Thursday, June 27, 2019

Carli Lloyd: What You See and What You Get

In September 2016, I read the excerpt from "When Nobody Was Watching: My Hard Fought Journey to the Top of the Soccer World" a memoir by Carli Lloyd. I'm surprised I read it; soccer is not a sport I follow. Though I am a fan of female athletics, and soccer is a premiere sport for women in sport, I confess, my interest is anemic. But every once in a while I take my own advice: a good way to enjoy a sport is to learn more about its history, strategy and of course the greats in the game. Mission accomplished as what I learned about the 36 year old midfielder prompted me to write three reflections (for now) on the Women's World Cup and tune in to the tourney. Thank you, Carli! 
Amazon writes, "In 2015, the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team won its first FIFA championship in sixteen years, culminating in an epic final game that electrified soccer fans around the world. It featured a gutsy, brilliant performance by team captain and midfielder Carli Lloyd, who made history that day, scoring a hat trick during the first sixteen minutes." In short, awesome.

The title of her memoir speaks to the virtue of integrity—a word that has evolved from the Latin adjective integer, meaning whole or complete. The New York Times best-selling book suggests that who we are on the pitch is no different than the person off of it. I have no doubt that Carli Lloyd would reject bracketed morality. So do I. 

Learning more about the fierce competitor, demanding teammate, and reliable leader  in this tell-all wasn't always easy. There is much to celebrate and just as much to hold in concern. All the more reason for young athletes, coaches and parents to read, reflect and discuss. The purpose of this posting to share a few themes and quotes from her book for you to debate and share—before or after the games. There's too much action during the game to give it a fair shot. Enjoy. 

Her brand
"You hear a lot these days about brand building and image-crafting. I have a brand. You know what it is? Soccer player. It's the only brand I have any interest in. Of course I want to be recognized for being a world-class player, but when I wake up every day it's not my goal to figure out how to become a bigger celebrity or have more Twitter followers. If that happens because of what I am doing on the field, great. Otherwise, I have zero interest."
  • Do you know other athletes like Carli?
  • Do you admire her singular focus?
  • What do fans miss out on when an athlete focuses his or her brand on their sport. What do they gain?

Being a role model.

"I want to be a role model, not a runway model. I want to be known for the body of work of my career. If that makes me old-fashioned or out of step with the times we live in, so be it."
  • Carli said this because she was approached by ESPN The Magazine to pose in the body issue. Dancing with the Stars reached out to her as well as Maxim magazine. Respond
The underdog mentality
"When I scored both goals in the final to carry the U.S. to another Olympic gold, it wasn't just the sweetest possible vindication for me: it was fresh proof that I am one of those athletes who thrives on slights, whether real or imagined. I am at my best when I am playing with an edge, with some Jersey girl attitude, getting after it like a kid who has had her lunch money stolen and is hell-bent on getting it back."
  • Does Carli's mentality resonate with you? Your teammates?
  • What are the strengths of this mindset? Liabilities?

Three words

I room with Hope (Solo) for the first two games in Winnepeg, and when we check in there are action posters of ourselves on our beds, placed there by Dawn Scott, our fitness trainer, and the other team staffers and personalized with three words. Mine are: Committed, Relentless. Confident.

  • What three words might your coach/trainer/teammate say about you?
  • What would you like them to write?

The Thrill of sport

One of the greatest thrills of my whole childhood is when my parents buy me my first pair of Copa soccer shoes. I am nine years old, and when I put them on for the first time I don't feel like a kid imposter anymore. I feel legit. They are black leather, and they are my pride and joy. I clean them after  every game and practice, meticulously applying leather condition. I want them to stay new-looking. I want them to last forever.
  • What are your early memories of sport? 
  • What was a great thrill of your childhood, related to sports?
  • Do you still have that childlike joy and excitement when it comes to your sport?

Development as an athlete/in your sport
Lloyd grows up in the town of Delran, NJ. She writes "there are always boys and men from the neighborhood playing at the field. Many of them are Turkish. I hop in and play with them all the time. I love playing free soccer. I learn to solve problems on the field, figure things out, get comfortable with the ball on my foot against good competition. I don't know it at the time, but this is the best thing I ever could've done for my development as a soccer player.
  • What is the best thing you have done to improve in your sport?
  • If you are a coach, do you allow for time to freely play your sport?

