The Grace of Coaching

David Quo thinks that he was an ass at his kid’s soccer game. Why? Because his kid is far from becoming the next David Beckham, the kid doesn’t always listen to the coach and he thinks he did a good job when he kicks the ball into his own net.

And all that annoys David–who’s far from an athlete himself.

But I share the following viewpoint with him:

I HATE the coddling of America’s youth. I HATE everyone always been told that everything is terrific no matter how much it sucks. I HATE that we lead the world in self esteem and suck at math and reading. I HATE soccer games that don’t keep score. I HATE participation ribbons. Now I’m mad at our culture too.

I REALLY want to say, ”Well buddy, you’re trying and that’s AWESOME. But part of trying is listening to the coach. Why don’t you try that too?” I want to give him a hug and tell him how much I love him and how great he is actually doing at this, his first game of any sort. I really do want to say those things. But I don’t. I just sit there with the staggering knowledge I just told him he did badly.

I used to coach kids at a summer came. I would add that some of these kids were so afraid of the ball that they’d run away from a ROLLING ball. The key is getting them to believe that you aren’t giving up on them–but also (and more important) to not praise them when they don’t get it right.

Some examples:
“Good try but how about this way?” “Look, here’s what you’re doing wrong–not THAT way, it’s THIS way–now you try! Nope, try again. Good job!”

None of those voices can be in a raised tone. In fact they should be hushed tones mostly, with an added “You can do it, I know you can.”

One of the most awesome moments of my life was when a 6 year old afraid-of-the-ball-for-far-too-long shot his first basket. It was grandma moses style and it took him 20 attempts—but it was just the two of us and watching Mark Kissel’s face light up was worth every second of hard work. I remember him and his smile and how I held him over my head like the Stanley Cup and we ran around the gym together and grabbed a snack right after that basket.

Wanna know what happened next? He wanted to go practice some more. And he made 7 more baskets.

Kids want to get it right and improve their skill and they want mentors and coaches who guide them firmly and not just lie to their faces and tell them that they are great when they know they suck. The key is gentle firmness as well as patience. Instruction doesn’t have to be angry or browbeating. But it also doesn’t have to be superficial.

Not every kid deserves a trophy or a ribbon. But what every kid deserves is the respect of a coach who takes the time to make sure that they are being instructed properly and that they believe in them. Even when kids lose (I cried hard after that first little league loss—we lost 27-0. You’d think I would have caught on after the 3rd inning when we were down 13-0.) they need to have the support of a coach–and their parents. “It’s OK to lose. We all lose. Indeed we can’t win them all. We’re gonna lose again. They key is doing your best and pushing yourself to do better next time.”

Those were the words of Tom McKineley, my first little league coach.

And they are indeed words to live by that I have not forgotten for nearly 40 years now.

Now go find a kid and have a catch. And make sure he doesn’t throw like a girl.

And make sure she doesn’t either.

Googling God: The Baseball Tour

For the next few days, I’ll be travelling with my two college pals, Kevin Cryan and Victor Mendoza, two four baseball stadiums–a brief respite from work. This was Marion’s present to me for my (gasp!) 40th birthday.

We’re travelling with which I’d recommend highly thus far. Great hotels, great seats at the ballpark, friendly people. I’ll upload some pictures from Comerica Park in Detroit and last night’s game where the Angels beat the home team 4-2 and Torii Hunter got into a brawl with the home plate ump and threw a bag of balls out on the playing field. Can you say suspension?

There is a spiritual element I suppose to baseball and I’ve never seen a women’s religious community where baseball isn’t favored on the tv at night. Sr. Jeremy confirmed this the other day as in her new home the Yankee game is apparently a must watch. (I may have to pay a visit to the Felicians some evening now!)

But more seriously, baseball is about three things in my opinion: the ability to handle failure, timelessness and anticipation.

1) Failure: the best teams will lose at least 50 times or more during the year. The best hitters get a hit only once out of three times. One error despite hundreds of successful catches, could become a bad legacy (like Bill Buckner who had a ball go through his legs in the 1986 World Series enabling the Mets to tie the series and then go on to win a few nights later. Most don’t know that Buckner had a great overall career and was actually a good fielder most of the time). Pitchers walk batters and give up the long ball often.

Baseball, like Catholicism is a series of redemptions. We need to learn to deal with our inevitable failures and get right back in the box (batter’s, confessional or soap).

2) Timelessness: baseball is an untimed game. There’s no clock and games can last 3 or 4 hours. People complain about this and often say that games are long and boring. Sometimes that’s true but most would say that a 9-4 ballgame is exciting with a lot of runs scored and hitting. The truth is that that is a pretty lousy game and probably was filled with play that was less than masterful. A low scoring one run game is much better. Which leads to my final point.

3). Anticipation: baseball is not about what’s happening but rather it’s about what MIGHT happen. Will the batter swing? What’s the pitcher going to throw? Is that runner going to steal? How should the outfielders play this hitter? Should the manager make a pitching change? It’s a game of many decisions…much like life.

