Wednesday, April 29, 2020

A Question Worth Asking: Why play a sport if you're not good at it...?!

A close friend of mine, a former teammate and avid sports fan once told me why she and her husband spend so much money, time and personal resources into the development of their children's athletic experiences.  "It's not fun to play a sport if you're not any good at it. Who wants to suck?" I was horrified by her words, primarily because they struck a nerve. Why?  Deep down inside, I knew that both a big part of me agreed with her and ferociously disagreed with her. And yet, her words have stayed with me because they spawn a question worth asking: Is she right? 

Sopan Deb's article How I Found Common Ground With My Immigrant Dad on a Tennis Court provides the answer I suppose I want to hear..or need to hear. Please read the article for yourself. It's funny, insightful, and surprising.
Deb writes:
There was one other issue, though: Shyamal (the author's father)  was terrible too. Really bad. I mean, so was I, but I had an excuse. This was not a grand display of tennis on either side. This was the opposite of Borg vs. McEnroe. It was more like two Muppets facing off. I stopped feeling bad for the ball boy once I saw him openly laughing at some of our volleys. Shyamal trotted from one side of the court to the other, flailing at my serves, which were surprising each time they made it over the net. 
I had thought he was being polite by playing down his tennis skills. He actually was terrible. What was his coach teaching him that whole time? 
After an hour, we mercifully ended our eyesore of a match. Neither of us kept score, but we didn’t need to. We both lost.
The sports metaphor looms large for a reason. As an athlete and as a coach, I know when I have lost and lost (think of this as the negative, lower left quadrant on the x, y axis/graph). I also know I have won, even when the scoreboard says otherwise. Such is the case here for the Deb men.

Shyamal Deb plays tennis and sucks at it. He has invested in instruction and has the equipment and wardrobe to play the part and yet, his game is still terrible. His talent, or lack thereof doesn't diminish the shared experience that unfolds. Or the insights and lessons he and his son have gained from trying to hit a fuzzy tennis ball over a net—replete with a hired ball boy! 
The authnor, Sopan Deb is a basketball writer and a contributor to the culture section for The New York Times
I have always believed one of the many gifts of sports is that serves as another means of communication—both verbal and nonverbal. I know people because I have run, played basketball or a round of golf with them in a way that is very different, often intimate, playful, challenging and endearing. 

Perhaps this is what children are always seeking from their parents and parents from their children—a relationship so important that the memories made, the physical strife, communication without words are worth investing—whether you suck or not. I think one of the comments says it much better: When going fishing with your father it is never about the fish.... Amen.

Photo Credits
Sopan Deb
Tennis Court

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Last Dance: Discussion Guide Part 1 of 5

The sports gods must know how desperate we are for new content. With the NFL draft taking place tonight, Notre Dame women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw announcing her retirement after 33 years at the helm and the fact that we are but three days away from the next two installments of the latest 30 for 30: The Last Dance, sports fans everywhere have some good material to chew on. We will make it! 

While the subject of this documentary event isn't exactly new—it tells the story of Michael Jordan's career, through the lens of his final season with the Chicago Bulls—this ten part series began with but two episodes on Sunday April 19, 2020. Even though fans tweeted "Can I watch the other 8 episodes NOW please!" you will have to pretend like it is 1997-1998 again, when we had to wait!
What has impressed me most are the number of talking points that emerge—in particular for coaches and athletes from this unfolding story. Thus, what you have here is the first of five posts, serving as a  discussion guide. Since the proverbial water cooler is quarantined, find a way to create your own and I hope you reach out to other coaches, athletes and sports fans to break open and discuss. Please share other ideas or questions it has sparked for you!

Episode 1:
  • Jerry Krause, GM of the Chicago Bulls said "players and coaches alone don't win championships, organizations do." Respond.
  • The name of the program is a reference to the title Coach Phil Jackson used for the Bulls 1997-1998 season. Do you /have you named  a season? Ever given it a title? Is this idea appealing to you?
Episode 2: 
  • Scottie Pippen elected to undergo surgery on a ruptured tendon in his ankle before the season concluded, He admitted that he didn't want to spend his summer rehabbing (projected at two to three months). Jordan and Jackson have very different reactions to Pippen's choice. Do you think he made the right decision?
  • Michael Jordan's fundamental principle of sport—as evidenced so clearly post-injury is: You do it at the highest level possible and to the best of your ability every time. Respond.
  • Why does Jordan say he will not play for another coach?  How and what does Phil do to develop relationships and keep everyone moving in one direction?
Please note, a viewer can choose to watch with mature language or not. Always glad to see the option!
Photo Credits
MJ and Pippen
The Last Dance

