Thursday, September 29, 2022

Week 3 in the NFL: Lessons on What Losing Looks Like

Week 3 in the NFL offered a shake up in every which way. From the new power rankings to the  emergence of this week's number one, the 2022-2023 is full of surprises. Some are exciting—Is Miami really that brilliantly coached?  while others—such as the number of season-ending injuries before October 1 are much more than unfortunate. We continue to talk about the talent of Tom Brady and the antics of Aaron Rodgers and yet, Week 3 afforded a new type of question. It's one I think coaches should discuss with their athletes, and parents with their children. How do you respond when you lose? And how should you respond?

Week 3 offered two very different reactions to use as examples and for discussion. On one end of the spectrum, at Mile High Stadium in Denver, the 49ers lost 11-10 to the Broncos. In a world that isn't afraid to point fingers, one is directed at the once-again starting quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo 

In his first start since Trey Lance was ruled out for the season with an ankle injury, Jimmy G stepped out of his own end zone for a safety, he threw an interception and lost a fumble on a poor snap exchange. The 49ers' offense produced just 10 points, punting the football away seven times and committing three turnovers.

Despite all the ugly play, Jimmy G and the 49ers had a pair of chances in the final minutes of the game to take the lead. Both drives ended in turnovers. Still, he was smiling—mega watt smiling— as he approached Broncos lineman Cameron Fleming after the game. He gave him a huge embrace and looked as if he did not have a care in the world. To his credit as a pro-athlete the man did not look winded or as though he had just spent the past three hours in a physical contest. Good on him, right? wrong?

Ask athletes and coaches to respond. Is Jimmy G's carefree, good vibes demeanor immediately after a loss okay? Is it appropriate to "flush it" so quickly? When you team loses, should team leaders—like the quarterback be upset? angry? frustrated or disgusted? Does it matter?

Meanwhile in Miami, Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey had a massive meltdown from the coaching box. 

Greg Papke writes, "Dorsey lost his cool at the end of the game as the Bills failed to get set and spike the ball in time to attempt a game-winning field goal attempt in a 21-19 loss. The video went viral and attracted some amusement, but not from Josh Allen, who said he did not see the reaction as “bad frustration.” 

In fact, when asked about the video, Allen said "You show me someone who's ok with losing and I'll show you a loser." 

Dorsey addressed his behavior to the media. He said,  "I don't ever want to take the passion out of the game. And we're in this to win football games for the Bills, for our fans. But it's something I'm going to learn from and make sure to correct going forward." Fair enough.

Losing one's cool, overreacting, and showing poor form is not uncommon. It always merits reflection, conversation and reconciliation. 

Tom Brady loses his cool by throwing an iPad during Week 2 in a loss to the Saints

While passion for the game and a desire to win fuels the fire, it is always worth tempering and keeping in control. Ask athletes to articulate how they keep themselves in check. 

Model the behavior you want to see and call out what you don't. Never assume that your team knows what is expected in terms of behavior. Preach, teach, model and more on a regular basis.

For example, when my golf team returned to competition post COVID, I noticed high school golfers were at a loss of how they ought to conclude the match. At that time, people were still wary of shaking hands. Consequently, a number of golfers just exited the green without acknowledging, thanking and congratulating their opponents. Just because the hand shake was out, doesn't mean the spirit behind the post game ritual ought to go away. I required my athletes to make a point of connecting with their teammates and opponents in a new and safe way.

And for those athletes who are able to shake it off, seconds after the final out, bell, etc I hope I would offer constructive criticism. Former Niners tight-end, Brent Jones offers a fine example.

He said, "I want to see Jimmy grabbing a couple receivers and talking to them, I want to see him patting his linemen on the shoulder and saying ‘I need some time." I agree. A leader of the team need not have a temper tantrum or go dark. Instead, he or she can communicate and contact their teammates to make it it right....while working to change the outcome in the future.

How we comport ourselves is another form of communication. And I don't know a person on the planet who doesn't need to think about and work on communication regularly. We all do better with good communication. Good coaches excel at this. Teams thrive when it is strong. Does it change winning or losing? Truth of the matter is, it probably does. Here's to Week 4.

