Celebrating our student-athletes every day

National STUDENT Athlete Day is  observed annually on April 6, and provides an opportunity to recognize the accomplishments of student-athletes.

National STUDENT-Athlete Day was created by National Consortium for Academics and Sports (NCAS) to honor high school and college student-athletes who have excelled in academics and athletics and who have contributed to their communities and schools in a significant way.

Here at Menlo, we couldn’t be more proud of our students-athletes, who team together for community service, support their peers in school performances, practice an instrument between schoolwork and sports, and inspire us in so many ways.

Go Knights!

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When your student is ready to quit…

Nearly every student-athlete at one time or another struggles with playing time, performance, or time management. Sometimes, it can drain you or take you to another place than being with your team. It is also particularly hard when a student-athlete is injured and training or rehabilitating away from his or her team.

It can be scary at first for a student-athlete to talk to his or her coach about their worth on a team. As a parent of two athletes, and having the opportunity to talk to students and watch our students talk to their coaches and teachers, I know how important this lesson is as they approach adulthood.

I encourage all parents to let their children do the talking and have the conversations with adults that teach or coach them. This not only applies to Athletics, but in many other situations. Following is an article from a student-athlete-turned-coach.

Joe McDonald
Middle School Athletic Director – Menlo School

When your child is ready to quit, tell them this

By Emma Walker

When I was a freshman in high school, my basketball team was small.  In fact, it was so small that we didn’t have a freshmen or JV team.  My coach was tough.  He had high expectations and conducted physically and mentally demanding practices.  I suited varsity, but only got in the last minute or two (if we were winning by enough).  Essentially, I only had the opportunity to play in practice.  However, I battled, knowing that next year could be my year.

The beginning of my sophomore year was different.  It was a huge disappointment for me.  I still found myself sitting on the bench, going in the last minute or so when my team was up big.  The basketball season is a grind, and I don’t care what anybody says, winter sports (basketball and wresting) are the most challenging.  The weather is cold, it gets dark at 4:30, it’s long, there are 3-4 games a week at times… it’s exhausting.  The weak will not survive, and at that time, I was weak.  I begged my parents to let me quit.

They didn’t say no, but they gave me a condition.  I could quit, IF I approached my coach and asked him about my role, and what I could do to get better.

Approach Coach P? To me, this was an absolute nightmare.  I didn’t sleep that night.  The entire school day, I didn’t hear a single word my teachers said, because I was so focused on how and when I would approach him.  I decided in math class that I would do it after practice that night.

Practice flew by.  It always seems like when you are dreading something, time races to the moment.  I took my practice shoes off, put on my sweats, and walked across the gym to what felt like my execution.

Coach was sitting in his office, already creating a scouting report for the next game.  I asked if I could talk to him, and as soon as I sat down, I started sobbing. I was thinking, “OHMYGOD OHMYGOD EMMA STOP CRYING,” but I couldn’t.  My disappointment and self-doubt all exploded into a disastrous ball of emotion.  So here I was, bawling in front of the man I feared most in this cold dark world… and I mean bawling, and do you know what he did?  Coach gave me a huge hug.

He let me talk (at least through my sobs), and then he let me listen.  He was honest.  He told me that I wasn’t ready.  I was too weak to be on the floor when it mattered the most, I didn’t work hard enough in the offseason, but he told me that I had potential, and asked me to stick with it.

I am honestly crying as I write this, thinking about how grateful I am for that moment with him, and for the guidance from my parents.  I finished the season, despite a lack of playing time, and worked hard that summer. The next year, I played in every single game.  I was awarded Honorable Mention All-Conference, and our team made it to the substate regional final, where I had 15 rebounds against IKM-Manning.

The following year, I was a senior captain and starter.  After the best athletic season I have ever participated in , my team made it to the first state tournament since the 1960s. I was again an All-Conference selection, and was invited to play at the Iowa All-Star Basketball game in Cedar Rapids.  My senior year laid the foundation for a 2010 team that would win its first state title.