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Jewelry of Jerry Jeudy: the power and significance of Religious symbols

Alabama's Jerry Jeudy caught the attention of many at the 2020 NFL scouting combine. In some ways, this might be surprising. Standing 6'1" tall and weighing 192 lbs., Jeudy is not a physical specimen. Furthermore, this year has a talented group of wide receivers. But folks took notice because Jeudy prominently wore a Star of David on a necklace. 
It's not uncommon for athletes to wear jewelry— symbolizing their religious tradition, or for them to use the platform of sport to talk about it.  As noted on ESPN
Asked about its significance, he explained it was in reference to the first syllable of his surname.
"My last name's Jeudy. People sometimes call me 'Jew,' ... So, I just got a Jewish star," he explained. "I'm not Jewish, though."
The Star of David, known in Hebrew as the shield of David, is a six-pointed star formed of two, often interlaced, equilateral triangles and is a widely recognized symbol of modern Jewish identity and Judaism. 
Listening to this story reminded me of the power of symbol, what do we hold as sacred and how do we personally respect that and ask it of others.
I was once asked to write a blog posting in response to the question: Is it okay to wear a Rosary? For those who don't know the Rosary Latin for rosarium, “rose garden” is a religious exercise in which prayers are recited and counted on a string of beads or a knotted cord. By extension, the beads or cord may also be called a rosary. It is a it is associated with the Catholic faith.  I enjoyed the opportunity to research, reflect upon and answer the question. You can read my full response here, but essential answer is as follows:
Ginny Kibityz Moyer captures an answer quite well. She says, “The rosary isn’t jewelry; it’s a sacramental, which is an object meant to help bring about spiritual effects through the prayer or devotion it inspires. (Sacramentals don’t have any sort of magic power in and of themselves; the positive graces come through the prayers.) Many people argue that if you wear a rosary around your neck, you are treating it more like a fashion accessory than a sacramental and are thus distorting its intended purpose.” 
Ultimately, only the one who wears the Rosary can speak to why he or she is wearing it, but I think it’s important to understand—although a distinction: between jewelry and sacramental, it is an important one. Rosaries are never mere jewelry or “fashion accessories” and yet, I can understand how there might be some confusion and/or need for clarification.
The Rosary is however, not the Cross—the symbol of Christianity. When I encounter a person who wears a cross, I assume that they are a follower of Christ and that their faith is important to them. I say that because Christians are not required to wear a cross; I would would hardly refer to it as a fashion accessory (although Tiffany and Co has had a beautiful one by designer Elsa Peretti that is very popular). I have heard from marketers that the cross is the most widely recognized symbol in the world and yet, to wear one around one's neck, visible and made public is still a statement to me. I do not wear a cross, but I have often thought that I should. I am not ashamed of my faith and it is important to me. I do value wearing religious jewelry and have work a miraculous medal for years. I love when people ask me about it and the opportunity to share its significance.
I work in a Catholic school and am a member of a Catholic parish so my perspective on the world is skewed (meaning, I tend to know a lot of Catholics). I do not see men or women wearing a Star of David often, but when I do, I see them in the way I see a Christian who wears a cross. I assume that their faith is important to them and they are proud of their Jewish identity. 

In the United States, Jews are but 1.9% of the total population (Pew Forum). Undoubtedly this number would be higher were it not for the Holocaust of 6 million Jews in World War II. Moreover, the rise of anti-semitism and hate crimes against Jews, leads me to believe the Star of David carries increased weight and significance as a sacred symbol. To me, it deserves the utmost respect.

It is worth reporting that Jeudy, tweeted an apology.

"Don't mean no disrespect to the Jewish people! I'm sorry to the people who take my chain offensive!!" Jeudy wrote.

Jeudy has put a picture of Aaliyah—his younger sister who died— in a Star of David. When he looks at it, he says, "she's right there." 
I do not write this blog posting an as indictment against Jerry Jeudy. I do however think it serves as a great place for us to discuss: How do we recognize and understand the meaning of symbols, in particular religious one? Do some hold more weight than others? Do we have a (moral) obligation, to understand the meaning of a sacred symbol we decide to wear? And when a symbol we consider sacred is co-opted to speak to one another about it. 

