Thursday, May 30, 2019

Inspiration with Action: A case for athletic awards

"Side Hustle School" by Chris Guillebeau is a "daily podcast, an online community, and an action-packed book — all designed to help you create a new source of income with-out quitting your job." I love it. Guillebeau runs this podcast 365 days a year, which is truly remarkable, not to mention inspirational. And speaking of inspiration he concludes every episode with the same poignant reminder: inspiration is good, but inspiration combined with action is much better. Thank you, Chris!
His words have prompted me to reflect not on what inspires me and why, but what (inspiration) prompts me to take action. Recent events in academia have offered me insight to this question. 

I love awards. I delight in seeing people recognized for their achievement. I just watched all 31 minutes of the Commencement address at the University of Notre Dame. Why? Because I can't help but get bask in the glory of the pomp and circumstance. I am partial to the regalia and graduation flare. This time of year is rich in people who are thanked for their efforts and their labor. Those who inspire are put on a pedestal. They receive honorary degrees and other decorum...and they should.

Inspirational moments such as these light a fire inside of me. I want to work harder and smarter. I remind myself that success comes from sacrifice and focus. Yes, I am a fairly competitive person but when someone wins an award, I don't ask the question "Why not me?" Instead, I let the joy of the moment serve as a reminder of what should I be doing. I ask myself, How should I channel my energy and eros? How might I better use my own gifts to glorify God and better the community around me? I hope you will, too.
The 2018-2019 St. Ignatius College Prep school awards ceremony, offered many inspirational moments. I have attended enough of these to know that when the award is given to the "right" person—a worthy recipient—his or her peers and teachers, friends and coaches will respond accordingly. The applause cannot be silenced. The cheers are sincere. The joy is contagious. And what I find equally exciting is when the award surpasses our expectations. When moments like these occur, remember them. Oh, and be sure to tell about it—a nod to the late Mary Oliver.
I always pay close attention to the conferring of athletic awards. Before awarding the John E. Brophy award, the athletic director calls out the name of the highest award for each unique sport and of this year's honoree. Given that St. Ignatius has 26 varsity sports, the audience learns the unique name of 26 awards. The varsity girls' swim team award, The Wildcat Award, caught me by surprise for it was not given to an individual. No, this year's winner was the entire team.

Though we live in a era and a culture that embraces the philosophy of "everyone wins a trophy" this accomplishment is much different. To me, when a coach decides that the collective whole is worth a singular distinction, something very special must have happened. This decision would never be done in vain. We spend energy and effort to pay attention to the person who does make a difference. However, every once in a great while, a team takes on a life so magnanimous that the whole must be recognized. Indeed, it is much greater than the parts. To me, that is inspiration. What then might be the inspiration with action?

My best guess is to respond in a way that surpasses expectation once again. What might a team or person do that is unscripted? Unsuspecting in gratitude or thanksgiving. Reading about Douglas Uchikura, a distinguished alumni from Moreau Catholic High School offered one example. In the latest issue of "The Vector" he said,
"I remember when the team returned to campus after defeating Saint Elizabeth High School in the final,” recalls third baseman Uchikura, who also played varsity and junior varsity football, ran cross country, and competed on the school’s inaugural wrestling team. “We crashed a parent meeting that [founding principal] Brother Fisher [Iwasko, CSC] was having in the school's auditorium, so we could present the trophy to him. You should have seen the grin on his face!”
Uchikura's story has stayed with me because I wonder (and hope) that a team upon victory or distinction, might think to share it with those who made it possible in the first place. Who on their team thought to take this action? Thinking of our teams today: Who might student athletes present their award to? With whom would they want to share the sign or symbol of excellence? Would they go out of their way to find us?  Why or why not? 
For those who would rather that we do away with awards and the ceremony around them, I would like to know not only what inspires them, but what inspires them to take action. How should we honor those teams and individuals who have made a difference? And how would we know that they have done so? As I've written about before, I haven't always gotten it "right" in determining who should win or why. Maybe I needed a little more inspiration. Or maybe the inspiration with action is to broaden my vision and consider alternatives....maybe it's the team? Maybe this is a year to take a pass. Perhaps it is actually a manager or trainer. I believe that quest to get it "right" is inspiration in action. Let me know what you think.

Monday, May 27, 2019

ESPN's 30 for 30: Seau—Why Watch?

