Tuesday, September 3, 2019

"The Why" Question: Thank you Naomi Osaka, Coco Gauff and Gary Woodland

I have received some form of the video clip featuring Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff's emotional post-match interview at the 2019 U.S. Open from no fewer than ten people. Whether my friends follow tennis or not, this exchange has the sports world buzzing. The question is "Why?" 
  • Are we starved for examples of good sportsmanship? 
  • Do we need a reminder that though talent and hype, poise and pressure lead us to see otherwise, Coco is just a 15-year old girl...and that is how a teenager in this situation really can and should act? 
  • Or as Serena and Venus Williams approach 40, are we looking...prepared....and now ready to embrace the next generation of female tennis players? 
What is your response? Why was this moment meaningful to you? Was it?

This Fall, I have given three different talks to groups of coaches, athletic directors, and parents and though the communities are different, the question I emphasize is not. I call it "The Why" Question. 
I started thinking intentionally about "The Why" when Gary Woodland won the 2019 US Open at Pebble Beach. After receiving his trophy, he placed a FaceTime call to Amy Bockerstette—a young woman he met at the 2019 Waste Management Open. Woodland hosted Bockerstette, the first person with Down syndrome to earn an athletic college scholarship, on the 16th hole and her unforgettable par was captured on video. It has since become the most widely viewed video of all time released by the PGA.

A friend asked me why he did that. At first, I thought his question was a ridiculous one. I said, "What do you mean—Why did he do that? It's the right thing to do? Why wouldn't he?" And then I realized, his question was a good question. Why DID Woodlawn make the effort, place the call and include one of his biggest fans in one of the biggest moments in his life. 
Fortunately, someone thought to ask.

This experience prompted me to think about "The Why." I want to know WHY my golfers golf. I think the should know why I coach, and—if they are interested—also why I play golf. 

Asking our athletes about "The Why" is a great way to start the season. 

I am at a new school and working with a new team. On the first day of practice I shared with my team why I coach. I have asked the captains to prepare a reflection on why they play golf and play for St. Francis High School. Over the course of the season, I will be giving other girls a chance to share their own thoughts on "The Why." 

I sincerely believe this might be one of the more important AND interesting things that we do. Why? Because the responses are revelatory, unique, surprising and inspiring. Some struggle to articulate "The Why" and that's ok. Quite often we do what we do without reflection or intention. Inviting a young person to consider his or her "Why" is an exercise in self-knowledge, wisdom and...dare I say it: gratitude.
I loved reading Osaka's WHY for including Coco into the interview. Chuck Culpepper of the Washington Post captures it well. 
“No, I mean, it was kind of instinct because when I shook her hand I saw she was kind of tearing up a little, then it reminded me how young she is,” Osaka said. She said she figured that “normal people don’t watch the press conferences unless they’re fan-fans,” and so, “I was thinking it would be nice for her to address the people who watched her play.” And: “For me, I just thought about what I wanted her to feel leaving the court. I wanted her to have her head high and not walk off sad.” And: “I feel like the amount of media on her now is kind of insane, so I just want her to take care of herself.”
Osaka's WHY reveals that, even in a moment of sheer triumph—she won the match handily in straight sets (6-3, 6-0)—she is not unaware or unable to see her opponent for who she is: young, overwhelmed by the pressure and disappointed. Furthermore and perhaps without knowing it, in seeing Coco she was able to see herself—who she once was and has been. Anytime we get a glimpse of that, we win....

I invite you to spend some time this season / this year considering "The Why" question. Ask others to do the same. Share your responses...and pass it on. Why not.

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