Photo Credits
Jimmy G
TB12 Throwing

Monday, September 26, 2022

The Joy and Light He Brings: Four Lessons from Frances Tiafoe

Serena Williams has never been one to let the spotlight shine elsewhere. I dare say that one reason she defied the expectations by making it to the Round of 16 in  the 2022 U.S. Open is because a larger story was brewing. While sports fans everywhere followed her quest for her 24th Grand Slam title, they fell is love with another black American tennis player: Frances Tiafoe. 

The 24 year old from College Park, Maryland defeated Rafael Nadal only to lose in five sets in the semifinals to Carlos Alcaraz. All of sport is buzzing about his remarkable personal story. The son of immigrants from Sierra Leone, Tiafoe's father worked as a day laborer and the maintenance man at a tennis facility. He converted an office into a home where Frances and his twin brother Franklin could sleep five nights a week (as their mother was working two jobs). Tiafoe turned pro at the age of 16 and is the first black man to make it to the semifinals of the US Open since Arthur Ashe, in 1972. He was a fan favorite inside Arther Ashe Stadium.

He got social media shout outs from the likes of LeBron James and and a visit from the former First Lady, Michelle Obama. He was the subject of CBS Evening News at night and Good Morning America in the a.m. He didn't steal Serena's thunder, but he certainly shared the spotlight. 

After asking him to flash his winning Strahan smile, Robin Roberts concluded the GMA Cover Story interview with Tiafoe by thanking him. She said "Congratulations Frances. Thank you for the joy and the light you bring." I was so moved by the interview, I decided I had to write about him and offer five lessons I've learned from his life.

1. Everyone writes their own story.
When Frances faced doubt, his father, 
Constant Tiafoe offered his own words of encouragement. He said "everyone writes their own story and you are the pioneer of that." 

It telling his son you pen your purpose, he reminded Frances that how we respond or react is our choice. Ultimately, that is what shapes our story. 

I love his message. Every last part of me wants to agree 100%. I think it's more true that false. Frances Tiafoe is an example that it is. What do you think? 

2. Mindset
Frances' parents encouraged him to play competitive tennis to pay for his college education (in earning a full scholarship). Frances however had other dreams in mind. 

He said, "how about we let tennis change our lives—forever!" He added, "having that mindset at a young age enabled me to do that now."

Mindset determines the course of action—what we would do and why we  do it. 

In Frances, I am reminded how important it is to dream big. His parents had a vision of what could be and he looked beyond. What an outlook! What has your own mindset determined for you? How do you see what you want to achieve?

3. Prove yourself right
So often we start from the place of proving others wrong, but given his mindset, Frances focused on proving himself right. His father said "there will always be people who don't believe or are laughing at you when you're wearing the hand-me-down stuff." He asked his son "are you going to fall into that or develop that underdog mentality?! Prove yourself right!"

I love this outlook. Accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative. Why not!

Is there something that you want to prove to yourself? 

It's not about where you are now...
Roberts asked Tiafoe what he would say to others who might find themselves in a similar situation. 

Frances responded by sharing "the biggest thing is understanding—it's not about where you are right now, but where you are going. Live through that process and in having dreams that people laugh at—that don't seem realistic at all—everything you do is about chasing that dream. Understand what your gift is and fall in love with your passion.

I wonder how many of us actually know where we are going. Perhaps that is half the battle. But if you "fall in love with your passion," my sense is that you have the fuel for the fire. Go for it.

There is a joy and a light that surrounds Frances Tiafoe. I saw it for the first time in 2017, when nearly defeated Roger Federer in the first round of the U.S. Open. (Fed won  4-6, 6-2, 6-1, 1-6, 6-4). 
It was hard not to notice this great athlete and catch wind of her personal story. As noted in "The Players Tribune: Something Bigger" it's safe to say, Frances to say "you belong" is an understatement. We are so much better for it.

Photo Credits
Tiafoe Family

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Simply the Best: A Tribute to the 2022 US Open

One of the great joys of my life, is being a sports fan. I'm not joking. This passion means that I live from one season to the next in anticipation of what a team, athlete, coach and fan base will give and receive, achieve and accomplish, dare and dream. Furthermore, as a golf and tennis fan, four times a year, I am privy to a championship that never fails to live up to its billing. Every grand slam or golf major is special, most are memorable and a few are exceptional. The 2022 United States Tennis Open is one of those.