What would have happened if my parents sent Coach P an email demanding to know why I wasn’t playing?  What would have happened if they let me quit without having a conversation with him?  My parents have taught me more things than I could ever count, but one of the most important things was to fight my own battles, and never give up.

They could have badmouthed my coach in the stands, wrote terrible things about him on social media, or encouraged me to quit.  I know this because as a coach, I get a lot of this every single season.  I have even had parents take a picture of me, and post it on facebook with some very nasty comments.  I have also had to ask my parents to escort me out of one of my games, because I had parents waiting to confront me in the lobby.  However, my parents didn’t make this about themselves; they made it about the relationship between my coach and me.

To this day, Coach P has been one of the most impacting people in my life.  Finding the courage to approach him, and having the ability to trust his honesty led me down one of the greatest paths in high school.  Now as a high school coach myself, basketball continues to be one of the biggest pieces of my life.

I urge all parents to encourage your children to fight their own battles.  Have your kids come talk to me, but also make sure they are open to my honesty.  I am not going to tell your child she deserves to play if she doesn’t.  Coach P did not lie to me.  He told me I wasn’t good enough to play yet, and I accepted that.  In fact, I felt that he respected me enough to be honest with me.  It motivated me, and I worked harder, until it paid off.

Emma Walker is a  high school English/Language Arts teacher at Atlantic High School in Atlantic, Iowa. She is also the Head Varsity Volleyball Coach, and Assistant JV Basketball Coach for the Atlantic Trojans.

Getting to Know Menlo Athletics Department: Administration

Menlo School Athletics Administrative Staff
Kris Weems – Director of Athletics
Buffie Ward Williams – Assistant Athletic Director
Joe McDonald – Middle School Athletic Director
King Christian – Middle School Assistant Athletic Director
Jon Cohen – Head Athletic Trainer
Jesse Lindenstein – Director of Performance Training
Pam McKenney – Sports Information Director
Martha Jenkins – Athletics Administrative Assistant

Kris Weems 

What is your favorite spectator sport? Basketball weems-mug2
What sport would you want to play professionally? Baseball
Who is your favorite teammate or coach and why? Brevin Knight – Brev was so adept at getting everyone to play with an edge, all while having fun during the process.  He is the most competitive person I ever played with and really helped me grow in terms of playing through mistakes and being a leader.
Which of your coaches impacted your coaching/playing style most? How?  My high school coach, Chuck Minor, was great in teaching and reinforcing fundamentals, which was a tremendous help when I got to the college level. He also had the same personality as my college coach, Mike Montgomery, so I was used to being challenged on a daily basis to raise my level of play.
Favorite athlete of all time? Michael Jordan
Favorite team? Kansas City Royals
Which Upper School or Middle School athlete would be a great coach and why? Upper School – Aidan Israelski; Aidan is a student of the game and leads by example.  He’s got a bright future in whatever he decides to do but we’re happy he’s got another season of big plays on the football field! Middle School – Austin Stull; Austin understands that he can impact games without scoring all the points.  I love that he shares the ball with his teammates and tries to make the right decision for the team every possession.


Buffie Ward Williams
What is your favorite spectator sport?
What sport would you want to play professionally?  Soccer wwbuffie-mug
Who is your favorite teammate or coach and why?  Coach:  Phil Humphreys.  Made coming to practice fun every day.  Positive.  Cared greatly about all players.  Was always willing to learn and get better as a coach.
Which of your coaches impacted your coaching/playing style most?  My dad. He cared about all players despite ability, very knowledgeable and patient coach, demanded best effort.
Favorite athlete of all time? Lionel Messi
Favorite team?  All of the late ’80s-early ’90s 49ers Super Bowl teams
Which Upper School or Middle School athlete would be a great coach and why?  Dylan Williams – soccer.  Sees the game in a way that most people don’t.  Innovative. A great student of the game.  Patient teacher.  Competitive.

