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

Off to school, back to school

As our recent graduates transition to college athletics, their parents will be going through a transition as well.  This story should resonate with all parents of college athletes.

Back to school

Even as a pro football player, Baltimore Ravens lineman John Urschel is still a true student-athlete.  Check out how his love of math keeps him busy during the off season.
BN-MW799_Wolfe_8S_20160302171004

(Photo credit: Jason Grow — Wall Street Journal)

Team first

This movie trailer hits close to home as it features the Highland Park High School (Topeka, KS) basketball program led by long-time head coach, Ken Darting.  My nephew, Kyle Weems, was blessed to be coached and mentored by Coach Darting during his career at Highland Park and won the 2007 Kansas State Basketball Championship with director, Adrian “A1” