Tuesday, March 31, 2020

What Not to Give Up This Lent: Being Coachable

Catholics everywhere have said "I never expected to give up this much for Lent!" I don't even need to ask. I already know I will hear an "Amen." 

As much as we may have given up in terms of our day to day routines, creature comforts and personal freedom this Lent, there are somethings that I keep close. One of those is starting my day with a video reflection by Matthew Kelly of Dynamic Catholic—a spiritual exercise I would like to recommend to anyone, in particular coaches and athletes. 
Kelly's "Best Lent Ever" series is widely acclaimed and quite popular. It should be, as his message is personal and practical. Kelly is inclusive of Catholic tradition—teaching and integrating it in a meaningful way. So while I have given up sweets for the second year in a row this is not something I have had to give up! Rather, I would like to pass it on! Though we are but two weeks away from Easter, please know—coaches, athletes and anyone else who is interested—,it's not too late! Let his reflection on Australia's first saint serve as the portal. Why? Kelly has found a way to relate Mother Mary McKillop, discipleship and coachability into one singular reflection.

Every coach hopes that the young people on their team will be coachable. We use this word often because to be an athlete who is coachable is a necessary good. This quality allows for a team to flourish. It makes what is a demanding job, enjoyable! I never take an athlete who is coachable for granted. 

An athlete who is not coachable can derail forward progress. They upset the chemistry. Eventually me first/selfish-Steven/selfish Susan takes the life out of what is already deemed a grind.
The benefits of being coachable extend far beyond the court, track, trail and field. Being coachable makes us good disciples. What might that mean? And, why is it important. According to Kelly
One of the things that makes a good disciple is the willingness to be coached, to be coached to a better place, to be coached to become a better disciple, to sit at the feet of Jesus, sit with the Gospels, read about the life and teachings of Jesus, pray about life and teachings of Jesus, and allow Jesus to coach us to live at a higher level, to live in new ways, to put our lives to the best and highest use every single day. And the saints had this. The saints were coachable.
If you think about what are the essential elements of coachability, it largely comes down to humility. How humble are we? Because it takes great humility to allow ourselves to be coached. If you look at any aspect of human life, the best of the best, the champions at anything—they love coaching. They love coaching because they love getting better at whatever it is that they do. And this is true in sports, it's true in business, it's true in every aspect of life. Champions love coaching.
And so a question I want to lay before you today is how coachable are you. When was the last time you really opened yourself up and allowed Jesus to coach you in a particular situation? When was the last time that you opened yourself up and said, “All right, Jesus, I've got this situation. I really need your help. Lead me, guide me, coach me. I'm open, I'm available, I'm coachable. Show me what to do”? Because it's that coachability and excellence, they go hand in hand. Whether it's on the sporting field or in the spiritual life—that coachability and excellence—they just go hand in hand.

Take heed as we prepare for Holy Week. 
  • Do you understand what it means to be coachable? Ask others what they think.
  • Are you willing to be coached? 
Coaches: model humility. Encourage your athletes to be humble.

Invite Christ to coach you. No better leader.

Even though we may have had to give up more than we could have ever bargained for this Lent, let time with and reflection upon the Word of God not be one of them. How's that for coaching?!

Photo Credits

Sunday, March 29, 2020

A Story of True Spiritual Communion vis a vi Bethpage Black

Given the reality of shelter-in-place, Catholics might be unable to gather in person for Mass, but that does not mean they cannot and are not still taking time for worship. Everyday I read about different parishes and faith communities offering a live stream or pre-recorded mass to gather the faithful in prayer. One that I have participated in has surpassed my expectations. I find the homily to be tremendously nourishing. I am enriched by the Spiritual Communion in faith and in friendship with those whom I worship. And today, I was reminded in the Offertory that God is the giver of the greatest gift: love—as evidenced through the book Open, by John Feinstein.
My close friends, the Boles family have invited me to join them in 9:30 a.m. Sunday mass through Church of the Nativity (and through a Zoom shared screen). We sing the songs, we stand, sit and (they) kneel. We turn down the volume during the Liturgy of the Word, as a different person leads the Readings. We exchange peace and avail ourselves for the Spiritual Communion. At the end of Mass, I feel the spiritual uplift that I do every week that I go to mass. Today's however was extra special for I left with a message of hope and of connection. 

During the offertory of the Mass, Eileen, Thomas and James each make a contribution to their family Rice Bowl. Today, they told me that they had an offertory gift for me. Through the Zoom screen, they said "we got this book for you." I looked at the cover in disbelief. I turned to my nightstand and held up my copy. I told them, "I am reading this right now. This is incredible. I can't believe you found that for me. This book is about the 2002 US Open! I am on Chapter 11." I proceeded to show them my bookmark; it is a funeral card featuring my Uncle Tim, my Godfather. I showed his picture and asked that we pray for him.
The formal definition of a spiritual communion is, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, “an ardent desire to receive Jesus in the most holy sacrament and lovingly embrace him” at a time or in circumstances when we cannot receive him in sacramental Communion." But I believe the lived reality of spiritual communion is that we are united to others through God's love and grace each and every day. Today was a reminder to me that union with God and others supersedes a crisis. We are never left in isolation. 