Joe McDonald 
What is your favorite spectator sport?
Football 8462_mcdonald_joe
What sport would you want to play professionally? Basketball
Who is your favorite teammate or coach? Laird Richards or Bob Furr; these two coaches always had my back and never said a negative word to anyone.
Which of your coaches impacted your coaching/playing style most? Coach Beckenhauer football coach appreciated all-out effort,
Favorite athlete of all time? Leroy Kelly because he played with grit.
Favorite team? Warriors today, 49ers/Giants in the ’80s
Which Upper School or Middle School athlete would be a great coach? Jack Gold ’17

King Christian
What is your favorite spectator sport?
 Football 8412_christian_king
What sport would you want to play professionally? Football or Baseball
Who is your favorite teammate or coach? Coach Al Simmons and Coach Larry Gondola for on-field and life skills.  Also, both asked me why I wasn’t at a D1 program on the first day they saw me play.
Which of your coaches impacted your coaching/playing style most? Al Simmons and Joe McDonald – Coach McDonald for leadership and Coach Simmons for teaching the secrets and the mysteries of bump n’ run.
Favorite athlete of all time? Muhammad Ali
Favorite team? Green Bay Packers and San Francisco Giants
Which Upper School or Middle School athlete would be a great coach? Ben Somorjai ’17 – He is a natural leader with football, and of course, the baseball program.

Jon Cohen
What is your favorite spectator sport?
Baseball 8416_cohen_jon
What sport would you want to play professionally? Baseball, C’mon!
Who is your favorite teammate or coach? I had two JV coaches when I played baseball in high school. They were both young, inexperienced and made a ton of mistakes but I respected their coaching style and their passion for the game.
Which of your coaches impacted your coaching/playing style most? My varsity head coach my junior season. He was a father with two young children who he always brought to practice or games. This coach would always stop to greet the kids and made sure everyone on the team interacted with them. This coach was a great human being who had a passion for baseball. You wanted to be around him because of who he was as a father, husband and coach. he consistently demonstrated passion for life and the game.
Favorite athlete of all time? Cal Ripken
Favorite team? Orioles
Which Upper School or Middle School athlete would be a great coach? Hayden Pegley ’17 – the players respect him and he commands a presence that is very even and seldom swings to far to either side.

Jesse Lindenstein
6367_lindenstein_jesseWhat is your favorite spectator sport?
 Baseball. Probably because I’m awful at it.
What sport would you want to play/compete in professionally? Track and field. I would like to know what it feels like to be fast.
Who is your favorite teammate or coach and why? Coach Tom Martinez. Coach Martinez would always call me out when I was messing up, and would not let me get away with anything. I once had a 120-yard receiving game with two touchdowns and he made me apologize to my dad because I jumped offsides and dropped three balls. Never accept being average!
Which of your coaches had an impact on  your coaching/playing style most? Coach Larry Owens. Coach O taught me over the years that you can care personally for your athletes and still hold them to high standards. Also, sports are a small part of your life but the relationships you make with your athletes can last a lifetime.
Favorite athlete of all time? Warren Moon. The guy was just a baller, and fun to watch.
Favorite team? 1990s Nebraska Cornhuskers. I’ve always wanted to be 6’5, 300+ pounds and this school had 20-30 of them every year. They use to physically beat on teams for about 10 years straight.
Which Menlo School athlete would be a great coach? Kristin Sellers ’18 – volleyball. Great attitude when it comes to training/practice, and holds herself and her teammates accountable.