One of my favorite professors at Yad Vashem in Israel once told me, "if you put two Jews in a room, you will have three opinions." I wonder for all those who watch the draft this Thursday, what their opinion on this topic might be whether you are Jewish, Christian and so forth. I personally don't think the Star of David should be used as a "frame" or worn by a person of another faith, but let's talk....please, anything other than COVID-19 for a minute!

Photo Credits
Red Jersey

Star of David

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Savor This: The Story of Sabrina Inoescu—The No. 1 Pick in the 2020 WNBA Draft

While sports fans deprived of action and activity, story and saga anxiously await the NFL draft, set to begin this Thursday, April 23, I hope they were satiated, even if just for 48 hours in the excitement and outcome of the WNBA draft which took place Friday, April 17. Why? The number one pick Sabrina Ionescu from my hometown of Walnut Creek, California and the University of Oregon was the number one pick. Her player profile is worth watching, savoring and celebrating.
When winter sports championships and spring seasons were cancelled, I felt the most sorry for Ionescu of all people, of all teams in all of college athletics. That's a strong statement. Here's why. 

Ionescu, the triple-double queen, stayed at Oregon for her senior season so that she and her teammates could earn a national title. The Ducks who rallied to the lead in the fourth quarter of the women's 2019 NCAA tournament's semi-final game, missed critical shots down the stretch in a loss to Baylor. The Baylor Bears went on to defeat the Fightin' Irish of Notre Dame in the championship. Ionescu says this was her greatest disappointment....and not getting to play in in this year's tournament. 

But rather than focus on what she has lost, she chooses to highlight all that she has gained. In an interview with Mina Kimes of ESPN Sports Daily, she said "I think I gained so much: maturity, leadership, the relationships that I built during this last year. So many people were excited and happy that I returned and I think the community around women's basketball at Oregon grew. It was eye opening to see just all the relationships I made in this last year and just how close as a team we got. Obviously that translated on the court as well, evolving my game and helping me get better on all sides."
My respect for Ionescu is unparalleled. In one way it angers me that people only know who she is because she has been befriended by the late Kobe Bryant and regularly shoots around with fellow East Bay resident Steph Curry. But the greats know a great, so I get it.

As an athlete, this lefty who stands 5'11" is 
the first player in Division 1 history with 2000 points, 1000 assists and 1000 rebounds. A McDonald's All American became the three time Pac-12 player of the year. She is relentless. She has perfected the floater, and earned the Wooden Award as the country's most outstanding player for the second straight year.

Her personal demeanor is equally impressive. Kimes stated "every mock draft, every analyst article has you projected as the number one pick. How does that make you feel?" Inoescu could have said "grateful" or "pumped." Instead she said "until my name is called, until I can sign the paper, I'm not too excited about it. I don't want to be disappointed so I don't expect anything. Obviously very humbled and excited about the opportunity of playing in Brooklyn and in that organization, but until I hear my name called, I'm keeping a level head."
No spoiler alert here. Inosecu did go first. As written on ESPN "it is still historic for the University of Oregon women’s basketball program as Ionescu is the first player in its history to be selected at No. 1. Less than an hour into the draft, the Ducks had three players selected in the first eight selections with Satou Sabally going No. 2 to Dallas and Ruthy Hebard going No. 8 to Chicago."

Inosecu has her work cut out for her. The Liberty were 10-24 last season. "I know what it's like to build a program from the ground up, so that doesn't scare me at all. I'm excited to be a piece of the puzzle and get things rolling."

The truth is that many sports are player profile driven. Ionescu is a great face for a great game. So be it if people only learned about her on the day she spoke at Kobe's memorial and then set a new NCAA record. She will be around for years to come and given her love for the game and great competition, it will be more exciting to see. Congratulations Sabrina, and congrats to your partner-in-crime, your twin brother Eddy. My theory is you might not have gotten here without him!

Friday, April 17, 2020

Checking for Understanding Part Three: Why the Greats are Great

This blog post, the third in my series entitle Checking for Understanding seeks to answer one of favorite questions: "Why are the greats great?" I'm not so interested in what makes the great ones tick, but I do want to know: What do they do? How do they think? and What habits do they hold that make the difference? As a sports fan, there is no shortage of articles/polls/blogs/lists that seek to identify the G.O.A.T., the Mount Rushmore, your All-Star team. Who you deem worthy of that title or position is up to you. I've got ideas too. But my question remains: Why is "X" great?
I have found that when I really and truly want to know something, the answer often finds me. Yes, we can research our topic, we can around and inquire from others, but I almost enjoy it more when I do and don't make that happen. And, questions, like the one I am asking make for good conversation. It's fun to see how people respond.

