of the most meaningful ways I have since prayed is breathing as prayer. This spiritual discipline resonates with young and old. 

16. Make a List
A friend told me that his father made a t0-do list every single day. If you were to review his planner, you would see the same item at the top of the list... every single day. Can you guess? Yes, #1 said: make a list. This action ensured some sort of success. After all, momentum begets momentum. I will begin my "19 for 2019" list when I finish this blog!

17. Take a lesson
I don't know a person who can't benefit from some sort of instruction—a spiritual director, a personal trainer, a life coach or in my case, a golf coach. Another person with skill, wisdom, acumen and insight can see what we cannot. If you want to get better, consult another. Even the best golfers in the world have coaches. I took lessons knowing this is how it has to be...that is, if I want to get better. And I do.

18. Pray and Practice with Purpose!
I continue to reference and speak from my book, published in 2017. I am grateful for the people I have met because of this resource and I hope it is of use to those who read it.  I have another three to four books in me. I hope to find the discipline to finish one in 2019! Time for that list

Photo Credits
18 in 2018
Qaddafi's Point Guard

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Magic, Mystery and Misery: The 2018 Cotton Bowl

Flights are a good time for me to catch up back issues of Sports Illustrated. En route to the Dallas, Texas for the Cotton Bowl I read an article that spoke of the "magic, mystery and misery"of sports. I paused and thought, I need to tuck that framework away for future reference. Instead, that triptych is serving as the way I've made sense of my experience at the BCS semi-final playoff contest. With a nod to John Heisler, Senior Associate Athletics Director and Fighting Irish Media Executive Editor, here's What I Learned from my time at the Cotton Bowl Classic 2018—through Irish eyes.

The Magic
Team 130 went 12-o in the regular season. If there were but a penny for every time I have read and even typed the words uNDefeated.... With a formidable defense, strong senior leadership, renewed focus under a much calmer Brian Kelly and a mental strength coach, this team was one to celebrate. And we did! Why else would 50,000 Irish fans travel to Cowboys' Stadium to see the squad take-on an undefeated Clemson team.

I have to admit, the draw for me to watch a game in "the palace that Jerry built" was Texas-sized. I wanted to see the scoreboard that spans 60 yards and the two arches— bigger than the iconic one in St. Louis—that support it. I really did want to know if the fan experience at AT&T Stadium is as magical as 'dem Cowboys fans would have us believe. Although this venue is not the official Cotton Bowl (that still stands—without a dome in downtown Dallas), it did not disappoint! It really was magical.
The game began with a prayer—only in Texas. The US Flag was unfurled in Star Spangled glory and when our national bird landed on a Notre Dame fan, I took it as a sign. Fans of both team showed up; the stadium that holds 100,000 was in stereo, loud and proud. Depending on where you sat, you saw green or orange—blocks of it. There was much to cheer and anticipate, a lot to question and more to behold for the first quarter only. The magic then made way for....

The Mystery
AND, the worst three quarters the Irish played all season. 

I want to thank former ND quarterback, Brady Quinn for offering much needed insight. Like many fans, I went to social media early this morning to deconstruct the 30-3 loss (it felt like more). His tweet said, "Lots of HOT TAKES, after that game. Bottom line: @NDFootball deserved to be in, but unfortunately played 3 of their worst quarters of football this season. Credit @ClemsonFB, talented team that will be fun to watch playing for National Championship." I needed to read those words.
what happened?
We love college sports—or at least we claim to—because there is mystery. There is the sense that anything can and might happen. Granted this is true on the professional level as well, but the chasm between the haves and have nots with amateur athletics isn't as deep as it is in "The League, the Association" and so forth...or is it? That question is one to consider.

Why did we have to have our three worst quarters in the biggest game of the season? That is for the coaches and the analysts to determine, but Irish fans came to Dallas knowing we were 11, then 13, then 13.5 to end up 11.5 point underdogs. I thought we could cover the spread. I thought we might win by three. What transpired was instead...