Pam McKenney
What is your favorite spectator sport?
Volleyball, basketball 6375_mckenney_pam_tso
What sport would you want to play professionally? (if I had more 10″ of height) volleyball
Who is your favorite coach and why? Mike Hazlett.  While I never played football or baseball or wrestled, he was our athletic director, and cared about every student – and always knew and asked about how athletes were doing in sports he didn’t coach.
Which of your coaches impacted your coaching/playing style most? Gymnastics coach Bill Willan was quiet, never yelled, but was the toughest coach I ever had, and got us to work harder than we thought we were capable of because he worked hard and paid attention to every detail of our technique.
Favorite athlete of all time? Bo Jackson, Nadia Comaneci
Favorite team? Atlanta Hawks
Which Menlo School athlete would be a great coach? Charlie Ferguson ’17, seems level-headed, cares deeply about his teammates and coaches, takes younger players under his wing.

Martha Jenkins
8441_jenkins_marthaWhat is your favorite spectator sport? Any sport in a HS gym, on a field, track or pitch. High school sports are the best to watch at any level.
What sport would you want to play professionally? Women’s Professional Baseball, like in a League of Their Own. I cried when that movie came out because I realized I had missed out on that time period.
Who is your favorite teammate or coach and why? When I was in my 20s I played adult softball and I had a coach name Coach Gene that use to call me O’Malley after Tom O’Malley. He didn’t even know O’Malley was my favorite Giant at the time! He was a great coach and very positive to play for.
Favorite athlete of all time? This is a tough one. My favorite athletes have as much to do with character as their athletic feats. Having been around, as well as watched so many athletes (being that I am a sports junkie), one comes to mind. I had the privilege of knowing Darren Lewis, center fielder for the SF Giants in the 90s. He was a really good player, but more importantly he was even a better person. He was soft-spoken, humble, funny. He treated everyone from the media, his teammates to the fans with respect and kindness. The manager for the Giants, during Darren’s time there, Dusty Baker named his only son after him. That is how much he thought of him too.
Favorite team? San Francisco Giants 



How to support your team parents

We here at Menlo appreciate our team parents and know how much they do for our teams from organizing trips to communicating the practice schedules and team dinners to making sure everyone is on the same page throughout the season.  dsc_0737crowd

As sports parenting author Janis Meredith writes, team parents are a big deal. They are the backbone of every youth sports team from T-ball to high school varsity. Yes, the coach’s job is vital, but teamparents are the glue that holds the team together. They help communicate and organize so that your child’s coach can focusing on coaching.

If you are a coach, or a parent/guardian on the team, there are several ways that you can support your team parents.

Coaches, be clear and consistent with your communication. Keep them informed so that when others ask questions, they can answer them and not bug you about it. Good communication keeps things running smoothly.

Parents, don’t let them do it all. Just because they volunteered for the job does not mean they should do it alone. Find specific tasks to take off their plates and encourage every parent on the team to step up and help.

Coaches, say thank you.
 Team parents don’t demand a lot, but they sure do appreciate being appreciated. Say thank you to them often for what they do. Parents, curb the criticism. It’s easy to sit back and criticize when something goes wrong or doesn’t go the way you think it should. The best way to curb your criticism is to stop spectating and help out with whatever it is you want to criticize. They are doing the best they can!

Coaches, don’t micro-manage
. Give them space to do their jobs without your constant interference. They are doing what they feel is best for the team. Encourage that by trusting them to make decisions. If there are things you absolutely must have, be sure to communicate that to them before the season starts.

Parents, don’t hide from them
. When they call to ask you to volunteer, don’t ignore their calls. When they collect money for the coach’s gift, don’t forget and make them
chase you down. You’ll make their jobs a lot easier if you are available and willing to do your part.

If your team parent is supported, the season is bound to go more smoothly!

Janis B. Meredith writes a sports parenting blog called jbmthinks.com and is author of  “11 Habits for Happy and Positive Sports Parents.”


Healthy benefits of balancing multiple sports

We love to see our student-athletes working hard to reach the highest levels at Menlo. Every day there is action on our courts, fields, and in the pool. Many of our students play multiple sports at Menlo. Our coaches teach and our programs are structured so that our students have the opportunity to compete more then one sport, and still play at a highly competitive level. multisport
We know it is better for students to not just play one sport year round – even if the other
sports are at a more recreational level. It is better for their overall fitness and health because they are working different parts of their bodies and can prevent overuse injuries. Kids and parents will learn how different sports can help compliment one another while helping students learn to balance their schedules.