  • that you are born with a personality so magnanimous, that you refer those you meet as "buddy." 
  • being incredibly photogenic—in part because of your natural beauty, but more-so because your warm and vibrant spirit is so bright.  
  • growing up in a family where every one of your five siblings had to work after school and during the summer....but you didn't because your "job" was to play sports.
  • being incredibly gifted at three sports—football, basketball, and track and field—but choosing the one you love the least because you know it will serve as a pathway toward financial success, not only for yourself, but for those you love. 
  • the honor you bring your tight knit Samoan family by being able to provide enough so that your parents can leave their two bedroom house, in troubled neighborhood. 
  • the talent it takes to be named a first ballot NFL Hall of Fame player.
  • being drafted in the first round only to return to your hometown to play for your favorite childhood team (in one of the most beautiful cities in the U.S.)
  • playing for 20 years as a linebacker—an incredibly demanding defensive position—and being named a 10-time All-Pro, 12-time Pro Bowl selection, and to the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team
Now imagine 
  • at the age of 40, telling another athlete you have had a headache since the age of 15
  • acquiring a condition that decreases your ability to handle adversity in your life,
  • suffering in silence and keeping your "game face on" only to have it get the best of you. 
  • slowly disappearing from those who love you—losing your zest for life, questioning your identity and knowing how to get help, but not accepting it.
  • writing in your journal "The world has nothing for me" even though you have four children who love and adore you as their parent.
  • understanding the struggles with depression that your teammates face.
  • telling those same teammates there's nothing is insurmountable and "as long as me you'll never be'll always be loved."
  • not being able to take your own advice.
What I have asked you to imagine—both the good and the bad— should not be hard to do. Why? It is the story of Junior Seau. I was eager to watch the "30 for 30" bearing his name because I had questions and I wanted answers. What did I find? Tragedy and no comedy. A lot of complexity and an understanding that CTE was not the only reason Junior Seau died (though a leading factor). I asked my friend Sean to watch it with me, so I could make sense of his story. I was eager to exchange insights on the themes that emerged, the lessons learned, and how we can and should honor Junior Seau's legacy in an appropriate way.

Seau begins with an aerial view of Oceanside, CA—a town on the north side of San Diego County. The director, Kirby Bradley returns to the image of the gentle waves returning to the sandy shores time and again. The contrast of such beauty, allows the viewer to take in and follow Seau's ultimate demise: into alcohol abuse, infidelity, gambling, and depression. Even his own children could not offer him peace: he hit his own son and turned on the lead Chef at his restaurant. 
Junior Seau died by suicide on May 2, 2012. It was not his first attempt.  
Friends and family knew that surfing in this ocean afforded Seau with a sense of peace and quiet, a place for the spiritual journey each one of takes. His journey ended too quickly. In spite of the struggle, those same fans, friends and family share stories of their love for him, their hopes for his future and how the loss still burns. I asked my good friend Haley, a San Diego native, if she had seen "Seau" yet. She responded in a way that indicated this wound still hurts. I took notice. So, why watch? Why tell the tale? 

ESPN writes "By far Junior Seau was the most famous player to have something like this happen to. It probably would have been voted NFL player least likely to commit suicide during his career." Because of his death we can safely come to one conclusion. No imagination is necessary.

Former NFL player Gary Plummer states "I absolutely would have never sought help were it not been what happened to Junior." It's very possible that Junior's death was a tipping point—THE tipping point: for players, for the NFL and for those of us who love the game. The questions are tough, the answers are many. Is this a resurrection story? No it is not. Is there a lesson that at least one person has learned? Absolutely. And hopefully many more.

Rest in peace, #55.

Photo Credits
Charger Hat

30 for 30

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Picture This: My Spirituality VI

The words of Richard Rohr, OFM serve as a foundation for understanding a Theology of Sport. He writes: Spirituality is about seeing. It's not about earning or achieving. It's about relationship rather than results or requirements. Once you see, the rest follows. My goal—as a teacher and as a coach—is to train eyes to see. 

A course like Sports and Spirituality aims to do what Ignatius of Loyola instructed the early Jesuits to do—to go out and "find God in all things." If by the end of the semester (or season) my students and athletes can say "in all things, I have found God" my work is done. However, it's not as easy as it sounds. Therefore, we start small. We begin with the familiar. We embrace what is personal. We behold what we are passionate about. We look and listen, practice and probe and by the conclusion of our time together, we have more insight. What you see below reflects what they have found. 