Now in its 142nd year, this year's tourney drew even more press when six time champion, Serena Williams announced her farewell to tennis—in her own terms. While her performance at the Open merits its own reflection, her bon voyage was far from the only story that made this Open so special. Here are but a few thoughts, questions, and remembrances I would like to share.

Simply the Best
Many expected Serena's first round match against Danka Kovinić to be her last. Given that she played professional tennis less than ten times in 2022 and that she lost in the first round at Wimbledon, I understand the conjecture. However, the spirit that fueled both Agassi and Connors while standing in those same tennis shoes, suggested much more.

Serena's second round defeat of the number two seed, Anett Kontaveit was a match for the ages. Under the lights on Arthur Ashe Court, it's possible that Tiger Woods' forearm grew weary from flexing so often.

Although my hopes ran high as Serena won the second set in her third round match, her opponent, did not relent. Ajla Tomljanović broke Williams again and again in the third set, and as she did, I sensed a shift. I still cheered loudly and nervously, but I began to hold on. I  savored every last cross court winner, ace and "Come on!" she could muster. Though my vision of a 24th Grand Slam title was put in the rear view mirror, like everyone else in attendance I anticipated how she would bid adieu.

The crowd was brought to their feet. All were clapping, many holding back tears. I let mine go. In the background, the song "Simply the Best" by Tina Turner took over the airwaves. I love it when a song can underscore all that we feel.

Serena began by thanking her parents. She concluded with words of gratitude to her sister, Venus. So fitting.

What to do about Kyrgios?
If John McEnroe played tennis today, it's quite possible he might be known for more than his tantrums. I wonder how the fire that fueled the outbursts, obscenities and passionate plea "you can't be serious!" would be channeled differently. Why? The odds are, McEnroe was probably right.

Now an announcer, John McEnroe played professional tennis before the Hawk-eye system. He also has exceptional vision. This technology works in tandem with the line judges who are—good, bad or otherwise wrong—a lot.  (please note, the Hawk-eye system, is not flawless either).

While McEnroe may have been right about those outs that were in, he is wrong about what he divulged to the 20th ranked player in the world, Nick Kyrgios.

He told the hard and creative hitting, fast serving Krygios, "tennis needs you." He said "you're one of the best things we've got."

I understand why he appealed to the fit and insanely talented Krygios. His game is truly electric. To me, it's like watching basketball on the tennis court. He has finesse and flare; his athleticism is second to none. I find it impossible NOT to cheer for him...until I don't.

While I am sympathetic to how he handles the pressure of the game, I am challenged, disappointed and disgusted time and again by just how far he takes things. Kyrgios screams foul language. He throws, hurls and tosses equipment—violently. Although the game assesses penalties and fines for unsportsmanlike conduct and racket abuse, he continues to lose control. I often wonder, does he care?!

I have a wide berth for his frustration but when he slammed his racket and couldn't muster the ability to wave to the crowd to thank them for being behind him all night, I said no more. I want to love him, but at some point enough is enough. Right?

Political Nuances of the Game
While unvaccinated players were not allowed to play in the 2022 U.S. Open, men and women from a certain country were. 

Back in April, the organizers of Wimbledon made the decision to ban players from Russia (and Belarus) in response to the invasion of Ukraine. This boycott excluded some of the ATP and WTA top players. While you would have seen some of the games greats like Daniil Medvedev Andrey Rublev, and Karen Khachanov or Aryna Sabalenka and Daria Kasatkina, you would not see a flag next to their name. When these players were introduced, no announcer said from where they call home.

I don't know if Putin is a tennis fan, but it is widely known that he does love sport. And tennis always brings attention to one's homeland.  And speaking of which....

The American Dream: Watch this video!

Perhaps the greatest story to emerge from the 2022 is the tale of Tiafoe. I will let his personal profile speak for itself here. If this is the future face of American tennis, we are in for joy, athleticism and great competition. I love his game!

In Conclusion
While I don't look forward to the conclusion of summer and going back to school, this time of year affords the magical moments and memories created only at the U.S. Open. This year was one for the ages. And, I know there will be another one to come...

Photo Credits
No Flag