I can't explain to you why exactly I chose to read "Open: Inside the Ropes at Bethpage Black" among hundreds of books I should be reading right now. It's notable in that Tiger Woods won and that it was played on public course (an intentional pursuit by the USGA) but it's not that extraordinary. This US Open took place 18 years ago! A friend gave it to me because he was living with Scott McCarron's caddy last year. "Open" begins with a short story involving Scott and Ryan (the caddy). I kept reading because I think Bethpage Black is the coolest name for a golf course I have heard. I am still reading it now because I have hope that I will play there this summer.Now I feel as though I must!

Eileen, who loves reading and once worked in a book store is always on the look out for good reads and books to pass along to friends. That she thought to give this to me, but in particular during the offertory says to me that the Eucharist is not to be underestimated. Communion--whether incarnational or spiritual gives us life.

As a child, I relished the opportunity to participate in the offertory of the mass. This role was made special by my grade school teachers at St. Mary' school in Walnut Creek. They saw to it that students did not just bring up the bread and wine to the altar. We offered objects and symbols reflective of the liturgical season or the efforts of our school community. For example, one student carried several textbooks while another offered a globe as we gathered for our Back to School mass. The eighth graders presented canned food at the November First Friday mass to kick off for our Thanksgiving drive. Today, I encourage athletic programs that gather for a mass to bring to the altar their cleats or unique equipment, a ball or a stick. To play a sport and participate on a team is truly a gift. Why not bring that to our mass and to the altar for blessing? 

This tradition extends outside of the Church as well. Quite often, when we visit the home of a friend for dinner, we offer a humble gift. Known as a hostess (or host) gift, this gesture is meant to extend gratitude for hospitality. More often than not, this gift is not reflective of who we are, but of the one who welcomes us into his or her place and space. Were we to think of this at Mass, what might you offer to God? What would you given?

The pastor of Church of the Nativity reminds us that this crisis will come to an end. The thematic question he asks us to prayerfully consider is: Who will we be at its conclusion?

Today affirmed for me that I want t o invite others into experiences of shared worship and prayer. I hope to offer gifts to God and to others that are reflective of who they are and what makes them special. I will continue to pray for healing for those affected by COVID-19 and for those who find themselves in isolation during these tough times. I pray that the power of Spiritual Communion extends to all those in need. And please Lord, let those of us who love golf, get back on the course by summer??? 

Photo Credits

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Virtually Meeting a Legend: Our Zoom time with Juli Inkster

The cancellation of winter sports' championships and the long-term suspension of spring sports has left coaches and athletes in search of new ways to cultivate community. When I read one suggestion from my athletic director, I was hopeful, I was excited— and my team isn't even in season! I was able to reach out to LPGA legend Juli Inkster. The St Francis girls' golf program "virtually" met with the world golf hall of fame player to talk about the challenging, demanding, life-giving game we love, but aren't able to play right now.
"Many teams are setting up Zoom calls with notable alumni in their sport or even guest speakers that would be interesting for the team," said Michael, my AD. He added  "think creatively and outside the box on this one.  Everyone is at home right now, and many are looking for things to do—so do not limit who you may ask.  People are seeking ways to stay involved and give back.  For example - Our baseball team could meet virtually with alumni like Eric Brynes or Daniel Descalso - kids can call in on Zoom, ask questions and stay connected.  Maybe its a motivational speaker who can offer insight on the mental approach to playing sports, etc.... "

Since I arrived at St. Francis, I knew that Juli Inkster has a special relationship with our community. Her husband Brian is head of the boys' program and the varsity coach. Their two daughters, Haley and Cori are like their dad--alumni. 

I asked Juli to speak about unconventional ways of practicing, the mental game and sharing stories of life on the tour. I encouraged my team to come prepared with their questions. They say "success is what happens when preparation and opportunity meet." Today was proof of that!
Humble. Authentic. Encouraging. Engaging  are words that describe who we encountered virtually. I had no idea Zoom could transmit enthusiasm and such warmth through a video chat session. Our team got that and more from Juli Inkster. No wonder she has served as the coach of the Solheim Cup twice. 

We began our time together with introductions. Girls shared their name, class year and responses to a couple of questions. Some named their favorite player on the LPGA tour, others spoke about why they play golf and many identified their favorite club in their bag. Juli and I both loved hearing that more than one girl mentioned her putter!