So before I share an answer, Check for understanding on 1) the idea of letting answers find you and 2) what makes the greats, great. 

Ready? This is what I have found....

In the article Swan Song: The key partner for Kobe Bryant in the Lakers' two post-Shaq titles says goodbye—and pines for some relentless dedication, Pau Gasol (with Lee Jenkins) writes
about his late teammate, who many consider one of basketball's all-time greats, Kobe Bryant. Gasol who played with Bryant for six seasons, earning two rings said:
If you play with him, you're looking every day at living proof of why the greats are the greats. It's not by accident. It's an obsession to reach that level and remain at that level. The dedication, the commitment, is such a unique thing. You don't find it. He inspired me to be better, to see the game in a more detailed way.
Reading the latter part of Gasol's description stayed with me. I heard the same words—seeing "the game in a more detailed way"—when former Patriot's tight end Aaron Hernandez described his coach, Bill Belichick.
Although the Netflix documentary Killer Inside: The Mind of Aaron Hernandez is a tragic tale, it doesn't negate the fact that Belichick was regarded by Hernandez, Gronkowski, Brady and countless others are aware they play for one of the greatest coaches of all time. The documentary states why: Belichick pays incredible attention to detail.

I took note of the commonality in the answers that found me. I started to wonder, do all greats incredible attention to detail. And, if so, what does THAT mean. Why is it important? 

With those questions in mind, another answer found me as I was listening to the podcast Fresh Air: Winston Churchill and Fearless Leadership. There is no transcript for this show so I have summarized what I learned here. But check it out and give it a listen for yourself.

Erik Larson, the author of  The Splendid And The Vile said, in commenting on Churchill's outstanding leadership during crisis—World War II—that the man loved to work. He said, 

His work ethic was outstanding, but not just because he worked incredibly long hours. but because he wasn't afraid to dive into the weeds and explore even the most detailed elements of government or what was going on at that time. And so, he would send off these memoranda or minutes to his ministers directly and would explore these minute points. This had the very interesting affect of putting these ministers on guard because suddenly the bureaucratic piece of their ministries was being completely uended by this man who really had an interest in everything they were doing, down to the nuts and bolts of their operation. This made people stand up and pay attention to what they were doing themselves and put them on the mark. 
In Larson' description of Churchill, I gained a sense of what it means to pay attention to detail and why that is important. I love the expression of "diving into the weeds." When you are passionate about a subject, the weeds might actually be a flower! 

I also know how much better I perform when I am being held accountable, advised and directed by a superior.  When this leader is inspiring, that attribute makes me want to do even better. When that leader is a micromanager and discouraging close attention to the details can be tedious and laborious. We all do what we have to do, but if we share a common goal and want to win, this might be the necessary path.

Checking for understanding around the question: What makes the greats great—and one answer: paying attention to detail should prompt you to ask yourself. Where are you willing to dive into the weeds? What do you take notice of and pay close attention to? How might people know this? And if you can't answer this question just yet, maybe an answer will find you.... Let me know!

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Check for Understanding Part Two: Three Things Great Athletes Have In Common

Teaching might be my day job, but that doesn't mean a good piece of pedagogy ought to go to waste! In my last postI offered a tip for parents as educators: Checking for Understanding. In today's topic, I'm going to run a theory by you. Test it out and have fun with it. The goal is two-fold. One: check for understanding the argument that I am going to make and two: discuss. Do you agree? Why or why not? 
That's right: What we are checking for understanding is a theory—a personal belief, a truth that I have found in reading and writing about professional athletes. I think this is especially true among female basketball players. You might think that is a very specific group, but for the point of your discussion, I encourage you to test it out on other sports/among all athletes. 

