Thursday, February 23, 2023

A Case for Understatement: In Sports and Beyond

If he hasn't already found his way onto your radar screen, take note. Eddie Murphy is back in the spotlight. After a near 35 year absence for the screen, the SNL icon is one of the leads in the new Netflix Rom-Com "You People." He has the green light for "Beverley Hills Cop IV" which he announced on Jimmy Kimmel Live! just a few weeks ago. The interview was fantastic. Murphy shared stories about legendary black musicians, artists and comedians he had worked with over the years. Kimmel was listening and laughing. He followed up with a question, and a colorful retort. Eddie simply leaned back and gave a slide glance. His nonverbal response was hilarious. It was also incredibly understated. It has stayed with me. It got me thinking....

In today's world, especially in sports, not much is understated. For example, I was eating dinner with friends, the Boles family, as festivities of the NBA All Star weekend unfolded. From the three point to the slam dunk contest, little to nothing about that weekend is understated. In fact, it's the opposite—it's frenzied, flashy and forward. It's just over the top. All that drama is electric and I find it exhausting. I started to wonder, Is it even possible to be understated in an All Star game? Or in the NBA today? And, Why be understated? Can it be taught? Is it something you value? Why or why not? Here's my thought.

I would like to make a case for understatement. One who is understated, values simplicity and  humility. They embody the "less is more" approach. The way I see it, in sports, to be understated is to know it's about you and it's not about you. You have a role, you have a responsibility and you are expected to do it well. You do. The understated is not a martyr. He or she accepts praise where praise is due—nothing more and nothing less. It's not that the understated scoffs at the spotlight. But, they don't soak it up either.

I would argue understatement, might make a bigger impact or lasting memory because it is so counterintuitive. It requires personal discipline and a strong sense of self. Some may see understatement as modesty, and I don't think that's far off. But to be understated is to be comfortable in one's own skin. 

One of the phrases that captures being understated is "act like you've been there before." Coaches, you can remind your athletes of this mantra and praise them when they put it into practice. You might want to add, your opponents might not like what you do against them, but they will certainly respect you. I also think understatement is "caught more than taught." In other words, using examples is an effective way to help others understand what it looks like. 

A long time fan of defensive end, Justin Tuck, I took note when his record for sacks in a single season at Notre Dame was broken by Isaiah Foskey in the Irish's 44-0 win over Boston College. I am a fan of Foskey too—he graduated from De La Salle High School— and this moment stayed with me. Why? Not only is it significant but it's understated. I thought to myself, this moment could easily serve as a good example....but were others seeing what I saw?

I asked the varsity football coach at SI to take a look at this clip. I didn't mention my bias or my focus. I simply wanted to see what he saw. He wrote "Another day at the office.  He seems excited to get the record, but I like what is shown on this clip of him acknowledging it, but focused on his teammates and the task at hand." I thought to myself, that is exactly how it should be when an individual achieves a record on a team sport. Noted. Promoted. Understated.

Earlier this week, I went to a 3+ hour rock concert on a school night. The great American band, The Eagles were playing at SAP Center in San Jose with Vince Gill. Gill, who has had tremendous success in country music for signing and song writing is also an incredibly talented guitar player. He is known for his picking and sheer ability to play with anyone. Every great guitarist acknowledges his talent and Gill simply shrugs his shoulders, smiles and continues to play. When Don Henley introduced all the members of the band, the crowd's response to Vince Gill on vocals and guitar was tremendous. Gill waved his hand, nodded in gratitude and played on. He said a whole lot more, without saying much at all. And it stays with me.... that's reason enough to be understated if you ask me.

Look for it. You'll know it when you see it. Pass it on. 

Photo Credits
Eddie Murphy
Vince Gill: From the concert!

Friday, February 17, 2023

No Losses, Only Lessons—Thank you, Jalen Hurts

Coaches know how hard it is to say the "right thing" after a heart breaking loss. You share the disappointment that your athletes feel. You too wish things could be different. Parents, fans and friends of the program have been put in the same tough spot. What can I say? What should I say? I have to say something! We want our words to be sincere. "I'm sorry" is a start. Or "man, this must hurt." Yes and yes. But, thanks to Jalen Hurts, the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles I have an answer.  