A case for free play
Corollary to Lloyd's development as a soccer player, she writes "Soccer has come a long way in the United States, but I believe our young players are over-coached, from too young an age. There is too much organization and not enough intuition and creativity. The more we encourage kids to just go out and play pickup games, the more they will love it and the faster they will improve."
  • What is the role of coach, parent(s) and athletes in allowing for and promoting free play?
  • Is play part of your own athletic experience.
It is no surprise that Lloyd is very honest in her memoir. Her "what you see is what you get" approach is refreshing and her story is compelling. I think it is important for the reader to remember we hear one side of the story...and that's ok, it's her story—one I found to be complex, unique and utterly fascinating for a non-soccer fan!

Photo Credits
When Nobody Was Watching
2019 World Cup

Monday, June 24, 2019

Women's World Cup Preview 2019: Part of Why It's Known as "The Beautiful Game"

I recently started to give my back issues of Sports Illustrated to my Dad. This is the best thing I have done—intentionally and unintentionally—in a long time. Passing this magazine on to one of the bigger sports fans I know means that I have learned a whole lot more about sports from a historical and statistical perspective. And when I gave him the Women's World Cup Preview issue, I realized, I am also learning more about me dad, too. It's pretty awesome. 

I understand why people prefer to go digital with their subscriptions. For me, it's not fun to have a visual reminder that I'm behind in my reading. I have not checked the box to go paperless as I think I may be held more accountable to read, open and flip through a hard copy of a  journal rather that let it remain somewhere in cyberspace. I have always made a point of sharing thoughtful pieces with friends and families and now that habit included giving the entire issue to my dad. I'm curious, What is your approach toward this topic?

My dad has always been a huge soccer fan. He has never held back his belief that soccer players are the best athletes in the world; that the game is 10 times more exciting than any baseball game ever could be. He coached my brother's team and still talks about that time in their lives with great affection. The increased coverage of televised soccer in the US has taken over my parents' household. I was not sure how his love for the Beautiful Game would apply when it came time for the FIFA Women's World Cup. Would he watch any of the games? Does he hold any of the interest in the twenty four teams?  Would he have any of his great excitement for the round robin tournament? Does he have a favorite player? A love for sport does not always translate from the men's to the woman's game (and vice versa). I have wondered Does the true love of sport require equal enthusiasm for both games?

I handed him the June 3, 2019 issue with Megan Rapinoe and young female soccer players on the cover, not knowing if or how he would react to it. His response was ecstatic. His enthusiasm was contagious. "Thank you!" he said. "I can't wait for the games to begin, and I'd like to read more about it. That Carli Lloyd, she is an incredible player." He went on to mention several women on the US team that he admires. 
His appreciation and value for the Women's World Cup meant more to me than I thought it would (and full disclosure, though I wish I was...I am not a soccer fan). I am a grown woman and have my own passions and interests in and beyond sport. But knowing my dad and his, I was sincerely touched that it made room for these women who are equally talented, dynamic and competitive (if not more so! US Women have won the World Cup three of the seven times the tourney has been played). 

The opinion and support of our parents have an impact and this one, from my dad, meant a lot. His interest in women in soccer affirmed that his beliefs—they are the best athletes in the world and the game is incredibly exciting—need not be limited to the men's game. I think part of why we call soccer The Beautiful Game is because it is so radically inclusive—men and women, all young and older, one nation after another. Enjoy the tourney!

Photo Credits
SI Cover

Thursday, June 20, 2019

One Plus One Equals Three: Thoughts on Coaching

In his book "Born to Run" Bruce Springsteen shares a truth he has come to know, profess and believe; one plus one does not equal two. The Boss writes: "one plus one equals three." How's that? What gives? The math does not add up. However the Feast of the Holy Trinity—the first Sunday in Ordinary Time—and my philosophy on coaching has helped me understand that it does. Here's how.

We Christians honor a triune God. We call upon the Father, Son and Holy Spirit when we begin our prayer with the sign of the cross. Though a mystery, the Holy Trinity—a communion of persons—boils down to one thing: relationship. God is three persons in one. God is Father, God is revealed in the Son and God is living in the Holy Spirit. I relate to each person of the Trinity in new and profound ways every day. And, I believe this is what God desires—a relationship with each and everyone of us. This is the God of the Old Testament and the New. A personal and loving God. One who has called us by name.