This is the sixth installment of this posting, and my final rendition of doing so from the students of St. Ignatius College Prep. Staring in August, I will be teaching and coaching at St. Francis High School in Mountain View. Founded by the Brothers of the Holy Cross, my future students do not speak Ignatian. However, as someone who loves words and language, I can assure you and them, together will be learning a new language and acquiring a new vision. I look forward to sharing how I will "faith train" in a new way, come August! In the meantime, here is the work of my seniors—a wonderful group of Wildcats. 
“The experience you are having cannot be reductively explained by the effect of a ball going through a hoop. No, something else, something beyond the material—dare I say, something transcendent—is at play.” —Vincent Strand, SJ
“Sport expresses the unity and harmony of the Creator, but it also expresses
the diversity of life experience through winning and losing.”   - Martin Siegel
“No… I have, of course, prayed about the athletic meetings, asking that in this, too,
God might be glorified.” -Eric Liddell
"God is not remote from us. He is at the point of my pen, my pick, my paintbrush,
my needle — and my heart and my thoughts." —Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ
A lot of my spiritual life has to do with baseball. I often find myself praying for things related to me and succeeding with baseball. However, I make sure I always pray for something else in the world besides myself before I pray for myself. I was told this at a very a young age and it stuck with me. Baseball is the most lifelike sport because you are constantly failing. Before every game when I take the outfield I say a prayer for everyone’s safety and a fair game in which my team wins. After that I draw a CR9 which is a past coach who passed way two years ago. The baseball field has meant so much more to me now and I use it as a way to center my spirituality and competitiveness.
“the literal meaning of the word “competition.” It comes from the Latin competitionem, which
surprisingly means to strive with someone else” —Daniel A. Dombrowski
No caption required.
"I had no experience as a coach, but I knew how to be kind." —Coach Frank Allocco

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Overshare...The Undershare: A Case for Moderation

"I'm sorry. Was that too much? I tend to overshare."

It's not uncommon for people to overshare. I don't think I've ever said to someone "thanks for the great overshare." I'm not convinced anyone feels better for oversharing, either. Why, then might oversharing be problematic? Teaching ethics has offered me some insight into how we might think of this issue, in particular within an moral framework. A context  like this is worth considering.
In Catholic Ethics, Andrew Peach writes,
For Aristotle, the virtuous person strives for the middle course of what today we would speak of as "the golden mean." For nearly every person and action, the virtuous person will try to steer an intermediate or mean course between two extremes. This intermediate way of feeling and acting Aristotle calls a "virtue," and the two extremes that flank this intermediate way he calls "vices." One of the extremes is in excess or a "too much," and the other is a deficiency of a "too little." Virtuous people find the mean, the action that is appropriate for the situation, and avoid either excess; virtuous people will practice temperance, the virtue in regard to food. Virtuous people know with their reason that only so much food is necessary for a healthy body, and because they are virtuous, they only desire that amount of food.
The virtue (good moral habit) related to this issue or tendency is self-disclosure. We all benefit from learning the life lessons, wisdom and insights of others. Personal sharing involves the struggles and disappointments as well as the joy, accomplishments an accolades we endure and achieve. I truly believe "pain shared it pain divided." Love shared is love magnified.  And yet, it might be worth considering that too much isn't necessarily a good thing. Some of what is personal can and should stay personal. Though uncommon in today's world, it really is okay to keep some things private.
Thinking about today's society gave me to pause to consider the past. Has oversharing always been a problem? Was there a time when self-disclosure was limited? Or non-existent? Was the under-share something anyone apologized for? 

As written about in Personal Statement: One Medal—The People, Experiences and Events Behind It my maternal grandfather, Michael John Naughton was an All-Ireland champion distance runner in 1920. If it were not for the two medals he kept in his dresser drawer, I'm not sure I would ever know about his accomplishments. My mom and her sister discovered these now coveted family heirlooms after he died. My Grandpa never talked about his personal success. I have a hard time understanding why he never shared stories of his victory? I have wondered, many times, What possesses a person to withhold information of this nature? In short, Why the undershare?

I have also wondered had he been alive when the movie Chariots of Fire played in the theater, would he have told us about his glory? Would he tell tales of running in this golden age? 
though not in this photo, these Irishmen would have been contemporary athletes of my grandfather
I look forward to seeing my grandfather again one day. I sincerely hope that when it is time to leave this earth that he will greet me in heaven with open arms. I hope that Eric Liddell—the consummate sportsman and championship runner featured in the Academy Award winning film— will stand at his side; I want the full story. I'm not sure I will ask my Grandpa Naughton why he never shared his, I'll be too eager to hear it all. 

In the same way that personal sharing can be too much, a lack of self-disclosure means that we—family, friends, believers, etc get too little. We miss out. When we undershare, we leave those we love without information for understanding, emotion for insight and wisdom for reflection. We are left to guess or conjecture, surmise or suggest. In short, we will just never know.

The poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde, had it right when he wrote: "all things in moderation, including moderation." Though we live in a time when the overshare is both a noun and a verb—it's just too much!—I don't want a world where we are governed by the undershare. Let us find the mean. Let us celebrate the virtue of self-disclosure. Keep it in moderation. 