What’s going to happen in our lives? We don’t know. We trust that the journey will be worth it and that the decisions we make will play out for the best, even though we know we can’t go without suffering and loss.

So today, enjoy a hot dog and beverage and know that life is happening and that we’re all in this game together. So let’s play ball. Pictured: Cleveland’s Progressive Field known to most by their former name Jacobs Field or simply “the Jake”

I’m on the Olympic Prayer Team

I was asked to do the invocation at the opening ceremony of the Empire State Games, a Olympic-style event for Athletes from NY State. I remember going to these once as a child but can’t remember where they were held. It’s a non-denominational style of prayer and I wanted to focus on the athlete’s gifts for themselves and for all of us.

Let us all remind ourselves that we are always in the presence of God.

As we call for God’s blessing on our athletes… we acknowledge that these athletes are signs of God’s creativity in the world. We see God in them as they live, and move, and have their being…and so we ask God

to bless their legs with swiftness,
their arms with might,
and their eyes with clarity…

But most of all Holy One, may you bless their hearts and the hearts of all here present—so that we might bless a broken world with love.

Holy one, may the gifts that we see before us, this week, in these athletes, inspire all of us to push the limits of all we can be so that we too can be gifts to the world.

So that our love will always conquer hatred,
and so that peace will always prevail.
May the light of truth always break the darkness of fear and doubt.

It is in that great spirit of giving and gratitude that we ask God to bless these athletes and all those who will watch and support them both now and forever. Amen.

Video cameras weren’t allowed in the stadium but I snapped this picture of UB President John Simpson welcoming the athletes who packed the red zone of the football field easily.

Grant Peace to Desme

Oakland Athletics prospect Grant Desme is trading in his glove for a collar. So says this article.A snip:

The A’s prized prospect exited the season with a head-turning presence, accompanied by a bat that produced 31 home runs and a speedy 6-foot-2 frame that stole 40 bases in Class A ball — making him the only player in Minor League Baseball to enjoy a 30-30 campaign.

An exceptional performance and MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League followed, so surely Desme was close to getting a call, most assumed — if not for a trip to The Show, then at least for an invitation to Spring Training.

Yet, Desme insists he’d already received the call long before his final at-bat in the fall came and went — the one that would take him to bigger and better places.

It just so happens it wasn’t what the A’s organization — or anyone else, for that matter — had in mind.

The call, Desme announced Friday, came in the form of priesthood in the Catholic church.

“Last year before the season started, I really had a strong feeling of a calling and a real strong desire to follow it,” the 23-year-old said. “I just fought it.”

Thus, Desme chose to play out the season as a test of sorts, “just hoping and praying about it.”

“As the year went on,” he said, “God blessed me. I had a better year than I could have imagined, but that reconfirmed my desire because I wasn’t at peace with where I was at. I love the game, but I aspire to higher things.”

I kinda know how he feels.

While not being good enough to become an athlete, I was good enough to be a broadcaster. For 10 years of my life I tried to give broadcasting a go, with limited success. I produced a lot behind the scenes, did some small on-air things for the stations that I worked for and felt like I was just spinning my wheels. I was a snotty 20 something who thought that I was better than some on the on-air staff (and I can honestly say that I was in certain cases) and didn’t need to go an earn my dues somewhere outside of the world’s biggest media market. Still, that limited success was enough to earn me a spot as a minor league broadcaster in my hometown for the Yonkers Hoot Owls.

And I was pretty good. My partner and I had good banter and people who showed up at the games would tell us that we did a good job. I sent tapes to major league broadcasters for advice and they liked what they heard and advised me to just be patient that my time would come. At the end of that season, I believed that I was a good broadcaster. I had proven to myself that I indeed could be a solid broadcaster.

But I wasn’t excited about it. I complained through most of the season and when one of my high school coaches showed up to take in a game he noticed my negativity. “You look like you could use a break from this season,” he said to me.

He was right.

Even other radio colleagues noticed my lack of enthusiasm, despite a lot of talent. One even mentioned that he saw my energy rise after a returned from a weekend retreat that I had led with my parish and that he had never seen that side of me before.

So I searched my heart and I found much peace after admitting that I was scared to leave one career for what might lie ahead. Friends encouraged me to seek the advice of others and after meeting with many other ministry professionals my fears began to subside. After meeting with a bunch of major league broadcasters, I found myself less envious of their stature and more excited about making a choice for ministry rather than for something for which I just lacked passion.

So I hope that Grant Desme has a great life in the seminary. I hope he discerns well and that he becomes a good priest. Because we need good priests and more importantly, we need men and women with a passion for ministry.

Let’s all pray for that today.

Athletic Voodoo

I’m not always a superstitious kind of guy but when it comes to the Jets I kinda fall into that faction who gives some credence to athletic voodoo. My dog has a Jets jersey and so do I. When the dog wears his the Jets consistently win. When I wear mine, it’s a mixed review. Guess what he’ll be wearing come Sunday.