The Misery
Unfortunately for Notre Dame, this game had its moments of sheer misery. This sentiment however was exacerbated by so many of our own fans who seemed to turn on the Irish early. We were tied at the end of the first quarter! As Quinn said, the rest of the game was different. 

tough being down (almost) three (full) TDs at the half....
Too many people compared this contest to what happened in 2012. They spoke of the fear on the players' faces and that they weren't confident or strong, just like it was at that game. This comparison must stop. Not one single player on the field in the 2018 Cotton Bowl played in the 2012 National Championship. You are not talking about professional athletes who have "been there before." Much of coaching staff assembled by Coach Kelly is different than six years ago.

Clemson's freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence was unflappable. He was much more mobile that I anticipated. His passing was surgeon like. He continued to thread the needle and his receivers continually pulled down/caught/help on to what he threw. Notre Dame fans however seemed to complain that we have not had a "franchise quarterback" in years. These words confound me. For one, Book's passing rate was the best in ND QB history. Second, given that Notre Dame is a University and the players are student athletes, we have to work with who we have recruited. Brian Kelly or Chip Long (offensive coordinator) are not free to pick up a player off the waivers. We hope the talent we have develops. Irish athletics believes it plays a significant role in making this happen. Many times it does, other times it doesn't. I realize that college football is a free farm system for the NFL, and the farms out there vary in size, resources and requirements. We are yielding a good crop, but for too many it's a bitter one. I don't support this.
Losing Julian Love in the second quarter hurt our defense. Before the game, I saw on the scoreboard he was named First Team All American. This outstanding achievement is nothing to to scoff at. His contributions made a difference all season; losing an athlete to an injury is personal misery for the individual and collective misery for the team. I went looking for a message he might have sent out via Twitter only to read one from former team captain and linebacker, Joe Schmidt. This walk-on linebacker wrote 
I’m still incredibly proud of this team and to be an ND alum. To turn the program around from where we were in 2016 to a playoff appearance in 2018 is nothing short of remarkable. Looking for big things - both on and off the field - from these guys in the future. Salute, Irish.
Reading his words cannot help but force a fan out of his or her misery. What vision, what insight. Great perspective, Total class. If this is what the student athletes at Notre Dame share with the world after a tough loss, then wow, all I can see is there really something magical about Notre Dame. 

The mystery of when and if we will have another National Championship in the future remains, but in the meantime, I want to say "thank you" for the ride...the journey....for representing Our Lady the way you have. Amen.

Photo Credits
J Love
Team Together
Eagle on the arm

Thursday, December 27, 2018

National Day of Regret?

If you live in Ireland, December 26th is St. Stephen's Day. If you live in the United Kingdom or many of its former principalities, December 26 is recognized as Boxing Day.  Here in the United States, today is simply "the day after Christmas" But December 26 is characterized by  mixed emotions....and the strongest one for me is the feelings of regret. 
A friend born on 12/26 said it's the single worst day to have as your birthday.
I don't want a dark cloud to rain over our Christmas parade, but I woke up on December 26th and thought, "I wish I had gotten x person y gift. I regret not making this drink or that dessert for the holiday gathering. I should have completed this. I ought to have done that." Maybe you understand. The day after Christmas might be the single hardest day of the year to get to work on time due to the food and festivities, frolic and fun that have transpired for the past 48 hours. Some may regret how much they ate or drank. Others regret not taking the day off. These thoughts gave me pause to consider: Should we have a national day of regret?  
Would a day for "should's, could's and would's" to be named, shared and discarded do us good? Is there some sort of ritual we could impart with the proclamation of said regrets to help us resolve to do differently tomorrow. NB: Timing is perfect....with New Year's Day just around the corner! I'm not interested in a cynical vibe—Festivus serves that purpose—or in hosting a pity party. Let that serve a table of one. No my national day of regrets, is meant to help me learn from what I wish we had done in the spirit of insert your own variable here—enjoying the holidays more...being of better service to others...self improvement... growing in virtue and of course making Sports and Spirituality better. With that charge in mind, here are a but a few of my regrets in that category.
There are no shortage of prayer resources during the season of Advent to prepare our hearts and homes for Christmas. This year, my favorite was one created by the Notre Dame Alumni Association, entitled "The Chapels of Notre Dame." As written on its website,
"This Advent season, we welcome you to join the Notre Dame family as we quiet our hearts and still our minds to prepare the way for the Lord. 
Each day, receive a special Advent reflection featuring a short video from a chapel on campus. Listen as a member of the Notre Dame family introduces a verse from Scripture or an Advent theme to help you center your thoughts. And take a few quiet moments for your own reflection and prayer."