In the post-game interview, Hurts—who played in his first (and what is most likely not his last Super Bowl) said "You either win or you learn." Jason Bariso, author of "Jalen Hurts Just Delivered an Emotional Intelligence Master Class. It All Starts with Just Six Words" believes those six words are reminiscent of another axiom "There are no failures, only learning opportunities."  

Here's my thought. It bears revision. I want to make this stick. Therefore, I would use the motto "no losses, only lessons." Short, sweet, to the point, authentic and it's true. Furthermore, what I find helpful is that it doesn't just apply to sports. I think this motto is true in relationships, employment, school and much more.

Bariso writes "This advice is valuable because it forces a perspective shift, and allows you to turn negative events into positive outcomes. But a key part of the learning recipe is to reflect, to think deeply about what you did well and want to repeat, and what you did not do well, so you can improve." Amen. 

For me personally "No losses, only lessons" assuages the sting of defeat. This motto invites a paradigm shift, something I wouldn't force on anyone. I wouldn't have another person speak to those lesson until they are ready And yet, I do think having this mindset allows a person a perspective on where they can stand. There is so much to learn in this much wisdom to gain. Loss can be a great teacher.

In "Venus and Serena" Serena Williams admits "I hate losing more than I enjoy winning." Many of the greats share her mentality. I am not interested in challenging Williams on her viewpoint; that belief is ingrained in her DNA. But I would like to hear what she and Jalen Hurts might talk about after Super Bowl LVII. For the rest of us—coaches, parents, and fans I hope these four words help you personally and your athletes. Lots of lessons to learn along the way...
Photo Credits

Friday, February 10, 2023

Variety Might Be More than the Spice of Life: A Case for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

They say variety is the spice of life. I agree. Can variety be an advantage, too? 

Are you someone who intentionally mixes it up? Yes and no? No and yes? 

This school year, I have found a simple delight in taking different routes to work in the morning. I have an aunt who never orders the same meal on the menu of her favorite restaurant. Her thought is, Why should I? They have great cooks, and fresh ingredients!  Way to go, Aunt Mo. Recently, my mom was inspired by a fashion blog that challenged viewers to create at least ten new outfits from clothes one already has in their closet. She described this opportunity as "so much fun" and inspired me to do the same. This reflection on variety prompted me to consider, What does variety look like in sports? How do I mix things up in the sports I play? I found one answer in an unsuspecting place: Pebble Beach, California.

The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am is an annual PGA sponsored golf tournament that takes place the first week in February. Once known as the "Bing Crosby Clambake" this iconic tourney includes professional golfers (from the PGA) alongside corporate executives/sponsors and celebrities of all sorts—athletes, musicians, not to mention comedic legend Bill Murray. In recent years and pre-LIV tour, fewer and fewer high profile, top ranked players have comprised the player list. Surely it's not the setting. Green and blue spaces abound. In fact, it offers a different kind of grind. 

On the tour, golfers grow comfortable with competing on one course in a singular tournament. The AT&T Classic is played on Spyglass Hill, Monterrey Peninsula and Pebble Beach (2x). That would require additional practice rounds and course knowledge. Others don't want the distraction of the celebrities and competing next to golfers not at their level, while trying to win a PGA title (and a birth to the Masters!). And yet, the 2023 winner found the change to be a welcome thing. As written in Justin Rose wins Pebble Beach Pro-Am to book Masters spot after Gareth Bale impresses

The slow pace of the Pro-Am format is not to every professional’s liking but Rose believes it has helped bring out the best in him. 

“When you go side by side with the amateurs there’s something which maybe keeps me a little bit more mellow so I have got to learn from it,” he said.

Who knew that variety also serve as an advantage?