The April 2016 issue of High School Today, the magazine of NFHS: National Federation of State High School Associations (for Athletics) ran a profile of University of Virginia's women's basketball coach, Tina Thompson. The article "It all started here" reports
Before she became the WNBA all-time leading scorer, and before she was the first draft pick in the history of the WNBA, and even before she starred at Inglewood (California) Morningside High School, Tina Thompson got her start in basketball on the playground of West Los Angeles. 
Thompson would join her brother, TJ, and his friends at Robertson Park for pick up games. At Morningside, Thompson played basketball alongside fellow WNBA star Lisa Leslie, and also played volleyball. During her high school career, she scored more than 1500 points and collected more than 1000 rebounds. 
Thompson and Lesley teamed up again at Southern California, where they lead the Trojans to three NCAA tournament appearances. Thompson graduated in 1997 with a degree in sociology and a minor in psychology. 
In the initial WNBA draft, Thompson was drafted first by the Houston Comets. In Houston, Thompson led the Comets to four consecutive WNBA championships from 1997 to 2000. When she retired in 2013, Thompson was the WNBA's all-time leading scorer was 7488 points. Thompson was also a member of the 2004 and 2008 gold-medal-winning US Olympic teams. 
In 2015 Thompson was hired as an assistant coach at the University of Texas.
A few important post-scripts include: In 2018, she was named head coach of the University of Virginia Cavaliers women's basketball team. She has been surpassed by Diana Taurasi as the all-time scoring leader, ranking an impressive number two and it should be noted she adds another chapter to the heroics of The Women of Troy!
Reading Thompson's brief profile was both inspiring and nearly formulaic. Seems to me that great athletes, those men and women who play in college and professionally more often than not share three things in common.

1. They grow up playing sports in an unstructured environment. The importance of free play is not to be underestimated. When kids play with other kids, in public places or on their own, over time they develop not only the skills that are necessary to succeed, but they find their own—those that are you unique to them.

In today's world, adults have orchestrated and over-organized sports so much that I wonder how fun it is for kids. I raise questions about 10 year olds traveling for club competition. It's sad that we need to remind the adults in the room to "let kids be kids." What they might not know is that is inhibits their ability to improvise, figure out the rules on their own, grow into their own understanding of the game and of competition.

2. Sibling Support. It's uncanny to me how many have a sibling, (in particular for women in basketball a brother) who they would join in pick-up games or unstructured practice. Tina Thompson, Cheryl Miller, Arike Ogunbawale, Ruth Riley and Sabrina Ionescu each credit their brothers (older and younger) as their favorite teammate. In tennis, I have wondered if you have Serena without Venus (and vice versa). In this instance, sibling rivalry is a good thing. As Cheryl Miller said about her brother Reggie "iron sharpens iron." He admits she's the best player in their family.

With female basketball players, games against or with their brother usually--not always—means they were competing against a player who has more muscle mass and weight. This can be a benefit when participating in all female competition (again, this is not ALWAYS the case but in general this is true of men vs. women. For example, most female tennis players on the tour hire a male hitting partner to help them get fitter, hitting harder, faster and stronger).

3. Great athletes play other sports. I would love to see Thompson on the volleyball court! Undoubtedly, the skills that volleyball demands—blocking, hang time, jumping and digging —must pay dividends inside the paint. 

My dad's take on this point is that professional athletes are great athletes—period. I agree and I also think that one can sharpen the saw physically and mentally by engaging in other sports. Not only does an athlete engage in different ways of competing (pace, time, mental focus) but they are exposed to other coaches—their style, philosophy and demands. Jack Swarbrick, Athletic Director at Notre Dame admitted his preference for recruiting two sport athletes. Why? "We find these men and women are usually stronger in one sport than another. They learn different roles on the team given those two paradigms." In an increased world of specialization, the case for the two-sport athlete remains viable and worth considering.

Do you understand my argument? Is it possible that all three commonalities are not necessary? Is anything missing? Discuss. Report back!

Photo Credits

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Checking for Understanding Part One: Honor

In Catholic tradition, parents are the primary educators of the faith. In light of current events, that task now extends far beyond religious education. Parents are now the primary educators of math, science, art and music. They are on the front lines—teaching their sons and daughters history, reading, foreign language—you name it. So for those thrust into this new role here's one tip: check for understanding. In the most informal sense, checking for understanding asks you to assume nothing. The goal of this exercise is to gain a sense of what a student knows, perceived and thinks about an idea, theory, word or term. This is the first in an on-going series I will refer to as with this goal in mind.  Today's topic is honor.
We teachers seek ongoing feedback to monitor and improve student learning vis a vi ongoing formal and informal input. Checking for understanding, otherwise known as formative assessments are generally low stakes, which means that they have low or no point value. For example, I seek a thumbs up, sideways or down. I use exit tickets and  a single word summary. I find these strategies helpful in moving the class along at the right pace. They also provide a safe space for student feedback and questions. Any questions? Let's begin...