I loved seeing these sacred spaces, some familiar, others new—with an opportunity to reflect upon a specific verse of the day's Gospel reading. I enjoyed hearing the Word as read by a current student and learning their name, hometown and what they are studying. As John Mooney, a junior from Orlando, FL welcomed us to Mendoza's Our Lady of the Rosary Chapel, I recognized the name and the face. I couldn't see his height but when Mooney introduced himself, he said, "I'm a junior studying Business management consulting and I play on the men's basketball team." I loved seeing this athlete who plays so tough on the hardwood, leading me in prayer. The next day, Hannah Thompson a sophomore from Albuquerque NM welcomed the viewer to Badin Hall. Thompson is a psychology major and plays on the women's volleyball team. I wish I had shared both of those videos before Christmas. Sports and Spirituality par excellence! I'm making up for that regret by sharing it now, though Advent has turned into Christmastide. Next year...

My class, Sports and Spirituality is but a semester long. This means I will have a new group of students when we return in January. I always regret not getting to some material and this year, we concluded class with an outstanding final project. "Saints, Story, Sports and Spirituality." Students were tasked with writing their own story combining these themes
as blogs, video and or an art form of their choice. Teacher hack: If you assign a meaningful and creative final project, make the due date a full week before the final class meeting. This way your students can share the fruit of their labor with their peers while you assess and grade their work.

My next posting will include who my students "regret" not meeting in class. As part of their final project, I ask them who they wish Sports and Spirituality had spent time discussing and learning more about. Past examples include: Usain Bolt, J.J. Watt and Bethany Hamilton.  I have been intentional about integrating these folks into the course and it's better because they are part of the dialogue. Thank you, students! 

And I don't know why I haven't done this before, but it's high time I decorate a sports tree. I love themed trees: kids' tree, an Irish tree, whatever your passion provides. My sports tree can easily be decorated with mementos from sporting events I have attended or teams I support. I'm not sure how many bag-tags a person needs—these medals from golf courses can easily serve as tree trimmings! This tree is a no-brainer! 

The weight of my regrets has changed in sharing and writing about them. I see many of these missed opportunities as future ones. I have much to work toward and for! Perhaps this is what a national day of regret could provide—a chance to do things differently, do them better. and anew. Now THAT's the Christmas Spirit!

Friday, December 21, 2018

Coach Muffet McGraw's: Want your kids to thrive? Let them fail

The Huddle, located in LaFortune Hall—a building that once served as the student center of campus—is adorned by some of Notre Dame's most iconic imagery. In the very heart of the building, hangs the black and white photo of Father Hesburgh beside Martin Luther King, Jr., their arms interlocking as they sing and pray. Irish Impact: capturing the goal line stand at the 1992 Snow Bowl, became THE poster that hung in every dorm room from my era. This photographic gem can be seen near the north entrance. Take note of the 1988 National Championship team photo on the east wing and the names of the student body and senior class presidents by year on the west one (how fitting!). As I passed through LaFortune on my last visit to campus, I thought to myself, these walls speak for themselves. Irish history is rich, our traditions are strong and the victories are many. We have great athletes, facilities and coaches to thank. Accordingly one wall—one of my favorites—features profile pictures of the head coaches of men's and women's sports, both past and present. And all but one of those images has remained the same since my time as an undergraduate, even 22+ years later: the photo of Coach Muffet McGraw.
Take one glance at this 8" x 10" black and white and you will notice McGraw's energy, passion and dogged spirit. She is the winningest coach in Irish athletics. She is also a recent contributor to a CNN Opinion piece entitled "Want your kids to thrive? Let them fail." Having served as a coach for 41 years, she is also a wife and mother. If her background and experience don't give her enough credibility to write this piece, perhaps two national championships and tenure of 31 years at Notre Dame do. I encourage you to read the piece here, and now.