We actively promote the need our students to play and do multiple activities to not only help them develop healthy habits but to also keep our programs competitive.

Lisa Heffernan and Jennifer Breheny Wallace in a blog for the New York Times in “What College Sports Recruiters Can Teach Your Child” say the advice head coaches have for prospective recruits will help any student succeed, even those who don’t plan to play sports in college.

— Joe McDonald Middle School Director of Athletics (played football, basketball, baseball, and soccer as a student)
— Kris Weems Director of Athletics (basketball, baseball)
— Buffie Ward Williams Menlo Assistant Athletic Director  (soccer, softball and volleyball)
More food for thought:

Athletes control 3 things: Effort, Attitude, Preparation

Working with Warriors guard Steph Curry for two seasons taught me that exhibiting true love and admiration for competition, preparation and the relationships with teammates and coaches goes a long way toward improving and maintaining performance.  I always thought that I loved basketball just as much or more than anyone else…and then I got to see the joy that Steph plays with on a daily basis.
Weems & Steph 2013-2Not only does he love to compete (and dance a little after big shots) but he also encourages and models that love of the game for his teammates and coaches.  While everyone can attest to the enjoyment of watching Steph make amazing plays on the court, please understand that those feathery floaters over the biggest players, pinpoint passes between two defenders and three point daggers are a result of countless hours of preparation.  More importantly, Steph and the Warriors are an example of enjoying the journey and they do that through effort, attitude and preparation.
Here is a post that helps us break down the definition of being mentally tough. Let us know your thoughts.
Kris Weems
Menlo School Director of Athletics

Mentally tough, defined

by James Leath

What does it mean to be mentally tough? A mentally tough athlete is able to access their talent at the highest level they are capable on a consistent basis regardless of the situation. Let’s break that down.

IMG_3249“Able to access their talent…” An athlete who has all the talent and strength they need through weight training and conditioning, learning the technical aspects of their sport or position, and years of experience against great competition must be able to use all of that when the time comes.

“…at the highest level…” Whitey Bimstein, a long time boxer and trainer once said, “Show me an undefeated fighter and I’ll show a guy who’s never fought anybody.” His point was to show that an athlete should seek out the best competition even if that means losing once in a while. As a society we place too much emphasis on having no losses on our record. Many times a defeat is the seed of discontent we need to motivate us to improve our game.

“…they are capable…” Your effort has nothing to do with the competition. There is an old adage, “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” You can only control three things as an athlete – your effort, your attitude, and your preparation. Get in the habit of always playing at the height of your ability and you will see that ability continue to grow.

“…on a consistent basis…” Anyone can be great in a random chance moment. History is rife with championships being won on the last ditch effort of some one-hit wonder that only has that one situation to their name, then fades shortly after. Today’s headlines are tomorrow’s fish wrappings, so to be great you need to be consistent.

“…regardless of the situation.” A mentally tough athlete treats practice and pre-season competitions with the same intensity as league and post-season games. In most sports the next play or the next move is the same no matter if it’s at practice or in the last few minutes of the championship game. The only difference is the audience.

One could write volumes and volumes of how to become mentally tough. Though the field of sport psychology is relatively new in comparison to traditional psychology, there are a few mental game strategies that have stood the test of time and brought much success to athletes before you. These are the strategies I teach. In a sea of athletes who may be bigger, faster, and stronger than you, always seek out ways to be able to access your talent on a moments notice. Not every strategy may help you, so take the Bruce Lee philosophy of learning on your search. It’s called “Jeet Kune Do” and it states:

“Adapt what is useful, reject what is not, and add what is specifically your own.”
-Bruce Lee, Author of Tao of Jeet Kun Do

James Leath is a youth sports psychology consultant with over 15 years experience coaching young athletes. He writes a weekly note to athletes, coaches and parents on subjects that pertain to sports psychology, youth sports, and personal development.