From time to time I have heard a call to "evolve" or "move on" from the words, the titles of Father, Son and Spirit. Some suggest that we pray Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. I understand why. When I consider the Trinitarian God with these titles, they make sense. I do recognize that God created the cosmos. I am grateful that Jesus redeemed the world through His sacrifice on the cross. And I pray always that the Spirit will sanctify and make all things new. However, as I was reminded at Sunday Mass on this feast day, to speak of God in this way reduces God to a function. These words intonate what God can do and not who God is. Scripture tells us repeatedly that God is love. Ignatius of Loyola taught that love is shown in deeds. loving and doing are the foundation for real relationships.
This week, I will head back to my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame for the Play Like a Champion Today conference. This gathering of coaches and athletic administrators commences with a retreat. As part of the retreat team, I am giving the a reflection on Coaching: A vehicle for transformation. I believe that our task as coaches is to move our athletes from one place to another over the course of the season. We can only get there through trust, patience and love—fundamentals for a good relationship. I have always felt that the relationships I have made through coaching are the best part of the job. The late Vince Tringali, a great coach at St Ignatius spoke to that truth.
What do you get out of coaching? 
What you get from coaching is a relationship. And for some it only lasts a season. Still others, ask or need more of you and it extends beyond. And with some, the relationship lasts a lifetime. One that does not end in even with this life.
Indeed, a coach has a particular function. He or she leads the team and as the root of the word "coach" suggests, a coach transports their athletes from one place to another over the course of a season (more on the metaphorical than the literal...but as the golf coach—some say van driver ;-) However when I consider my role as a coach, I do not self-identify as Leader, Organizer and Motivator. No, the descriptors are too many. They are much more than a role that I play or a function I perform. They rest in relationship. The title "coach" says it all. 
For Springsteen, the music and the message has always had its own magic. Chemistry has always played a part with his band, the audience, the era, etc. And his quote speaks to something more. One plus one should equal two....but including God into that duo of coach and athlete, or coach and team makes something much more powerful. It's own sacred Trinity. The recipe for a holy, loving and dynamic relationship.

Glory Be....

Photo Credits

Monday, June 17, 2019

Athletes Who Live Up To Their Name

In the June 5-16, 2019 issue of Sports Illustrated's Tim Layden pays tribute to the late Bart Starr, one of the most successful NFL quarterbacks of all time. In his column "Point After" he writes,
He had a cinematic football hero's name, two short syllables full of hard consonants evoking crisp autumn afternoons, long touchdown passes and a stadium full of unconditional love. A name for a child born into greatness in America's Game: Bryan Bartlett Starr, known forever as Bart...
I listen to a lot of sports talk radio. Many names and events go in one ear and out the other. In the days that followed Starr's death, however, I paid attention. I noticed. I remembered the references and recollections, the stories and more—even though I never watched him play. Upon reading SI, I realized why: it's because of his name. 

Certain athletes have names that evoke their own destiny. For example, Zion Williamson has yet to play in the NBA, but I am convinced he is getting a lot of air time and chatter not only because of his talent and size, but because his name is epic. It flows. It suggests that he will be great. He must be. His name allows for it!
I like to think of other names that carry their own majesty. I wonder if parents simply feel as though they pass along a special fate for their son or daughter through a name. For example, Woods' parents may have named their son Eldrick, because it began with "E" (for his father, Earl) and ended with "K" (for his mother, Kultida) but to the sports world he has only ever been Tiger. This nickname was given Woods. in honor of his father's friend Col. Vuong Dang Phong, who had also been known as Tiger. Tiger Woods. What a name. Great logo, too.

I *believe* I once read that Kawhi Leonard's father wanted to name his son with an alternative spelling of the Hawaiian Island. Though I cannot confirm my speculation (can't find the SI article), it will be interesting to see how popular his name becomes in The North. Predictions are high that the NBA Finals' MVP will be in the inspiration behind the names of both male and female children in the next year. And why not? He has a great name.

A sign of status is when an athlete or celebrity is known simply by his or her first name. Oprah, Ellen and Madonna. In sports we have Serena, Shaq, Kobe and Lance. That being said, some names just work better than others.: LeBron.

Yes, we have nicknames and abbreviations, initials and numbers, but the purpose of this posting is to get you to think about those great names in sports.
CS Lewis, possibly the most important Christian writer of the 20th century said,
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
What a profound outlook on humanity. We are not ordinary, we are extraordinary. Though we must each confront our mortality, our immortality is captured in spirit and our soul. It is evidenced in our writing, music and art, our relationships, our legacy and our loves—good, bad or otherwise. And, of course in sports.