With an eager audience of 12 varsity and junior varsity players, Juli began by simply sharing her story. She didn't start playing golf until she was 15 years old. A competitive athlete, she grew up swimming, playing softball and competing against her two older brothers. She played basketball all four years at Harbor High School in Santa Cruz where she was asked to join the boy's golf team her sophomore year. She played JV golf the first two years and lettered on the varsity squad her junior and senior year. #trailblazer!
She affirmed the girls for participating in a game that knocks you and forces you to get up again and again. When asked about how she recovers from mistakes, she said "well, I have had a lot of bad shots. After I hit one, I replace my divot. I then analyze what went wrong. I want to learn from my mistakes." I took note when she added "the bounce back stat is the most important one to me. Look for what you post after a bad hole. This is important."

One very talented player admitted that before a tournament, she will practice on the course and certain holes will get in her head because of the challenge they present. Juli offered sage advice. She kept it simple. "You want to avoid the big number. There's a huge difference between a bogey and a double bogey. Land it safely on the green, go for par and get out of there." She added,  "I never add my score card up until the end."

Juli admitted that she loves to practice. Her husband once told me that they will head out to the course and he will leave her on the putting green. Brian said he will play nine holes and as he makes the turn, she will still be practicing on the green. 
She said, "it's the peacefulness of being out there by yourself and trying to improve. It might sound silly, but I make little games with myself. It's made me who I am as a golfer. I was never the best ball striker or the best putter or the best driver of the ball but I was a grinder. I never gave up. When I did put it all together, I was fortunate enough to win some tournaments. You don't have to be the best at anything, you just have to be good at everything, and you have to have that mentality of never giving up."

One of my golfers asked "How do you know if you have had an effective practice?" What a fantastic question.

Juli suggested unconventional ways to practice during shelter-in-place, stressing what every player knows (but might not want to hear). We can practice the short game any time, any place. She added, "later, when we return to real golf, if you have but 20 minutes to practice, 10 minutes should be on the short game."  Noted.
She said "it's important to take a really good practice swing." She stressed this point several times. I can't wait to take her advice. I will remind my team of this, too.

A freshman golfer asked the final question: "What do you think is next for the LPGA and what can we do to get the audience and views to equal the number on the men's tour?"  I heard her words and listened to Juli's response. This time together reminded me of an address the Coleman Brown once gave at Colgate University.

He said: Questions, you know, are not only the problems or paragraphs or multiple-choices on mid-terms and finals.  Questions can be teachers. Questions can be like enigmatic but enduring friends; like someone whom you know so well yet still do not know but are thankful for.

I thought of the crazy time we are living in. There is no shortage of questions I ask myself and avoid asking everyday. I also wonder, how did my team get so lucky as to have an opportunity to learn from, truly, one of the greatest in the game? I recalled the outstanding questions my own team asked of Juli and how that added life and vitality to our time together.

Amidst the challenge, each day presents a  unique and special opportunity. Today's was truly a gift. Thank you, Juli. And great job on our Rapid Fire ...I had to channel my inner-Feherty.

  • Favorite Club?
  • Tiger or Phil?
  • Ferrari or Mercedes?
  • Favorite Tournament?
  • Favorite WIN?
  • Per St. Francis colors: Brown or Gold
  • Favorite St. Francis sports team: girls' golf or boys?!
Go Lancers!

Photo Credits
Press Conference
Fist Bump

Saturday, March 21, 2020

What I Miss But What I Have Learned in This Year's March Madness

I can almost smell the sweat.

I miss that squeak. A lateral move, the touch and go, the pivot or fake right go left that leads the athlete's shoes to squeak on the hardwood. Slip. Slide. More squeak.

And how awesome that those very shoes punctuate the floor with a shock of green?! Kelly green. Irish.
I look down. This video is only 7 minutes and 45 seconds. I already know I don't want it to end.

I love the uniforms—blue for Our Lady, and gold for where she stands on the Dome. Beauty in motion. Truly bBeautiful.

And what a great message Father Pete McCormick, CSC preaches. He says: "The same is true in the spiritual life. We cannot be passive. We must, in our own way, scurry. So my challenge to you is, You want to see the miraculous glory of God? Participate in it." 

I think to myself. Do I go after it? How to I participate? How do I include others? Do I? Do you? 

I realize why I love this story so much; it reminds me of what I miss: Sports and Spirituality—live, in real time.

Right now, every sports fan knows what time of year it should be. We know what we are missing. My friend Haley Scott DeMaria captures that sentiment so well. In her blog, she writes 

This might be the most Madness we’ve seen in March in a long time. Who would have thought the biggest news in NCAA basketball tournament history would not be #16 UMBC beating #1 UVA in the first round?!  As a former student-athlete, my heart aches. As the mother of a high school senior whose (final) spring sports season is up in the air, I have a pit in my stomach. As an American, I get it. It’s the right thing to do. But that doesn’t make the heartache and heart break any easier.
Supporting the Fighting Irish On and Off the Court reminded me that I'm not just missing sports or the NCAA men's and women's tourney, I miss the spirituality if all too. I miss the unfolding stories and moments from this time of year that transcends the x's and o's. I wonder what Sister Jean is up to. Many lament that they will not hear "One Shining Moment" as the madness comes to a close. 
I miss the way that my spirituality finds life in community. I already miss my Sunday morning ritual of 8:00 a.m. Mass at St.Vincent de Paul and the parishioners I see from one week to the next.