To me, honor is a formal word, especially when used as a verb. The 10 Commandments call us to it. We ought to honor the Lord our God as one. Growing up, I was reminded of the fourth commandment on a regular basis. Yes, mom and dad, I know I am supposed to honor you both. I had a strong sense of what it meant to honor a person, a legacy and a culture and a creed. The question is do young people today, too?

According to "Conversations of Conscience: Helping Young Adults Make Moral Decisions" by Michael Sacco
Over a decade ago, the sociologist Christian Smith led a research team with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that examined the religious beliefs of over 3,000 American teenagers. Smith’s research shed light on the significant gap that exists between the faithful temperaments of the teenagers he studied compared to the generations that came before. When they reflected in their interviews about “grace,” they took it to be a character in a popular television show—not about God’s grace. When they discussed “honor,” they were almost always talking about taking honors courses or making the honor role at school, very rarely about honoring God with their lives or striving to live as honorable people. When they mentioned being “justified,” they almost always meant having a reason for doing something behaviorally questionable, not having their relationship with God made right.
I get to teach about honor because Eric Liddell, the subject of the movie Chariots of Fire uses the term often. Although students in Sports and Spirituality are not required to watch the entire Oscar award winning film, read about Liddell's life, his sacrifice and success and get a sense of his story in a clip "The Muscular Christian."
Liddell believes "to win, is to honor Him." He professes this belief after he shares with Jenny, his sister, one of the more beautiful quotes of all time.
I believe God made me for a purpose. He made me for China. But He also made me fast, and when I run, I feel His pleasure.
To give it up would be to hold Him in contempt. You were right. It's not just fun. To win is to honor him.
Amen. I ask my students "What does it mean to honor God? Have you ever thought about way you honor God?
Perhaps you can ask the  same questions I ask for my students of your son or daughter. Check for understanding. The video clip for "Chariots of Fire" might not resonate with a certain age group but if they are runners, or of high school age—with the right context—I hope a meaningful and rich conversation with follow.

I encourage you to teach about "honor" for I believe it's a beautiful way to live one's life. Honor involves respect, dignity and integrity. To honor a person or God asks for nothing less. 

Photo Credits
Powerpoint slide (I wish they spelled his last name right....)

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Fruit of Inspiration? Sports and Spirituality Symbiosis, A Bi-Weekly Resource for Athletic Ministry

Matthew Kelly, the founder of Dynamic Catholic says
One of the things I've written, and I say over and over again is that people don't do anything until they're inspired, but once they're inspired, it's almost nothing they can't do, nothing they won't do.
Do you agree? 
In my own life, I've seen inspiration prompt action. I can recall specific moments and memories when and where an idea was born. I can think back to that feeling of being inspired and how it mobilized a vision to a reality. While I would argue that inspiration needs organization and discipline, I think Kelly is on to something.

A friend I have written about many times, my classmate, author and motivational speaker Alex Montoya whose personal mission in life is to inspire others has done that for me in countless ways. His bi-weekly newsletter inspired me to create my own. 

The goal was to get ideas for integrating spirituality —>sports into the hands those working with student athletes. The intended audience of my free bi-weekly newsletter is athletic directors and coaches. The purpose of this "Symbiosis" is to give these leaders a quote to break open with others in the field, a prayer they might use for their team or for themselves and a book/podcast/movie recommendation to read/listen/watch! Sports and Spirituality Symbiosis: A bi-weekly resource for Athletic Ministry was born.

With this posting, I hope that you will pass this resource on to those who might need it. I realize there is NO shortage of online resources emerging right now. It seems that this particular marketplace is exploding. But as Mother Teresa said in 1986, "we are the best marketplace. We sell love." Ultimately, that's what I hope my words and writing will offer to all who read and build bridges with young people via sport!

You can read it here and subscribe if/as interested (see top, left corner)

Monday, April 6, 2020

Missing March Madness? The Women of Troy is worth watching

You win back to back championships—where do you go from there?

Imagine being the best of the best. You have something to offer people, but there's no place to do the thing that you love. You don't have any options. What can you do?
Today, women in sport are asking different questions than those posed by basketball analyst Doris Burke. While today's athletes wonder when and how they will return to their season and their sport, the USC women's basketball team as chronicled in the HBO film "The Women of Troy" lived through their own trying times and limited reality. For sports fans, all of us who missed March Madness and advocates of women in sport, this program is a must see. Here are but a few reasons why.