As I read it, I had to wonder why Coach McGraw would lend her voice to this particular conversation. I thought, What is she going to add that I haven't already read or thought about. I don't know of a person out there who praises "everyone gets a trophy because participation is valued more than performance" culture surrounding youth sports, yet I don't know many parents that want it to change at the expense of their son or daughter #theRealMVP?! Can Coach's words really make a difference? Here's my thought.

I have met Coach McGraw two times. In both encounters, I felt as though I had about 2.5 seconds to get my message or words out of my mouth. The woman is a spit fire, go-getter. She doesn't waste time, she doesn't mince words. For example, she captures what parents once said rather unapologetically. It's very clear she too believes that athletes are "lucky to be going to school for free." Yes, they are, I just don't seem to hear that tenor of the conversation from parents/many coaches today. She wrote this piece because she has something to say and my sense is because she wants this message to be heard. It must be pressing; it's undeniably important.

McGraw knows championships and victories, but she really does know "disappointment, adversity and failure."When the Notre Dame women's basketball team won their second national championship this past April, I was SO happy for—yes, the players/team, of course my alma mater but most especially for Coach McGraw. She has taken teams--great teams to the Final Four eight times, and the Championship game six of those eight times. There were years the Irish collapsed, went cold and met bad luck. Other years, they got beaten, fair and square. Coach McGraw has always represented Notre Dame in the wake of those defeats with class and aplomb. She is perhaps one of our best ambassador: for the University, for women's athletics and the game of basketball.

I know for a fact how much is burns Coach McGraw to lose. But I also believe her when she writes "Competing and giving it your best shot, that's the point. Learning the value of a great work ethic, and never giving up -- that's the point. It teaches you that life isn't fair and just because you go to practice every day doesn't mean you will get to play in the game." Just look to the 2018 team—a group that lost 4 starters to injury. Several woman got in the game that might not have otherwise. The whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

I completely agree with Coach McGraw's advice on how to handle adversity: "Let them figure out for themselves that even if they're not the best player on the team, their role is still important." Our job is to create a community and environment where they can ask how to contribute and determine what is the need—what are we lacking. We owe young people honest answers, even if this is hard to say and we fear their response. We ought to praise good effort and staying with the struggle. Affirm integrity. Model humility. Laugh and smile. Always, always keep it real.
I would like to ask Coach McGraw a few questions of my own.
  • How do you help your players develop mental toughness, a quality you see lacking in todays' athletes?
  • As a college coach, what is your relationship—if any—with parents (past and present). What should it be? What would you like for it to be? 
  • How have you helped those players who are struggling value being a small part of something big? Is that something you can teach?
  • How do you help your players understand their role on the team in conventional and unconventional ways?
  • What was the toughest lesson you learned from disappointment, adversity and failure? What is the best?
Thank you, Coach for all you have and continue to teach your players, students, alumni and fans—both on the court and off of it....especially Easter Sunday, 2018. Go Irish!

Photo Credits

Monday, December 17, 2018

Picture This: My Spirituality Part V

When I am asked about Sports and Spirituality I usually say "it's a class inviting my students to learn about the spiritual life through the analogy of sports." That's a good "sales pitch." People get a small sense of what I do and they'll be sue to know—again—that it's much more than athletes pointing to the sky. I think however, the opening line of the book Sportuality: Finding Joy in the Games by Jeanne Hess offers a richer, more thoughtful explanation. Hess writes, "The arena, the stadium, the court, or the field can be our connection to the One, to the Creator, to the meaning and purpose we seek from deep within." I couldn't agree more.