Lewis ought to know that although there may not be any ordinary people, there are ordinary names. I'm sorry if your name is John Smith, Bob Davis or even Gary Woodland. While you have probably never had a problem with others pronunciation of your name, they are not the type of which I speak. So here are a few of the and all.
  • Venus Williams
  • Brooks Koepka...or better yet Brooks Robinson
  • Joe Montana
  • Mickey Mantle
  • Skylar Diggins
  • Knute Rockne
These are but a few of the great athletes who live up to their names. I invite you to think of the others...and share on this list! Isaiah 43:1 says "I have called you by name and you are mine." To each is a unique, God given name. Some of those names however, are extraordinary.

Photo Credits

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

AC Green: Iron Virgin, Totally "Other"

Although the NBA stands for the National Basketball Association, the players will tell you otherwise. It's Nothing But Airports. Given that 30 teams play in more or less 28 different cities to play a single game, the NBA knows the friendly skies. Furthermore, the season is long—too long. Regular season games begin in mid-October and here we are, mid-June, still watching, talking, eating, drinking and dreaming hoops. (NB: Given that my Golden State Warriors is still battling for the championship title, I'm not complaining). The grind—the constant travel, hotel rooms, press conferences cannot be easy. 
The toll the NBA life to mind, body and soul must be exhausting. The temptations on the road are many. Given their height and physical stature, it's hard to miss a pro basketball player walking into a restaurant, at the bar, in the club, leaving the lobby, etc. They are ever under a watchful eye. The lifestyle that accompanies being a professional athlete is not a normal one. I suppose it need not be, which makes the story of AC Green: The Iron Virgin that much more compelling.

I showed the ESPN 30 for 30 Short to my seniors without much background or context. We had read "Running for God" an article about Eric Liddell and watched a clip from his bio-pic, Chariots of Fire. Discussion of Liddell, a "Muscular Christian" prompts the question: What athletes today remind you of Eric Liddell? Invariably, students will name Tim Tebow or Bethany Hamilton. AC Green might be a worthy response, if it were 1985. However, his story is so countercultural, his conviction so steadfast, that it is worth sharing today.

Fresh from winning the NBA Championship, AC Green was selected in the first round as the 23rd overall pick in the 1985 draft. The 6'9" power forward out of Oregon State came to the Lakers during the Showtime era. The cars were fast, the women were beautiful and the parties were incessant. Green abstained from all of it.

AC Green was forthright about his decision to not have sex with a woman until marriage. He refrained from drinking alcohol and using drugs. His conviction was strong. He prayed openly and often. Undoubtedly, his faith served as the soul force that drove his decisions and commitment to purity.

Could an athlete be that outspoken about their personal convictions today? I hope so. However, I don't know that he or she could. Ron Rolheiser said it well when he wrote
Purity and any type of chaste hesitancy is, in our world, regarded with a disapproval bordering on disdain. Purity is, for the most part, seen as naiveté, as lack of nerve, as lack of drive for life. To believe in purity, especially sexual purity, is tantamount to believing in Santa and the Easter Bunny.
I don't disagree. However, this perception of the world and of people is what makes A.C. Green such a compelling figure. Not many professional athletes are different in this way off the court. On the court however, Green is replete with nerve. His game is anything but naive. He is fierce. His drive for life is strong. So strong, that he played for 1,192 straight games. Hence the moniker, a clever combo: the Iron Virgin.
Thanks to a trend started by Coach Popovich, who led the San Antonio Spurs into 21-straight postseason appearance, today, it is not uncommon for star players to rest and not play regular season games. I don't think AC Green would have any of this. In Iron Virgin he said "my parents went to work every single day. I don't see why I should not."

I was reminded as I read the latest book by Jonathan Doyle that "the term holiness basically means otherness. God is great other. What God values is so different to what we value at times." The Israelites lived according to this principle of God as Holy. The temple was a place that was totally other. They practiced ritual purity as a way to inculcate holiness for the body and ultimately the soul. It's no stretch to think of A.C. Green as "other." 