The Leading Ladies
I originally watched "The Women of Troy" because I wanted to learn more about Cheryl Miller. Many have said she is the greatest female basketball player of all time. Her talent is not to be underestimated nor does it go unappreciated. She is however, but one of several stars in this show.

Pam and Paula McGee are identical twin sisters. One is outspoken and flamboyant, the other is staid and calm. One will speak and the other will finish her sentence. Without the two of them, Miller doesn't go to USC. 

The McGee's recall that memory. Paula said, "she had verbally committed to UCLA to which I told her 'You'll never win a championship because you got to come through us. You'll be Parade All American, you'll be the number one player in the country but you have only got one problem. You're looking at it'." Pam added,  "We number two in the country. We're trying to do something special." Cheryl responded to her with a question and a noteworthy concern. Pam recalled that exchange. She said, "Y'all two are All-Americans. How are we going to all play together?" to which I said " You can play two years with us or two years against us. It might be your game on Monday. Her game on Tuesday...." 

Though I have mad respect for Cheryl Miller, Cynthia Cooper emerges as the woman I admire the most. Her personal background and journey from Watts to USC, to Italy and beyond, her moxie, talent and honesty add a valuable chapter to this story. One of my favorite moments is when Cooper admits "there was definitely some friction (with Cheryl Miller as her teammate), but there's nothing better than playing with the gifted and most talented player ever to play in women's basketball." 

Her testimony confirms what everyone should know: The Women of Troy didn't win because of just Cheryl Miller. Every great team is comprised of individuals who know their role on the team and love their teammates for their role on it.

This is confirmed in the story shared by Juliette Robinson. She said, "
Cheryl wore number 31. When she came to SC she wanted 31 but I wore number 31. I took my jersey off  and I gave her my number. I said "Let's do this!" I had to wonder how many players would be willing to do that...and if that might not be the recipe toward a winning team.
A Different Era
I read an unsettling truth about Title IX often —although the federal civil rights law increased the opportunities for females in the work place, education and in athletics, an unexpected consequence is a decreased number of female head coaches. Other than Geno, every coach on the sidelines in "The Women of Troy" is female.

This truth was self-evident for every female coach featured in the film is unlike any other. The diversity of race, age, and style is both intriguing and inspiring. I encourage you to name your favorite. Though it's hard for me to ever go against Muffet McGraw— the woman who has the Irish to two national championships—Sonya Hogg, head coach of Louisiana Tech emerges triumphant over the great Pat Summit. How I wish Pat were alive today to defend herself! 

In the Review: HBO’s Women of Troy is a compelling look at the story of Cheryl Miller, USC, and women’s basketball overall Andrew Bucholtz writes, "The Hogg interview is particularly notable for illustrating some of the challenges women’s teams were facing at the time, from her comments on wanting the Louisiana Tech team to be called the Lady Techsters rather than the Bulldogs (so no one would call them bitches) to her remarks on their sleeved uniforms (so no one could see and comment on their bra straps)." 

As a sports fan it was hard not to delight in seeing current Baylor coach Kim Mulkey as a Lady Techster! Mulkey, who played for Hogg said “That lady can sell ice to an Eskimo.” I have a feeling that apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Linda Sharpe, head coach of USC had her team play the toughest schedule they could early in the season so they could  learn from it and compete at a high level. Under Sharp, Miller said, "practice was pure competition every single the point that the games almost seemed easier than the practice."vHard to argue against that philosophy as Sharpe led the women of Troy to back-to-back Championships in 1983 and 1984.

The Women of Troy paints a valuable picture of women's hoops Before Cheryl. I have long believed a director's efforts and decision to include historical footage chronicling the history and development of the game is never in vain. 

This program shows how women in basketball once played exclusively on one side of the court. The assumption was that a full court game was too demanding for a girl. 

Uniforms for both men and women have come a long way. I can't imagine playing basketball in a skirt but that doesn't abhor me in the way it might for some other female athletes. I loved playing tennis in a skirt.

I had no idea that 
1976 was the firs time women's basketball was in the Olympics. Team USA took silver. It should go without saying, when Cheryl played in the 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles, the US took gold.

Miller: one “bad mother f***er.”
The talented and insightful Doris Burke describes Cheryl Miller with those words. They don't appeal to me; I understand the sentiment but I do not believe they resonate with the spirit of Cheryl Miller. I would use that term to describe an athlete who plays mean and dirty. He or she is indignant and disrespectful to those around them.