As written on her website,  "In Sportuality: Finding Joy in the Games, author and sports coach Jeanne Hess has brought to the forefront a new language for sports. With a word, with a thought, says the author, new ways of living—and playing—can begin. Understanding the words that go into our sports language is the first step to restoring joy into the games we profess to love. And foundational to this language is her sportuality.

The introduction features both a pronunciation key and definition of the word.
Sportuality (spor-choo-al-i-tee)
noun: a way of finding joy in the games

Sportual (sport-choo-uhl)
adjective: of or pertaining to a person's ability to find joy in the games as a player, a coach, a manager, an official, or a fan.

Mat Dickey wrote, I had rather hoped the term "sportuality" was unique, but I suppose it's quite obvious if you think about it. 

If I were asked to offer a thought, I would admit the word has never resonated with me, but it can be tough to capture what we aim to do in the first unit of the course. Sportuality—a way of thinking of the relationship between sports and the spiritual life, helping young people understand and own their spirituality and find joy in all of it is exactly what we do. I suppose it's best evidenced by their response...their take aways...and their spirituality. That is what you will see here.

And so, the fifth installment of "Picture This: My Spirituality" will leave you with the images that they believe best illustrate their spirituality...or rather, Sportuality. Enjoy 
“People can do whatever they want if they just set their heart to it, and just never give up,
and just go out there and do it.” -Bethany Hamilton
"For when I am weak, then I am strong." 2 Corinthians 12:10
“A good attitude is essential, especially when struggling in workout or competition.
Even in an individual sport, any negativity can bring down your teammates, just as it would affect
another member of group therapy or a sibling.” —Haley Scott DeMaria 
“Deep down in my heart, I don’t believe I would ever choose God.The Bible tells us that we are chosen. I have always found this truth to resonate with me because on my own I would never choose God. I have simply responded to God’s invitation. Viewing it from God’s perspective, I was chosen. That is very humbling because I did nothing to be chosen.”
—Casey Martin
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trials because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him." -James 1:12

Be sure to check out Picture This: My Spirituality 1-4

The Men and Women of Sports and Spirituality: Who My Students Meet

On the first day class for seniors enrolled in Sports and Spirituality—an elective course for seniors at St. Ignatius, I assure my students that we will not spend six months on this:
In case you can't read this, it says "Sports & Spirituality: Not just athletes pointing to the sky
I love that one of my students had the good humor and understanding to affirm that what we read, discuss and learn is much more than the gestures/rituals we see on display in sports. 

So what then, is the curriculum? What do we study? What are the learning outcomes? I'll leave that for my syllabus and course reader (available upon request). Instead, I would like to honor the men and women my students "meet" as a result of the course work. These are the athletes who make an impression on them for much more than their strength, fitness, achievements, contracts, championships, and so forth. The athletes featured here are the ones my students have singled out as individuals they are "glad to have met." While some stars are familiar to them—Serena Williams and J.J. Watt, others are new—Haley Scott DeMaria and Jake Olson. Meeting them, in this course, however means they are examined in a new way, with a new vision and speaking a new language. The way that Sports and Spirituality asks us to see and speak.

I have articles or video clips posted beneath most photos so you can share in the learning!

Jill Costello: Featured in the SI's 60th Anniversary Issue, The Courage of Jill Costello won an award for "Most Outstanding Story" at the 13th Annual Luce Awards. I was Jill's novice crew coach; she graduated from SI in 2006. She lives on in the memory and hearts of so many.

Jake Olson: I first "met" Jake through "Sports in the News" a presentation that asks students to choose what is happening in the wide world of sports that they want to teach the class and discuss. I have loved following Jake's story and success at USC. There is no shortage of video documenting this man's incredible journey.