However, the Jets being the Jets (the team hasn’t won the Super Bowl since 1969) will do all they can to jinx their way out of the playoffs. Take this shirt for instance:

What are they thinking? Ok it’s irrational, I admit it. But this is more presumptuous than the Obama Nobel Prize.

Still the thoughts of jinxes and hexes and all those things that we sometimes lend our own thinking too is perhaps the stuff of a lack of faith. Do we really believe that a jersey or t-shirt holds that kind of power over the hard work of an entire team of professional athletes? Do we hold so little hope that we become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

What does God think about all of this? I suppose it’s all in good fun at times but what happens when we apply the idea of divine retribution to situations like Haiti? We’re giving credence in a sense to folks like Pat Robertson when we speak of even this kind of athletic voodoo.

Guess what folks? God’s not rooting for the Jets. Or the Colts. Or the Vikings or the Saints. Well…maybe the saints…just not those Saints.

Instead God hopes that we can challenge one another to become the best that we can be. Much like an athletic competition, we compete not for God’s love, rather we look to one another to better ourselves and the world.

May the best team win.

Pst. Just in case, Haze will wear the jersey! =0

Believe in the Power of the Doggie Jersey

I’m not much into superstitions but…

The New York Jets won their playoff game over the Bengals yesterday, and more importantly, my dog haze was wearing his Jets jersey. Every time he wears it –the Jets win. Believe in the power of the doggy jersey!

I wanted to get him the number “1/2” but they don’t do fractions.

While we’re discussing Dogs and sports, Clark Gillies who played for the Islanders in their glory days when they won 4 Stanley Cups dumped a can of dog food into the illustrious trophy and let his mutt eat his dinner. Someone asked “Why did you let that dog eat his food out of the Stanley Cup ?”

His response was brilliant: “Because he’s a good dog!”

And trust me from the stories I have heard about that Cup, the dog’s mouth might have been the cleanest thing to touch the inside of that cup in years. In fact, it was probably more dangerous for the dog than any of the players.

And speaking of hockey, I attended my first Sabres game last night at HSBC Arena with my newfound friend Steve Spear (husband of the legendary youth and young adult minister here, Patty Bubar Spear). He got me up to speed on Sabres history and while we left saddened by a Buffalo loss to Colorado, they at least got a point by taking the mighty Avalanche to a shootout. A great game and a great time with a new friend.

I was never a huge hockey fan. I mean I rooted for the Islanders in their hey-day and then got to work on Rangers broadcasts and I have a picture of me with the Stanley Cup thanks to the Devils future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur (who brought the cup to the radio station and let me carry it out to his car!). But I was lukewarm about the whole thing, riding the wave when hockey captured the attention of New York City as the Islanders did in the 80s and the Rangers Stanley Cup season after a 54 year drought. But I always thought I should have been a bigger hockey fan, because by and large hockey players are the nicest pro-athletes around. I don’t think any Met or Yankee would let me touch the World Series trophy, much less, carry it out to the car. The intimacy of that trophy is renown. I even told my wife at our wedding to hold her bouquet up like she was holding the Stanley Cup.

She just looked at me oddly. And yet, she married me anyway!

Regardless, Steve informed me that these Sabres have never won the cup. Well, fasten your seat belts because there’s a dog who’s about to get this gift very soon…

Believe in the power of the Doggie Jersey…

And go Sabres!

Once in a while…I still have some sports thoughts

I guest columned an item on the Mets Police retiring #8 for Yogi Berra and Gary Carter.

Retire #8 on 8/8
Two Hall of Famers have worn #8 for the Mets and yet that number has not been retired. It’s not a stretch to think that the Mets could retire #8 for both Gary Carter and Yogi Berra the prolific manager of the 73 “Ya Gotta Believe” pennant winners.
Berra was an astute manger for 4 years with only the 1974 season being a blight on his record. He brought the team back from a huge deficit and got the players to believe in themselves with a little help from Tug McGraw’s rallying cry. McGraw often said that it was really Berra’s managing style that enabled the players to believe in themselves and led them to that pennant. To top matters they spanked the Reds in the playoffs and in a crazy world series he took the mighty A’s to 7 games–all an almost impossible feat to accomplish for any manager. We forget he was also a coach with Hodges on the 1969 Miracle Mets (in fact he was a coach since 1965), so you can’t say he wasn’t involved or around long enough with the Mets to merit inclusion. While more well known as a Yankee, Berra deserves to be acknowledged as someone who contributed much to the Met franchise as a coach and manager.
Carter was the missing piece to the 1986 World Series Champions. The young Mets pitchers needed someone to be a leader within those 60 feet 6 inches. Carter led them well for 3 years until his career began to wind down. He helped spark that team into the cocky bunch of players who never felt they were out of a ballgame even when things looked bleak. In game 6 of the 86 World Series Carter started the rally with a single that led to the improbableMookie Wilson grounder through the legs of Bill Buckner.

I love this Mets Police blog because it has a good take on all the stupid stuff that the Mets do as an organization–a big reason why I can’t root for them any longer. Read the rest here and then agree or disagree.