Jason Bateman, Bill Murray and Josh Allen are but a few of the celebs at the AT&T

Golf is a game built on tradition. Old ways die hard and tradition—by definition— is resistant to change. But the times have invited us to consider its value. My sense is that tradition is a double edge sword. We want it and yet the emergence of the LIV tour has led others to find more value in innovation. Some might argue that's the best quality LIV golf has going for it. To me, innovation has a few things in common with variety. Yes and no. No and yes. It's certainly caught people's attention (I have yet to write about the LIV tour) and spiced it up (red hot). 

Blessed John Henry Newman said, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” In what ways do you invite change? participate in it? contribute to it? When we change, no doubt there is loss—but there might be more—much more to gain!

Advice for those planning to attend in 2024
If you can—arrive on Friday (afternoon) and head right over to either Spyglass Hill or Monterey Peninsula. In the past, when I arrive late in the day, I have been able to walk in without a ticket. It is not as crowded and the TGIF spirit is palpable. You can follow but a few groups, but this might get you up close and personal with your favorite.

If you are there for celebrity sightings: One approach to engage a player you would like to meet is to offer a specific comment, idea or insight. The more specific the better. I have stories. I have examples....

Go to The Inn at Spanish Bay on Friday night. The outdoor fire pits, the sunset, the bagpipes. Surreal.

Saturday: The better players and higher profile celebrities will be playing Pebble Beach. Arrive early morning. Walk the course; get the lay of the land and then follow your favorites. Take in the green and the blue. Hit the Tap Room after. It will be crowded but it will be fun.

Per my own advice, mix it up! Variety comes in many forms. Let that underscore your visit.

Photo Credits
Justin Rose

Tuesday, February 7, 2023

What Coach Belichick Did Not Do...According to Tom Brady

I highly doubt that Tom Brady invented the term "Let's Go!" No doubt it has become his trademark. In light of his accomplishments for 23 years in the NFL—leading teams at quarterback to seven Super Bowl titles—I would argue most fans are okay with giving him credit for it. He has not yelled those words in vain. 
Today, "Let's Go" serves as the title of a podcast he hosts with Larry Fitzgerald and Tom Gray.
As written on Apple Podcasts, listeners are invited to "enjoy in-depth, insightful, and introspective one-on-one conversations with each of these future HOF football players. They'll discuss trending stories from on and off the football field and share stories from their personal life."

The February 6, 2023 episode featured Tom Brady - with Bill Belichick, Peyton Manning, Rob Gronkowski, Mr. and Mrs. Brady, Oprah, and More.
The conversation between TB12 and his coach of 20 years, Bill Belichick created a whole lot of buzz on sports talk radio this morning. While it provided good insight into the relationship between coach and athlete, it left me with a question for consideration.

Bryan DeArdo of CBS Sports writes, 
Their most recent interview, however, was different in that Brady gave in to his emotions. Brady choked up when he was asked what Belichick did to help him become the best version of himself. 

"I think it's more what did he not do," Brady said while fighting back tears. 
When I first heard Tom Terrific's response, I rolled my eyes. I thought to myself, Is this similar to Michelangelo's claim about one of art's greatest pieces: David?  Michelangelo said "The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.” I wondered, Is Belichick the artist and Brady the art? 
But as I listened, I reconsidered his claim. For example, Brady said "Coach couldn’t play quarterback, and I couldn’t coach. I think the best part about football is — coach says it a lot — do your job. And he asked me to play quarterback. He didn’t ask me to coach. I didn’t want him playing quarterback. I just wanted him to coach.…"

I started to think about what Belichick did and what he did not do.

For every action there is a reaction. It's worth considering the times and ways that not taking  action IS an action. Coaches ought to consider what is it that they do and what do they not do? And how does each side of the coin contribute to an entity's value? 

As Tom Brady continues to reflect upon his career and the coaches, teammates, family members, friends and fans, it's worth listening to the life lessons he has to offer. The man was the 199th pick in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL draft. He redshirted and then played backup QB in his first two years at Michigan. He has gone on to play in 10 Super Bowls and has one ring for each day of the week. I'd like to personally thank him for being someone close to my age who has remained involved in pro sports—till now! A retirement well deserved...if it happens?!