I miss the pressure that Lent puts on me—that might sound weird, but it's true. Every Friday, I wonder Should I be at Stations of the Cross right now? I am wondering what Holy Week will be like. I would like to receive the sacrament of Reconciliation—is that an option? 

I am disappointed that my classroom wasn't able to complete our journey with CRS in giving to Operation Rice Bowl as one. As part of my Lenten practice, I was hoping to get to the 7:15 a.m. school mass once a week. To gather around the Eucharistic table with my faith-filled colleagues is a meaningful way to start the day. I've struggled to figure out how I can reinvent my Lenten commitment.

In light of "shelter-in-place," I watch Father Pete with a new perspective. He says, "We always celebrate a team mass, whether it's home or away. If it's home, we'll do it right in the team room and typically if it's away, we'll arrive and settle into the site." Now more than ever, I realize he is a gift to this team AND he has a gifted ministry.

One way he's able to do that is with his "Mass in a suitcase." Its importance is not to be underestimated—packed with intentionality and great care, he's willing to look like the diva priest who shows up with not one but two rolling into suitcases by his side.

He shares that the purpose of a team chaplain is to get a sense of the pressures that Division 1 college basketball players undergo. The viewer sees him board the charter plane with the team. He adds "And then, at that point it's just a ministry of presence" What a gift.
The video winds down with two contests: Notre Dame vs. Clemson on February 9 and Notre Dame vs. University of Virginia two days later. I caught one of those games live—something I probably took for granted at that time. I hear the announcer calling the plays...the points. I hear the clapping and the cheering. The power and the glory—the sights and the sounds of Sports and Spirituality.

In his ministry of presence Father Pete declares, “I have a responsibility to share the joy that I’ve encountered in my vocation — even with the hardship.” He speaks openly and candidly about being a priest in a time when the Catholic Church lacks credibility. He states, "I have a responsibility to still love those who are in front of me." Seeing him after the game, eating a meal with the team, it's clear that he does. 

Thank you Father Pete. I  would like for you to know that I aim to follow your example and share the joy I have found in my vocation, amidst the hardship—the stories of sports and of spirituality past, present and in due time all those to come.

Photo Credits

Team Joy

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Importance of "Happy Places" in Sport and in Spirituality

In his fifth book "Living Inspired" Alex Montoya writes "I'm passionate about motivating others. Things I'm passionate about include my faith, sports and politics. For a living, I'm a motivational writer and speaker and communications coach." He adds, "You'll notice in my elevator pitch I didn't lead with my job. That's what I do, not who I am. However, the things that inspire me led me to choose this occupation. It's a manifestation of my passions and talents." His pointed and honest introduction should prompt us to consider what we might say. What are you passionate about? How do your passions relate to who you are AND what you do?
I am passionate about my faith and sports. I care about education and creating/sustaining community, especially through faith and athletics. And, what motivates me—what I am most inspired by and passionate about—underscores my love of my alma mater, the University of Notre Dame. Montoya, my classmate and friend describes it as one of his two favorite places.
Quite possibly my two favorite places are Camp RYLA and the University of Notre Dame. Those are my happy places because those places are happy. And they’re filled with passionate people. 
Whenever I encounter a student or alumnus from either place I tell them don’t let RYLA or Notre Dame be a place. Let it be a spirit. And take that spirit wherever you go! Be a representative of that spirit and shine wherever you are!

I attended RYLA as a high school junior and returned the next year as a student volunteer I’ve been blessed to return as a speaker incredibly 20 years in a row.
He says "RYLA, which takes place on some old campgrounds in Idyllwild CA is where the service organization Rotary International hosts the Rotary Youth Leadership Awards—R.Y.L.A. Every spring, Camp RYLA brings together 350 high school juniors from San Diego, Imperial Valley, Brawley and more.  And Rotary completely underwrites and staffs—100% through volunteers—a weekend retreat. These kids learn about leadership, teamwork and overcoming adversity.

The kids selected are largely your "classic overachievers" and I love it because they are fired up to be there. They are excited, loud and jacked!" He adds:
I trek to Notre Dame whenever I possibly can, whether it’s for a football game speaking engagement to staff or students or just because I’m in the South Bend region. It invigorates me. So many of my values and beliefs were shaped there. That’s why I call Indiana the "Motherland." Find a place that excites you. Make sure it stirs your patriotism and gives you the frenetic energy of young kids. Make it a place that inspires you!
In light of the "shelter in place" mandate that has been imposed on San Francisco and the six other surrounding counties of the Bay Area, I find Montoya's words more pressing, more urgent than ever. Though I cannot go to my happy place, I can bring the spirit of it to where I am today.