James Conner: This year's addition to "Sports in the News" I'm not convinced Conner wasn't on this presenters' fantasy football team. However, this assignment and even mentioning fantasy football is reflective of the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm. The IPP is, in short, how teachers are called to teach at Jesuit schools. The very first step is a call for Context: 

  • Understand the world of our students, including the ways in which family, friends, social pressures, politics, economies, media and other realities impact them. 
  • Love them, love what they love…love what you teach. 
Fantasy Football is a viable way to enter in the world of a high school student. Knowledge of James Conner can only add to that.

JJ Watt: At the conclusion of the course, I ask students who is someone they wish they had "met" in class. Two years ago, one bright and visionary student mentioned JJ Watt. I knew she was right.....and then Hurricane Harvey happened but a few months later. What he did for the people of Houston earned him the title of "The Patron Saint of Houston" as well as Co-Sportsman of the Year. I am not the least bit surprised so many students enjoyed learning more about the Texans Defensive end. Talk about fun to teach...

Bethany Hamilton: I can't quite put my finger on it, but boys and girls—no matter what sport they play—are interested the story of this Soul Surfer. Maybe it's because the movie was released when they were at an impressionable age (2011). Regardless, she is unapologetic for her faith and not one student seems to challenge her words or rebuff her devotion.

Serena and Venus Williams: It is an honor, a privilege and a delight to teach about the Williams sisters. Race, gender, excellence, ascesis, soul force, equality and justice, fashion and flare, sisterhood, motherhood...the list of themes goes on. I use "Venus and Serena," a video recommended by a former student (thank you, Sydney!) and will be showing "Venus vs" in my Ethics class in January.

Haley Scott DeMaria: Our 80-minute class periods begin with what I call "the Silent 10." Students read a Sports and Spirituality book of their choice, in silence for you guessed it, ten minutes. One student picked from my S&S library. I had no idea if "What Though the Odds" would resonate with her, as its the story of a swimmer who experienced hardship and tragedy and found hope and healing through her teammates and the larger Notre Dame family. She was so inspired by DeMaria's message and her story that she said it ought to be required reading for the course. What a gift....and it became one that kept on giving. Haley actually came to SI to speak to my class and followed up our time together with a Skype session. Still amazed that all of that happened....

The Fordson Football Team: A colleague asked in the faculty room just the other day, Where do must Muslims live in the United States. I was able to provide an answer right away, thanks to this documentary. The largest Arabic speaking population can be found in Dearborn, Michigan. Their religious and cultural practices are tightly bound, as evidenced in this documentary. My students love learning about a community that is unfamiliar to them through something  as familiar

Bo Jackson: The final unit of the course is "Story, Saints and Sportsmen and Sportswomen." One of the essential questions is What is the relationship between story and spirituality? I dare say Bo Jackson is essential to answering this question. After all, the "30 for 30 You Don't Know Bo" is subtitled "The Legend of Bo Jackson." The legend lives on...and looms large.

Eric Liddell: Teaching about the Muscular Christian is a non-negotiable. I have his beautiful words: I believe God made me for a purpose. He made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure and a personal connection to him in my life to thank for the gift of this course. His story, his witness is the gift that keeps on giving.
“We might not have the same gift as others, or the same success,
but we are asked to make an effort with what we have been given.” - Running for God
I am hoping to offer Sports and Spirituality as an evening course for parents in Spring 2019. It is exciting to me to share these life stories with adults and gain from the own collection of beloved athletes, spiritual heroes and saints.

Photo Credits

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Color Purple: Sports and Spirituality for Advent

Advent is a holy time, a liturgical season characterized by expectant waiting, hopeful anticipation and joyful preparation. The days leading up to Christmas ought to serve as an invitation to slow down, to pay attention and wait for the Lord, but too often they are just the opposite. The bustle of holiday festivities, shopping, baking and eating (of course) are a welcome distraction, but make it tough to open our hearts and homes for the birth of Christ. Therefore, I take all of the wisdom of Advent and those who teach and preach about it with open arms. This year, I have found a few tips and tools in the world of Sports and Spirituality; I hope they will help you wait, anticipate and prepare the way of the Lord, too.
The Color Purple
Purple (or violet) has traditionally been the primary color of Advent. I have to admit, when I see purple inside of a Church, I think of Lent—a season of repentance and fasting. We are called to the same during Advent, though Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the rest of my calendar this month suggest otherwise. Purple is however, also the color of royalty and the sovereignty of Christ, demonstrating the anticipation of the coming King. Integrating this color was and is a great call by the Church as purple—in its majesty—is hard not to notice. The reminder it seeks to offer is duly noted. No wonder Alice Walker titled her Pulitzer prize winning novel "The Color Purple." 