Are their athletes today that remind you of Eric Liddell? of A.C. Green? Do we need athletes who are the "other?"
James Worthy said "being able to stay strong and not be broken and to still be able to stick to his guns? That is what stands out the most." Kareem Abdul Jabar adds, "Play for 16 straight years and miss less than 5 games? Who is going to do that again? I love these questions. I love the example set by A.C. Green, both on and off the court. It is one of passion, conviction, principle and otherness.

In 2001, AC Green retired as the Iron Man of the NBA. Shortly after, he got married. Check out the certificate of recognition he got from Jerry's totally other too.

Photo Credits
AC Green: Iron Virgin
Laker Girls

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Practice Reverse Gossip

There is no shortage of quotes or sayings around gossip—insert one you know here. A quick internet search taught me that Aesop penned one I was taught as a child. He said, "If you can't say something nice, don't say it at all." So true. To me, it's fitting that the most under-appreciated Beatle, George Harrison offered one with an image to boot. He said, "Gossip is the Devil's radio." Pope Francis, has heard. The Holy Father wrote about its dangers and urged the faithful to refrain from this disrespectful, unkind and sometimes cruel act. In "The Tyranny of Talk," the Pope said
“It’s so rotten, gossip,” he said in February. “At the beginning, it seems to be something enjoyable and fun, like a piece of candy. But at the end, it fills the heart with bitterness and also poisons us.”
His words resonated with my students and with me. We face the temptation to think less of others, to ever so slightly delight in their misgivings and add what we know; that is gossip! In high school gossip is all too real, but it doesn't end there. As we age and mature, we ought to make better decisions and grow in wisdom and kindness. The reality of gossip reminds us we fall short at every age. 

As someone who is not immune from indulging in gossip—feeling the elusive power of having a good piece to share or leaning in to listen to it from others—I am happy report, we are not helpless. This need not be the way it is, or has to be. One solution? Practice reverse gossip.

The habit of saying good things, as opposed to bad things about people is known as reverse gossip. Gretchen Rubin, the host of one of my favorite podcasts, The Happiness Project extols the virtues of reverse gossip for it can help a person become more positive and eve have better energy! Like me, Misa Hopkins believes reverse gossip can be a spiritual discipline. On the blog Sacred Feminine Awakening she writes, 
Since we tend to experience gossip as being a negative portrayal of others, I call this reverse gossip. When you engage in reverse gossip, you talk about the strengths and accomplishments of others. You discuss their achievements and what you like about them, along with personal interactions in which you witnessed thoughtful, courageous and loving traits.
Reverse gossip is a great way to bring a little light into your own day and that of others, because it just feels great to speak positively about others. The next time you are in the break room at work, sharing a ride with a co-worker, or on the phone with a colleague, you might want to give reverse gossip a try. You might particularly note that it has a dramatic effect when one person begins to complain about another, and you offer a compassionate and caring perspective about the person in question.
If you find yourself getting ready to gossip about someone else, may I suggest you pause, take a breath, and say a few words of reverse gossip first. Stay with the reverse gossip until you are having good feelings about this person. Then see if you really still have anything negative to say at all.
The reason I write about this topic is because I have been the subject of (what I hope is) reverse gossip for the last month. In April, I accepted a position to teach and coach at St Francis High School. The Athletic Director told me they would be sending a press release about my appointment as the varsity girls' golf coach. Never in my life, have I received so many warm and wonderful messages, thanks to sharing this statement. The congratulations, blessings and words of encouragement have been remarkable. Thank you to everyone who has written and shared your words of support and joy for this next chapter.
The press release was so beautifully written, that practicing reverse gossip wasn't a challenge. And, the only cost associated with a press release is the time to write it and post to the school's website /sharing it through the appropriate channels. The benefit however is priceless. It gave friends and family insight into the work I will do and the team I will lead. I encourage all schools and communities to consider ways and means by which they can offer content for reverse gossip. 

Unfortunately, our human nature is flawed. Yes, we are sinful. We lean in to negative news and offer our misgivings and grievances quite easily. I don't know how many times I have been told I will have a terrible commute. I had others had such strong opinions on a choice I have made. Though not gossip, I know it can serve as fuel for it. I can hear the squabble now. Instead, I am speaking to their sentiments with silliness. I have said, "Kobe and I have been in touch about using his helicopter. Stay tuned...."  
And for what it's worth, that's not gossip,'s fantasy. But let's help each other become less negative and pessimistic and lift each other up through the spiritual practice of reverse gossip. No press release required.