Pat Summitt’s leadership has far-reaching impact

As Team USA women’s basketball opens its first game of the Rio Olympics this morning, there are many reminders of how Pat Summitt changed the game and just how far her impact on the game reached.

1984 Summer Olympics

U.S. women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt is carried off by members of the team following their 85-55 Olympic gold medal win over Koran in Los Angeles, Aug. 8, 1984. (AP Photo/Pete Leabo)

Then Pat Head, the former Tennessee coach played on the 1976 team, which took silver in Montreal. She was tapped as an assistant coach for the 1980 Games, which ultimately were boycotted, then won gold as head coach of the 1984 Olympics.
The  United States then proceeded to capture seven gold medals in eight Olympic Games. Menlo School ’91 graduate, former professional basketball player, Stanford star and current assistant coach Kate Paye reflects on the influence Summitt had on her.
By Kate Paye ’91
Pat Summitt was a legendary coach and a transformative leader in sport and society.  Her passion, competitiveness, and commitment to excellence were second to none and changed the way people view women in sport and women in leadership. It is one of the great honors of my career in basketball that I had the opportunity to play against her, coach against her, and know her as a colleague.
Every season since my freshman year at Stanford, I have circled Tennessee on the schedule – because under Coach Summitt and her infamous stare, the Lady Vols set the standard for excellence. Playing against her and coaching against her made me a better player, teammate, and coach. Getting to know her off the court and observe her graciousness, humility, and humor has made me a better person. Many of the opportunities I have been afforded as a college player, a professional player, and now a collegiate coach can be attributed to the doors that Coach Summitt opened and the paths that she blazed for women in sport.
I join the women’s basketball community, the sporting world, and our entire country in mourning her loss and celebrating her legacy through a commitment to provide opportunities for women to compete and lead at the highest levels.

Sacrifice It All or Sacrifice At All?

By Jack Bowen

With the Olympic Games approaching, you can plan on hearing the word “sacrifice” a lot as we get to know the athletes.  A recently released NBC promo bears the title, “Athletes Sacrifice It All to Make an Olympic Team,” and features snap-shot reflections of various Team USA athletes on their respective journeys to the Games.  The list of purported sacrifices includes missing high school dances and friends’ birthday parties, being away from loved ones, and bleeding, sweating, and crying.

Elsewhere, on Team USA—the country, not the sports teams—Americans recently mourned the loss of Navy SEAL Charles H. Keating IV, killed in Iraq by ISIS on May 3.  In the week following his death, an overflow public ceremony was held, followed the next day by a procession down the main street of the SEAL base hometown, Coronado, California.  Schoolchildren and thousands of community members all lined the street to honor his sacrifice.

Jaheel Hyde of Jamaica in the Mens 110m Hurdles competition _236540As these two stories appeared on my radar almost concurrently, I couldn’t help but reflect on what it even means to make a “sacrifice” as an athlete.  Is that even possible?  Then, as with most inquiries of this nature, the question of sacrifice in our own lives came into question: whether we should value it and, if so, how we can achieve it in our own little ways.

I grew up in Coronado, a “Navy town” with a geographical footprint more Navy than civilian.  My father was in the Navy and flew helicopters in the Vietnam War and his father was Commander of the base on the island.  I have many friends and ex-teammates who are Navy SEALs, and for sixteen years, the high school water polo team I coach visits Coronado to train, and we spend a day on the beach training with a cohort of SEALs.  That short time with them often turns out to be the highlight of an already rich experience.

With all that being said, we can now turn to a well-known paradox in philosophical circles: as a word’s definition comes to include everything it starts to mean nothing.  Paradoxical because it seems that a word with such a broad meaning would be quite useful but, as our intuition kicks in, we realize this is akin to talking without saying anything.  