She wrote, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.” I was reminded of these words thanks to Jesuit priest, dressed in purple vestments at Mass during Advent last week. I thought to myself, "it probably does." 
Every season, I make a point of teaching my golfers to take a moment during practice to behold and appreciate their surroundings. We play a sport that it out of doors, covering acres of land and various terrains. While not all athletes have this opportunity, we do—and so I encourage this act and consider it a spiritual discipline. I say, "perhaps you notice the clear sky, or the  fluffy, bright clouds. Maybe you heard a beautiful song bird only to see it take flight? Do the Cypress trees capture your imagination?" There is so much to notice in the open space around us. 

To respect creation is to respect the Creator. So out of respect for the Lord, I try to pay attention. You might not live in a place that allows you to play golf during Advent, but the discipline of noticing is a spiritual one. Next time you go for a run, a walk, hit the ski slopes, venture to ice skate, look up...look around! Give thanks and praise! Enjoy and delight. 

The Advent Challenge Journal
Those who write down their goals and track their progress are the most successful at reaching them! Seeing what we want and reading what we have done and have yet to do to get there holds us more accountable, eliminates confusion and provides direction. Oh yeah.

And, female athletes have a helpful resource at their fingertips: The Advent Challenge Journal, created by FIERCE

FIERCE is an acronym standing for Femininity, Identity, Embodiment, Receptivity, Catholicism, and Encounter. According to their mission, these words serve as pillars. Along with Athlete, "they make up the foundation of who we are and what we believe female athletes are being called to live out. If you are a woman and an athlete, consider us part of your team." 
FIERCE approaches Advent like any athlete approaches being "in season." It is a time to prepare and train, pray and profess. Therefore,  FIERCE founder, Samantha Kelly has created one-minute videos, accessible on both their website and Instagram, for female athletes to reflect upon the life of Mary, the model for a FIERCE athlete. Some days begin with an essential question—one that we are asked to consider in order to grow in love and in faith. Other days give tips for reaching our spiritual, workout and nutritional goals—the foundation of the Advent Challenge Journal.

I value this resource because it is so user friendly! Not all journals are as simple yet direct. Each week of Advent has a theme and a simple check list for the user to indicate if she met each of the day's three goals. There is room to reflect upon the week on the page thereafter. It feels great to check those boxes and I am sure it will feel even better come Christmas to know that in some way I prepared myself holistically for His coming.

Busted Halo's Advent Calendar
Calorie free, no cost, and age appropriate, this is the Advent Calendar I look forward to daily. Created by Busted Halo, this virtual Advent calendar leads "you to a special Advent-themed Daily Jolt and MicroChallenge that will help you stay in touch with the true meaning of the season." Although there are no sports figures or athletes among the featured faces, I don't see why there couldn't be in the future! Regardless, the profiles are spiritual heroes and I appreciate the thought and prayer they invite me to consider.

In Closing
This Sunday is Gaudete Sunday and we will light the rose candle, not a purple one. This ritual serves to encourage and remind us to rejoice! take hold! have faith—we are almost there. Athletes know that a sports season can wear us out. We need encouragement, rest and inspiration to achieve our goal and finish strong. I invite you, as we begin to wind down the Advent season to make the most of the time we have left...
  • Notice the color purple at Mass and out in nature.
  • Keep track or your spiritual, physical and personal goals.
  • Read and pray daily with the words of inspiring lives.
The Incarnation awaits.
Happy Advent!

Photo Credits
The Color Purple
Prepare Ye the Way