Here is a shout out to those who can help others live inspired with this message in mind.

Coaches: For many of our athletes, our practice fields, our pool. or our trails might in fact be their happy place. Indeed, these are happy places because it is also where our athletes are happy (not all, I know!).  Have them share, as you can (Instagram? Twitter? FlipGrid? Zoom Call), if their happy place does in fact, relate to your sport

Athletic Directors: please affirm your coaches in this time of social distancing. Our teams are happy places for athletes because they're filled with happy people--their leaders!

And lastly, how can we take heed and bring that spirit of happy places and happy people into our homes during these trying times?

As an ND alum, I loved seeing the numerous ways my fellow Domers dressed up for St. Patrick's Day. Some were over the top, others donned old school paraphernalia—I need to see if I still have THE SHIRT from my freshmen through senior years. 

I watched a 7-minute video on the spirit of green nail polish for the women's basketball team. I can't seem to get enough of that Fightin' Irish spirit, nor should I. The bigger question is how else can I bring that to others? to those in the region I oversee for Notre Dame Women Connect? 
As an athlete: I am now reading "Open" by John Feinstein. I have enjoyed learning how the U.S. Open found its way to Bethpage Black, a public course in Farmingdale, New York. Hearing the story of this contest reminds me how many golf courses are happy places for me, and in large part because the people with whom I have shared the game.

We will return to these happy places again. We will encounter the happy people of these spaces soon enough. Let us recall and remember their beauty and their joy—the memories and the magic. Thank God for the unique happy places each and every person has. Ask one another about them? Share stories of the people who inhabit these places.

How many of you have a happy place that reflects your faith tradition?
How many of you find a happy place related to sports?
Do they include both?!

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Curtis Mallegni; Force for Good

For as long as I can remember, I have been very particular about the vessel that holds my morning coffee. In other words, I always a have favorite mug. During the Christmas season, Starbucks' red cup has nothing on mine. I anticipate the first golf "major" of the year by using the distinctive white mug from The Masters for the week before and after the tourney. I hope that I will raise this glass again sooner than later. However, there is one mug that has found its way to pole position since it was given to me. A gift from the University of Notre Dame alumni association, it says: "Force for Good." I knew those three words were there, but it was as if I really noticed them for the first time today.  And when I did, I smiled. Here's why.
Force for Good are the three words that I have used over and over to describe the late Curtis Mallegni '67. I knew Curt in my capacity as a teacher and coach at St. Ignatius College Prep in San Francisco. He was a member and later chair of both the Board of Regents and the Board of Trustees—leadership groups essential for school governance. A strong chair has the ability to make a good board, great and a good school even better. A school community benefits from their leadership more than they realize.

However, I was always aware of Curtis' leadership and impact. How? Why? When you are a force for good, it's hard not to. Curtis was a regular at Friday Morning Liturgies. He would sing loudly and he always had time to talk to faculty and students after mass. He knew my name early on and used it regularly. This was not unique to just me. 

When I learned that he was going on a Kairos as a leader, I was surprised in the best way possible. Kairos is a four-day silent retreat for seniors. I have long believed this retreat is one of the most important formational opportunities that SI provides. It is profoundly counter-cultural and life giving. Kairos is demanding and yet it is essential. We must accompany young men and women as seekers. Pascal once said The one who seeks God has already found him. Curtis made sure they did not do that alone.
I will never forget seeing Curtis at the Westmoor cross country meet finish line. In a place that parents often stand, Curtis said hello to me and I was a little confused. Although it is not uncommon for school administrators to attend athletic contests, I realized Curtis was actually working, by assisting his friend who was the director of the meet. This Force for Good made what was one of the longest, coldest (or hottest—depending on the year) and least attractive cross country meets a little better by his presence, his care and his willingness to serve. NB: This was not a one-time gig, either. I coached XC for nine years and he was at most of those meets!

I believe the last time I saw Curtis was at the De Marillac Academy Scholarship Benefit. I have been blessed to attend the best fundraiser in all of San Francisco as the guest of Mike and Gloria Silvestri.

Mike aka "Sil" and I worked together for at least ten years and in that time I always knew of his deep affection for his beloved friend and classmate Curtis. Sil was the one who told me his "paisan" spoke Italian and played the drums. I also knew that another colleague, Michael Shaughnessy, in addition to Sil and Curtis had a tradition with their classmates: a lunch gathering on any month that has a Friday the 13th. I sat with Sil and with Shag at the De Marillac benefit on March 5; they were still missing Curtis and thinking about the impending Friday the 13th gathering without him. Curtis died on January 28, 2020. He left us too soon.