Photo Credits
Stop Oversharing

Thursday, May 16, 2019

What Sports Has Taught Me About Feminism

What is feminism really about? What is a feminist? Are you a feminist? Who are the feminists you know and admire? Who is a feminist that challenges you?

Feminism began long before Betty Friedan penned The Feminine Mystique and its roots are much deeper than those planted by Gloria Steinem. The history of feminism, especially in American life is rich. Though the suffragettes took action over a century prior, their work is indeed necessary today. Why? Because of what feminism calls for...because of what feminism is really about—a topic that remains provocative, timely and as important today as when it started.
I hope your life experience, education, and personal conversations have helped you develop answers to my questions. I found mine through Sports and Spirituality. In coming to terms with my understanding of feminism, I have come to believe it would behoove us in our society and local communities to continue asking these questions, and having this conversation. Here's's why.

The Winter Issue of Notre Dame Magazine focused on "A Winning Tradition." My favorite article, The Competitor focuses on the two-time national champion winning women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw. Benjamin Hochman writes
Every summer, McGraw has her players and staff read a book. In 2017 it was Admiral William H. McRaven’s Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life . . . And Maybe The World. This year, it was a slim title by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, We Should All Be Feminists. 
“She’s a Nigerian woman,” McGraw says, “and she talks about how women are looked at, especially over there, and how it’s still a man’s world — and what we gotta fight for. Really, all we want is opportunity. Equal opportunity, equal pay, you know, we want to be treated the same. It’s all we want. 
“So I had the girls define feminism for what they thought it was. And then we just talked about — are you a feminist? I thought the best thing was that they all defined it in a really smart way. They’re smart kids. So they would explain it in their own words, and it basically comes down to equal opportunity. 
“‘Well, are you a feminist?’ ‘I don’t know,’ some would say. And I’m like, ‘Wait a minute, you just defined it, aren’t you that?’ They’d say, ‘Well, yeah — thaaaat.’ But there’s a very negative connotation of what a feminist is, and they’re like, ‘I don’t hate men.’ I was like, ‘Well I married one! I don’t hate men either.’”
She wants her players to think critically about stereotypes.
Coach McGraw's desire is a worthy one. Stereotypes, especially around this issue loom large. They are worth unpacking and examining. 

Just last week, I played in a member guest day hosted by the Women's Golf Network at my club. As written on our website, "With more than 150 members, the Women’s Golf Network (WGN) is a dynamic organization providing a strong competitive golf program attractive to experienced women golfers, competitive opportunities for more casual golfers and development programs for the novice golfer. There are a variety of activities in which to get involved, including: lessons and clinics, travel to golf destinations, competitive tournaments, casual golf and opportunities to play at other private clubs. Participation in these events encourages improvement, as well as fostering camaraderie and positive relationships." The WGN is responsible for helping me develop into the player I am today and for fostering personal and professional relationships like no other. Golf is a wonder game in that way.

Before the tourney, I asked the WGN President if I could bring a male guest. With the green light, I invited the junior varsity girls' golf coach at Presentation High School—an all girls' Catholic high school in San Jose. Charlie and I became fast friends thanks to our love of coaching and the game. When another member was in search of a guest, Charlie and I thought to invite Dave, who served as the assistant JV girls coach. Turns out they were the only two men who played. Didn't matter to me or my WGN was a great day.

During the reception however, I was shocked by the number of women who asked me why I brought a male guest. Some said "I can't believe you brought two men to play." Others wondered who they were and what they were doing there. I didn't know this would be an issue. I still don't understand why it was perceived in that way. 
Regardless, my response to those who asked was: I know Charlie and Dave because we coach together. Let me tell you something. In terms of high school sports, junior varsity girls' golf is the lowest man or woman on the totem pole. The fact that two men want to work with young women to develop their game and grow golf is a wonderful thing. Golf is a great sport for both men and women to play—alone or together. For work or for play. Most of my players don't have moms that play; they learned from their fathers. Imagine if these players one day teach their daughters and sons to play golf, too!
No other words were necessary.

Are Charlie and Dave feminists? I won't answer that question for them (although one of them did renounce his membership at a golf club because they did not allow for female memberships...therefore I would say, yes, he is). Are the women who looked at me with suspicion and some disdain for bringing male guests feminists? I won't answer that question for them either. The real question is do we want equal opportunity and equal treatment for all? If that is what feminism is really about, let us make it a goal to shatter the stereotypes and harbor no suspicion of us vs. them. Instead, let us embrace the words of Greg Boyle, SJ who wrote:
“No daylight to separate us. Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of that circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away.”
I think he's a feminist too....