Yes, Cheryl is flamboyant in her playing style. She admits "I wasn't just a showboat, I was very good at being a showboat." She said those words with such dignity, I laughed.

If given the chance I would 
describe her as iron. After all, when asked about her brother, NBA Reggie Miller, Cheryl—his older sister says, "He was my best friend. We were just one year apart." She added "Iron sharpens Iron. That's what we did for each other." Looking at the footage of both Millers in action, I believe it.
Cheryl Miller once scored 105 points in a single game. Her high school team defeated their opponent 179-15. I have wondered why that score was even allowed. Maybe her coach wanted to see what she could do. Unfortunately for basketball fans, that fullness of that question never gets answered. Miller, the Trojan's all-time scoring leader, played that one extra pick-up game in an era before ACL surgery was a possibility. (For those who have sustained a serious injury, those words may resonate with you!). Her career and basketball history took a much different turn.

The Bridge Builders
HBO lists "The Women of Troy" as an "illuminating tale of the historic and transcendent USC 1980s women’s basketball team, this film explores how the Cheryl Miller-led Trojans changed women’s basketball forever with their up-tempo style and superior athleticism en route to winning consecutive national championships, and ultimately influencing the establishment of the WNBA."

I would add but one insight, as stated by the Women of Troy. The McGee sisters said "
Our team was special. We were the bridge builders. We laid a bridge for the league, the WNBA to come behind us. We set a standard. We showcased a level of talent everyone wanted to be a part of.  We did our part to give these kids to pursue an opportunity of playing professional basketball." That truth makes this wonderful program worth watching, celebrating and discussing further.
Female coaches, I urge you to share this special with your team. It explores the very best of the dynamics of a female team that worked hard, worked together, understood the role of each part to the whole and made a dream come true.

I can't tell you how many people have told me they miss March Madness. This program isn't a substitute, but I guarantee what you will learn thanks to the work of Allison Ellwood will help you appreciate the game in the future, even that much more.

Photo Credits
The Crew

Cheryl standing 
In the basket
McGee Twins

Friday, April 3, 2020

One Cure in the Time of COVID-19: Walking

In spite of the fact I still watch Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson crushing it in the gym, I haven't been able to lift a weight, pull a stretch band or even swing a golf club (or putter). I am still struggling to find a routine to each day. Every self-help guru, every happiness expert, even my virtual pastor has suggested that creating a schedule is essential. However, not all is lost. After reading for 30 minutes in the morning, I put on my sweats and sneakers and I head out the door for my morning walk.
Pope Francis walks the nearly deserted streets of Rome in late afternoon on March 15
Sometimes I walk with with a friend. I've got the socially distant requirement down. We maintain a gap of six feet, walk single file when necessary and journey together. Other times, a friend will call to talk and walk. We plug in our headphones, and I have suddenly and virtually taken this person on the road with me. It is spring and I love being outside. The company I keep is as restorative and  refreshing as the steps I take. I continue to listen to my favorite podcasts and I have found new ones. Although I'm a visual learner, my auditory processing is gaining ground! Every once in a while, I simply walk in silence. This becomes a moving meditation—I walk and I pray. It might possibly be the most important part of my day.

Mother Teresa has said "the fruit of silence is prayer." And there is no greater time than the present for prayer. We need it; the world beckons. If you are like me, you might take more than one walk a day. Let one of those be your prayer. 
In the article "The Walking Cure" Michael Rossmann, SJ states "walking has a surprising number of parallels with the spiritual life." His words remind me that though walking might feel like one of the few options for exercise available to us right now, it offers gifts—spiritual ones—worth considering.

He adds, "I
’m far more open to pleasant surprises and simple beauties while walking and am able to change my plans completely." Just this morning, I took delight in the Pine Street garden—an urban collection of succulents and plants that hang from a chain link fence on a busy San Francisco street. I have driven by it no less than 1,000 times. By walking, I stood before but a few of Ireland's 40 shades of green up close and personal.

I have always been grateful for the gift of walking. I was able to accept that I could no longer run because walking is a viable and worthy option. I also know that there are people everywhere for whom walking isn't. 
During these times when it is easy to recognize and remember what we cannot do and where we cannot go, let us give thanks for what we can. As the world awaits for a cure for COVID-19, let the walking cure heal our hearts, minds, bodies and souls.

I encourage you to read Rossmann's editorial. You can find The Walking Cure here 

Photo Credits
Pope Francis walking prayer