To be a force for good in the world means that you leave a powerful impact. It means the world is truly a better place because of your presence, your personality, the sharing of your gift and talents and your smile. It also means that when you leave, it's impossible not to grieve deeply and cry openly. When you are a force for good, you make others better. It's hard not to miss a force like that.
I wish the world had more forces for good and when I think of a worthy legacy, that one might be as fitting as it can be.

I would like Curtis, his wife and children and especially his dear friends--his classmates—to know that I now raise my coffee mug in the morning and think of how I might live a little more like what those words call me...call all of us to be.

Please read the Genesis tribute to Curtis Mallegni here. His obituary is included.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

May he rest in peace.

Photo Credits
White Tux

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Virtues of Video Games by way of Shohei Ohtani

Do you play video games? Did you spend an inordinate amount of time playing them in college? Read: Do you believe you would now be a medical doctor if you had not? Do you know someone who is gainfully employed, married and raising children and still plays them? Have you expressed your concern? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, fear not. The purpose of this posting is to suggest video games might not be the moral enemy. In fact, they might have a worthy purpose. Video games might have virtues, too. The Los Angeles Angels' Shohei Ohtani has helped me understand how and why.
If you haven't already participated in Think ND's on-line course, The Good Life, stop reading now and check it out. (During the COVID-19 hiatus, this might be one of the best things do do!) Dr. Meghan Sullivan a professor of philosophy asks her students to consider, reflect upon, discuss and share their thoughts and responses to the big questions we should be asking.

One question my students have been spending some time with is "What is a my purpose?"

Sullivan proposes virtues—those good moral habits that constitute our character can help us discern an answer. As a high school ethics teacher, I take age appropriate steps toward these questions. With the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm in mind, I enter into their world, connect to their interests, reference their culture for a more lively and spirited question. Fortunately, I found one in the place and space I often do: the wide world of sports. 

Right now my favorite podcast is ESPN Sports Daily, hosted by Mina Kimes. Shohei Ohtani was the subject of the March 5 episode. As reported on their website: 
Shohei Ohtani is one of the Angels' biggest stars, who, at the peak of his game, excels as both a pitcher and batter. Last season, Ohtani was only able to contribute at the plate, as his recovery from Tommy John surgery kept him off the mound. Will the 2020 season see Ohtani participate in both phases of the game, and why is that so unique in MLB? ESPN's Alden Gonzalez traces Ohtani's career and explains what makes him an exceptional talent.
Ohtani has been dubbed the most interesting player in baseball. I find who he is and what he does outside of MLB to be interesting too.
Standing 6'4" and weighing 210 lbs, Ohtani pitches with his right hand and bats left. Carrying the nickname "Sho Time," he hails from Ōshū, Iwate, in Northern Japan. He threw a 99 mph fastball in high school and was drafted from there by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters'. In December 2017 he signed with the Los Angeles Angels and had his MLB debut in 2018. Angels' fans anticipate his return to an active status and the impending start to the 2020 baseball season. 

It has taken Ohtani some time to adjust to American culture and his new clubhouse. In the podcast, Gonzalez said, 
He is a reserved guy, but gradually his teammates have come to know that he's a pretty funny guy, too. He can speak more English than he lets on and Spanish comes easier to him than English does. For example, there are times when he'll blurt out a Spanish cuss word. He's got this subtle humor and he's got some really good comedic timing.  
The big thing that allowed him to fit in with his teammates was that game Clash Royale. It's a video game. He's AMAZING at Clash Royale. Teammates started to see some of his personality come out. He talks trash while beating his teammates at it. Sometimes he's playing the game and beating somebody while multi-tasking. Clash Royale became a tool for him to interact with his teammates more. 
When I heard this anecdote, I knew I could use it for the good. The next day, I returned to my lesson plan and asked my students: Wha is the purpose of video games? What is the purpose of a friend? Sometimes when I ask students to start writing, it takes more than a minute for the pen to hit the paper. Not this time!
They noted that the purpose of a video game is entertainment. It's a way to have fun and to relax. Others admitted that it's a distraction. They said "it distracts me from what I need to do and what I am supposed to do." Many agreed. I responded with a question. What if I told you one purpose of a video game is to  connect you to others? Could that be true? They sat upright. 

I asked them if anyone had heard of Shohei Ohtani. I shared his story. They loved it. With their attention in mind, we returned to our philosophical conversation with vigor. Tell me the purpose of a friend. To support you. To be a person you can trust and rely upon. To help you be a better person. To care for you.... the list went on.