Photo Credits
McGraw Competitor
The Team

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Power of a Logo: Whether We Know it or Not

With 20 minutes to spare before our tee time, my friends and I walked up to the snack bar, and stood behind a sea of Tar Heel blue. I took inventory: 6 young men were wearing the same collared zip sweatshirt and hat, replete with interlocking NC logos. To their right stood a man slightly older than them in the same Carolina blue. I smiled at him and said "Coach, are you playing in a tourney here today?" We talked and I came to learn they were practicing before the NCAA Men's Golf Regional at Stanford University. I looked at the ACC logo on his sleeve and asked "How many ACC teams will be there?" I paused and pointed to my own jacket and said, "For example, will Notre Dame be there?!" I smiled again.
We represent our schools, causes, country and state, sports teams and clubs, passions and people all the time in ways both big and small. From a logo on your favorite sweatshirt to a sticker on your car window, we do a lot of marketing without even knowing it! We promote and publicize our allegiances before and after game day. I love connecting with others in this way.

However, today I was reminded that representing our school, our place of work, our alma mater or a community of personal import with a hat or shirt, golf bag or jacket isn't something we should treat lightly. Why? Because whether we know it or not, we send messages to others all the time. We observe color and symbol. We take inventory and look up and down, far and wide, and we take notice. What do they say? How do they say it. Indeed, people infer and deduce quite a bit about who we are with words and perhaps more loudly without them. 

For example, from time to time, I can be an aggressive driver. I have cut other cars off or switched lanes at the last minute, holding other vehicles back. It's not ok—and I know this by an action I consciously and subconsciously take. On the driver side window of my Jeep is a sticker that reads "University of Notre Dame Alumni." This gold square has an interlocking ND in the middle of it. When I have been
 a selfish person behind the wheel, I roll down that window. I don't want anyone to see that I went to Notre Dame. I don't want them to associate this gesture with other alumni. To some people that might sound ridiculous but to me, it's how I feel. I want others to have respect for ND graduates rather than contempt. A tall order I know, but I look at others in a similar vein.

This truth was reflected back to me in an unusual experience when my friends and I went to tee off—post snack bar—for our round of golf. The two men in front of us were late and should have joined the twosome they were paired with. Rather than apologize or explain what went wrong, one man put the issue back on me. He was defensive and corrected me on the time (NB: it's a near cardinal sin to be late in golf....a 12:50 tee time means you should be in the tee box and ready to go ten minutes prior). I was shocked at how caustic and unfriendly he was in the circumstance. His arrogance did not just affect me and my friends, but the line of golfers after us. Everyone makes mistakes! This was not the end of the world, but a simple apology...a "my bad" or "we'll do what we can to catch up with the other two" would have been appropriate and appreciated. 

As I sought to make sense of what transpired, I looked at the bag of this golfer. On this faded red bag was the head of a Bronco; that meant he went to, and most likely played at Santa Clara University. I then caught sight of four letters embroidered on the side; it said AMDG. That was tough to see.
Students at Jesuit schools write AMDG at the top of a paper or beside their name as they begin an exam. Some place AMDG on their artwork; others let this motto serve as the header for an important essay. AMDG or “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam,” is the Latin motto for the Society of Jesus meaning "for the greater glory of God." 

AMDG is not meant to be another decoration. AMDG is far from a marketing tool; the spirit of this motto should never ring hollow or untrue. The athletic director has told me that his biggest fear is someone will come up to a student and ask them "What does AMDG stand for and they won't know the answer." Therefore, coaches are called to actively lead with AMDG in mind and teach what it means: athletes are instructed to compete in a way that gives glory to God. They are reminded that sports is another way we can use our gifts and talents not just for personal gain, but as part of something much bigger than ourselves. Those letters are printed on team jerseys lest anyone forget.....and as I saw on the course today, on golf bags.

I have wondered how today's encounter with these two golfers could have been different. Thinking about it now, I think I would let those four letters: AMDG factor into our exchange. I wish I had paused. I wish I had given some silence after I asked what was going on (they knew). I wish I had said "Did you play at Santa Clara? I see AMDG on your bag." I don't know that things would have been any different, but I think I would be. AMDG means something to me. I know what it is and what it is not. That was far from how that motto is and what it calls us to be.

Again, all stones are cast to the side. I own my limitations and failings—but I am also an ambassador of the the places that have formed me, the communities I represent, my schools and teams, families and friends whether I want to admit it or not. In other words, I will do better behind the wheel so I don't have to roll that window down. I hope you will consider what this means in your life...

Photo Credits
UNC Golf
ND Sticker