A favorite example involves using the word “selfish” in such a manner.  Imagine classifying someone’s anonymous donation to charity as “selfish” just because it made the donor feel good, made the world they inhabit a better place, or, simply, because their “self” consciously chose it.  Using the word “selfish” in this manner would render it meaningless: every conceivable action would be “self-chosen” and thus “selfish” and so the word would confer no meaning.

This, in some sense, is what’s happening in the case of our Olympic athletes and their so-called sacrifice.  But it turns out the concept of sacrifice is less slippery than many others.  Less so, because important designators exist along the trajectory of possible actions; primarily, a sacrifice is made for another.  This turns out to be the key criterion.  With Keating at one end of the spectrum, his sacrifice is obvious to us because he gave up something monumental in order that others get something in return.

It’s worth recognizing here that Keating need not have been killed in order to have sacrificed.  The risk alone of putting oneself in harm’s way for the sake of others is sacrifice.  The trip overseas to a hostile environment, constantly in danger, sleeping in poor conditions for months while mortars explode nearby: this is a sacrifice itself.

jb-throwbackCompare this to the world-class athlete who travels overseas for their sport.  I had the good fortune of training with the U.S. National Water Polo Team for four years, including a stint preparing for the 1996 Olympic Games.  When we traveled to Europe to train or compete, the trips were certainly “grueling” in some sense.  We trained two to three times per day, watched game video, would share hotel rooms with teammates and occasionally eat native cuisine not so agreeable with American palates.  But we can hardly consider this a sacrifice in any way, despite the slight discomforts, being away from family and loved ones, not pursuing a more “lucrative” career and, occasionally “bleeding, sweating, and crying.”

So when we hear of the purported sacrifice of Olympic athletes, it seems as though we’ve made the earlier-referenced linguistic error.  We’re on the wrong side of the spectrum and the criterion we’ve used for “sacrifice” seems to be something like, “did something challenging,” or, “did one thing instead of something else more lucrative.”  When we hear of the Olympic diver who only eats “a whole lot of fruits and vegetables” while avoiding any junk food, or the gymnast who didn’t attend prom at her high school, or the hockey player who got to the Olympics, “due to hard work and the sacrifice it took…giving up social events or pursuits such as TV-watching,” we can slide them to the non-sacrifice end of the spectrum.  Somewhat ironically, it’s just these reasons so many parents actually want their children involved in sports: these numerous tangential benefits keep kids out of trouble, not to mention encourages them to do things directly benefiting them such as eating healthy and avoiding mindless TV-watching.

Likewise, we can’t assert a sacrifice is doing one thing instead of something else because this is just existing.  Life is about choosing to do one thing in lieu of the infinite possibility of things one could be doing.  Referred to by economists as “opportunity costs,” you could be doing an infinite number of things right now and, yet, you’re reading this article.  Thus, when we read in an article entitled, Olympic Athletes Sacrifice ‘Normal’ Lives to Achieve Extraordinary Goals, that Michael Phelps, “Spent long hours plunging into pools rather than partying with pals,” we recognize he simply chose one thing over another, in order to achieve personal goals.

This, then, eliminates the contradictory concept of “self-sacrifice.”  By choosing one thing over another to benefit yourself—be it sitting in class on a nice day in order to get an education, or working at a desk to make money—you’re voicing your set of values and acting accordingly, all on behalf of yourself.  Actual sacrifice requires that you intentionally give something up for someone else.

Thus, my initial intuition upon writing that parents do not make a sacrifice for their children seems ill-founded.  Giving up what parents give up for the sake of their children is on the sacrifice side of the spectrum, just not too near the Navy SEAL side of things.  Parents really do, in nearly every way, sacrifice something for their children, be it time, money, pursuit of life goals, etc.