My friend Alex Montoya's personal motto is "See the Good." I know the frustration that too many parents (friends? spouses?) feel about video games. They can be addictive and kids spend far too much time in front of a screen, rather than reading, playing outside, doing chores, completing homework and so forth. However, one of the four classical or Cardinal Virtues is moderation. Video games, in moderation, might actually lead to "the good life."  As with Shohei Ohtani, we see that video games can bridge a cultural and linguistic divide. They can reveal our unique personality and help us to see others in a new light. Sounds like a good purpose to fulfill.

And don't forget "all things in moderation, even moderation."
Photo Credits
Think ND
Clash Royale
Head Shot
High Five
Two-Way Player

Friday, March 13, 2020

True Confession: I am a Geno Auriemma Fan

I know exactly when it happened and why. I didn't want to admit to myself that the  contempt I held—that colored my vision and my language—was fading.  That disdain? it's gone. I haven't turned back. Maybe I have softened, but  I have now find affection, respect and admiration for a man I once identified as an arch-enemy (one, two or three). And I believe it's time that I profess this publicly: I am a Geno Auriemma fan.
Luigi "Geno" Auriemma, more often known as "Geno" has been the head coach of the UConn women's basketball team for 35 years. He has led the Huskies to 11 NCAA National Championships, several at the expense of my beloved team, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. Furthermore, it is no secret that Muffet McGraw, the head coach of the Irish women's team has no lost love for Geno. In case this was remotely unclear, read what Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post wrote in the article Muffet McGraw, Geno Auriemma: "These Two Plain Don't Like Each Other." I am team Muffet. With two NCAA National Championships to her name, she was the coach when I was a student and continues to march onward to victory, with over 900 wins to her name.
This photo is a lie.
In 2016, a good friend of mine—the varsity football coach at St. Ignatius, shared a video clip of Geno talking about the importance of body language. John said he found it refreshing to hear a coach articulate so clearly what is important. I encourage you to see for yourself , if you haven't already. You won't misunderstand what Geno says; he is pointed and he is principled. If only more coaches were, too....

He declared “We put a huge premium on body language, and if your body language is bad, you will never get in the game. EVER,” he said. “I don't care how good you are.” 

I shared this video clip with my students in the context of a conversation on the importance of body language. I wasn't sure how they would respond. The first thing I heard from a student was "I love it." I wanted to hug that kid that very moment. 
I have continued to pay attention to Geno's words—or is "rant" a more fitting term?— any time I get word of a new one. Just this past week, Auriemma took issue with what he said was a conference request to skip the postgame tradition of shaking hands in order to prevent potential coronavirus spreading. According to the New York Post,
When asked about it following UConn’s 79-38 win over South Florida on Sunday, Auriemma ripped into the new policy. 
“The conference has a policy that you can’t shake hands after games. Well, we did today anyway,” said Auriemma, whose team advanced to the American Conference Tournament championship against Cincinnati with the win. “Our men played Houston the other day. They sweated on each other for two hours and then they weren’t allowed to shake hands. 
“Our assistant, Sarah, her son is a wrestler,” he added. “They wrestled for I don’t know how long on this dirty mat and they go, ‘no shaking hands.’ I mean, come on … Don’t get me started.”
The Coronavirus has led to confusion and mild pandemonium. Clearly we are roaming amidst uncharted territory. What seems most important right now is prudence. Known as the queen of all virtues, prudence is not cautious calculation but practical wisdom -- recognizing and making the right choice in specific situations. No time like the present.
I believe Geno's logic is on point. We ought to realize that athletic contests are joint ventures in the exchange of germs in the form of sweat, passing/sharing the same equipment, contact in close quarters—the locker room, bus and the bench and player-to-player contact. Athletes high five one another. They fist bump, toe tap, butt slap, and even butt heads, intentionally. To take precaution in the form of eliminating a hand shake seems far fetched. You go Geno. That ritual is an important way to conclude a game. It's a shared part of our humanity. We are tasked to look at our opponent, say "thank you" or "good game." Other times, we might not want to say a single thing. If the game must go on, let it go on with integrity.

However, nearly a week has passed since Geno's comment. We know the COVID-19 has presented a much different reality. At this point, most games have been cancelled. There will be no need to shake hands following an athletic contest for we will table those until further notice.

Geno is a straight shooter. I understand the exasperation he often brings to his interview. It's not for everyone but my ear loves it. Brian Murphy of KNBR said "A pissed off East Coast guy is so much better, more effective than a west coach pissed off guy." I agree, I do find him entertaining but more often than not, I find prophetic. I appreciate that he uses his platform as a coach to speak about trends in sports, the character of athletes, problems in our culture that need to be aired, etc. Some might say he is old school, but that might not be a bad thing. Old school can mean—honest, diligent, industrious, and non-individualistic. 

Finally, for a non-pissed off Geno, watch his tribute to Kobe and Gianna Bryant from the Staples Center. My very favorite part of his speech is when he goes off script and recalls the time Gigi met the University of Oregon women's team. He took notice of her reaction when asked if she wanted her photo taken with them. I have a feeling he would have said the same.