There is much to learn about his path to excellence and the partnerships he built along the way. Sometimes, we just need to think about the road we take and the one(s) we do not.

Photo Credits
Tom and Bill

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Silver Lining in the Playbook: Christian McCaffrey

I knew my Dad would be devastated—yes, devastated— by the 49ers loss to the Eagles in the NFC Championship. The talent of the Philadelphia playbook was too much. I gave him some time and space to cool off and called him the day after the game. I have but one silver lining to him. That silver lining is Christian McCaffrey.

This is what I said: Dad, are you okay? I know you're disappointed. Hey, I don't know if you heard. On the charter flight home last night—the pilot wasn't feeling well. Turns out they had Christian McCaffrey step in for him. Of course he helped bring the team home safely.

For but a moment, my Dad believed me. I think all of San Francisco could too. He is the one player who scored a touchdown. He carried the ball 15 times for 84 yards, added four catches for 22 yards and threw an incomplete pass on a trick play. When Josh Johnson, the Niners fourth string quarterback went down, a friend asked Siri "who is 49ers fifth string QB." Siri actually paused. My friend responded for Siri. "#23, Christian McCaffrey." Good answer.

Christian McCaffrey is one very important example of what went right this season for the Niners. Most would argue the best story features "Mr. Irrelevant, QB3 who became QB1 Brock Purdy" and they would be right. Furthermore, Purdy serves as yet another example of just how often the NFL draft gets it wrong. Noted. Or maybe we should talk about Coach DeMeco Ryans, Niners' defensive coordinator. He navigated the terrain for one of the best defenses in the country—even if they didn't play that way on NFC gameday. The 49er Faithful should thank Coach Ryan and wish him well, as he accepted the position as the head coach of the Houston Texans. But, I would like to focus on #23 because there is so much to recognize and celebrate in this running back. With Ayook, Kittle, Samuels, it's already fun to watch the Niners run the ball. McCaffrey made it that much more electric and electric. Thank you, Kyle and John!

Given Stanford football's schedule, my first memory of Christian McCaffrey should have been the damage he did to Notre Dame football. Lucky for the Irish however, in his three years with the Cardinal, he only played in one game. Instead, believe it or not, McCaffrey came into my radar because of the remarks from Stephen A Smith.

Stephen A says a lot. Loudly. Proudly. Time and again he has called for higher praise for the running back.

“How many times do I have to say it,” Smith ranted Thursday on First Take. “I’ve said this about Christian McCaffrey before and I’m gonna say it again. Ladies and gentleman – it’s damn near reverse discrimination! If this brother were Black, we’d be talking about him more. I mean this dude is SPECIAL!”

In his first game as a Forty Niner, McCaffrey became the first player since 2005 to rush, throw and threw for a touchdown in the same game. No doubt, special is one way to describe him.  His coaches agree.

McCaffrey turned pro after his junior year at Stanford. Rather than talk more about the Niner loss, I asked my colleague—who was on the coaching staff at Stanford for five years what it was like to be around a player like him.

He said, "I actually talked to my freshman about Christian before the Niners picked him up. I asked them Why it's important to do the small things well? Then I reframed the question, Is it important? I said I think it is—because how we do the small things add up. They determine everything." He added, "I've never seen anyone do the small things like I did in Christian McCaffrey. He paid attention to everything. That pays dividends when it comes to the big things. He made the entire program better. Truly, he raised the bar. It was awesome to be a part of all that. And I want my students to know they can learn from that example. They took can care about the small's a place to start, right?" Right!

As a coach, I have had the gift of witnessing the impact a gifted and determined athlete can have on a team. When they make everyone around them better, the result is joy, delight, inspiration, and more often than not success and/or victory.

The NFC Championship wasn't a fun game to watch. It wasn't a victory nor did it play out to the billing it got. But, it did give sports fans and opportunity to think about the role of players and coaches, the talents we have and how we use them. How we respond when things don't go our way and when they do what we should not take for granted. There are more than a few silver linings in those playbooks. Pay attention to the small ones....

Photo Credits