At this point, the skeptic reminds us of the joy of parenthood and the conscious decision, for most, to make this life choice.  Studies show parenthood results in greater happiness and meaning in one’s life over the long term.  While these are typically tangential motivations, deriving joy and meaning from an act should not preclude it from being a sacrifice.  The Navy SEAL likely derives some big picture meaning and benefits from his job: a sense of pride defending one’s country, the satisfaction of doing an exceptionally difficult job well, and getting paid.  All that being said, clearly they make a sacrifice.  Some positive return from your sacrifice doesn’t diminish the sacrifice itself.  Enjoyment of honorable actions shouldn’t diminish the honor.

During my team’s annual beach training, the SEAL in charge has us lie in the shallow beach water, with arms linked and waves crashing over our heads.  And at that point, these young men begin to chant a mantra taught to our program by a Navy SEAL years back: “Teamwork-Humility-Discipline-Courage.”  It’s a moving experience for me in part because here, on this Naval Base where Navy SEALs train, these words mean something.  They embody the richness of what they connote, much like words such as “love,” “respect,” and “honor” achieve their real meaning at weddings.  They do so because we are, in a sense, on “sacred” ground.  With “sacrifice” rooted in the Latin sacer—sacred—we are in the presence of those who make a true sacrifice.

At this point, we can celebrate Olympic athletes for what they do embody.  One need not sacrifice themselves as the sole means for garnering deserved praise.  The rest of us who are watching know what it’s like to submit to our humanity: to eat poorly, sleep poorly, and to just be so tired from daily living to forgo the day’s planned jog and, instead, order a pizza and sit on the sofa with a soda and watch world class athletes perform.  Interestingly, in interviews with world-class athletes explicitly asked about their “sacrifice,” they repeatedly explain it away.  Olympic gold medal gymnast Bart Conner responded, “I never saw any of it as a sacrifice, just choices.  So, I never felt that I was missing something, only that I chose something else,” and U.S. soccer phenom Brandi Chastain commented, “I honestly and humbly answer that I don’t feel I sacrificed anything.”

Olympic athletes exhibit universally virtuous qualities and character traits—traits such as determination, fortitude, commitment, perseverance.  These are the things motivating many of us to watch these sports every four years.  They inspire us, and rightly so.  Even if the athletes hail from a country other than ours, we can appreciate what they did—what they must have done—to arrive on that stage.  And if we realize they do it on behalf of the country we support, it’s all the better.  Not a sacrifice, but certainly something worth cheering for and celebrating, keeping in mind the bumper sticker we see occasionally as we are out enjoying our freedom: “All gave some.  Some gave all.”

Jack Bowen, a philosophy teacher, is in his 17th season as head coach of the Menlo School boys’ water polo team. He played on the U.S. National Team (1994-1999) and served as the National Team assistant coach (2002). A two-time All-American and Academic All-American at Stanford, and an NCAA MVP, Bowen holds a bachelors degree in Human Biology, and a master’s in philosophy from Long Beach State. He was named a Positive Coaching Alliance Double-Goal coach in 2012, as well as Central Coast Section Honor Coach in 2006.

The best parenting tip

I always coached my older son’s youth teams. Always. I would coach him at practice and also in the car on the way home. It got to where he started to ask if his mom could drive him home.

DSC_0093I realized that I was not being fair to all the other players on my team. Why did my son get all the extra coaching? That is not what he thought about my car coaching! When I finally figured it out, I became Dad again in the car and at home. This was one of the most important lessons I learned as a father and coach. I just wish I would have started just being dad in the car earlier. It would have saved my wife from coming to the field or gym to pick him up. It also would of made his sports experience more positive.

Author Daniel Coyle, New York Time best-selling author, sums up well some of the findings of  Rob Miller and Bruce E. Brown of Proactive Coaching LLC, in their quest to understand what makes a successful parent. By understanding and following some of these tips, you can reframe your relationship with your child.

I learned my lesson soon enough to make the change early. I also think that it is never good to critique a coach or other player on your child’s team regardless of how you feel. Just be supportive and love your child. Appreciate that he or she has the opportunity to be on a team and know the years go by so fast.

Joe McDonald
Middle School Athletic Director and father of two