Photo Credits
Muffet and Geno

Monday, March 9, 2020

The Way Back: A Catholic and Not Catholic Film

The Way Back starring Ben Affleck is a both a Catholic movie and it is not. You might wonder how both can be true. Theologian Richard McBrien emphasizes that Catholic spirituality is “both/and” not “either/or.” This both/and proposition is what makes "The Way Back" worth seeing in the theater and discussing further.
I am always hesitant to refer to a film as a "Catholic movie." When I read that description or hear someone say that, I want to ask What do you mean? Forgive my rhetorical question. On one hand, I know what that means. And on the other, I want clarity. Why? To label any creative project, painting, piece of art, or production as "Catholic" leaves a door wide open. Is it sacramental? Is it culturally Catholic? Is it lower case "c" catholic or proper noun Catholic? Does that descriptor bring the faithful in? Turn others away? As James Joyce wrote in “Finnegans Wake:” “Catholic means ‘Here comes everybody'.” That description gets us nowhere...or everywhere. So what to do? Explain how, tell me why. I'm listening.

Here are my two cents:
"The Way Back" offers a fair portrait of the culture in a Catholic parish with a Catholic school. The parish priest has known Jack Cunningham for most of his life. He knows his family members by name and presided over his father's funeral. Jack shows proper respect for the pastor in a way that those who have been raised in a community like this can and should do. I always remind my students Catholic is the adjective, Christian is the noun—Catholicism emphasizes the experience with God is with and through other people in a way that other Christian traditions do not. Community is paramount. 
Jack, the former two-time MVP basketball star is asked to take over the boys' varsity basketball program. The halls and on the walls of Bishop Hayes High School are riddled with signs and sacramentals, banners and trophies of bygone era—but most noticeably from 25 years prior, when he played ball. The team's opponents have explicitly Catholic names: St. John the Baptist, Memorial Catholic, Redemptorist and others that color our parochial communities. The viewer has a sense that Bishop Hayes like so many Catholic schools once had a glorious and robust past and today stands on the verge of closing. Good people who give a lot are why their doors stay open. For the young men on the team and for Jack it is a grace that it is. 

What I find most beautiful and compelling about "The Way Back" as a Catholic isn't the culture with which I am already familiar. No, the Catholic imagination and vision and how it is portrayed with worth reflection. For example, Jack arrives at the rectory and doesn't know when he has been summoned by the pastor. He sits down waiting and the screen shows what looks to be the screen on a confessional. In time, we find it is simply a window that let us see into the room. One can't help but wonder if there will in fact be some sort of confession from Jack in meeting with the priest. Instead, I have to think this encounter was foreshadowing a necessary reconciliation in Jack's life. I believe we need the sacraments—both capital and lower case "s."
I found real beauty in the industrial setting of the film. The cinematography spans over the cranes of Long Beach and the shores of San Pedro. We often see Jack, who works as a foreman welding, or sitting solo on a project with a marine layer coloring the sky. I appreciate the quiet and the expanse of this space where Jack checks in and out, often drinking and getting by. But there is nothing that speaks to what it means to be Catholic or a Catholic film in this space.

Furthermore, Jack's necessary recovery from alcoholism and his overwhelming grief does cannot be attributed to the Catholic faith, prayers of the community or leaders in the Church. Fortunately, he has unconditional love from his mom and sister and even his wife. His team grows to care for their coach, but that relationship was comprised and severed because of his usage. One has to wonder if he can make it. There by the grace of God....

There are many lines in this movie that speak to something other than faith. Jack and his estranged wife visit the grave of their son Michael, who died of a brain tumor. His battle against pediatric cancer was long, painful and unfair. In their grief, Jack says "I cannot believe he is in a better place. That place is with you and me." It was hard to hear such brutal honesty but I believe that line needed to be said. Faith is not meant to be an escape from reality. Faith ought not serve as a rationalization in the deepest of loss. Faith should however, offer a crack in the window of hope. That maybe there is a something more, something awaiting, something new never in spite of the loss but WITH it. The viewer is waiting for Jack to rediscover, reconnect or draw upon any faith he once had. That is not his particular story....and that's ok for me as a Catholic. Why? I think God can carry that burden.
As a sports fan and a Catholic, I entered into "The Way Back" expecting all the feel good sports-movie-tropes a film can muster. I sat in my recliner seat ready for themes of redemption, guts and glory...the kind that can only be found on the hardwood. I was met with much more. My vision was stretched as I noticed what was Catholic and navigated through what was not. The combination made for a powerful story and experience. Coupled with the fact that Ben Affleck has been through the rehab that his character must do, I also wondered if he was acting. Here by God's grace, he is once again. And that's a good thing.

Photo Credits
Movie Poster

Team Shot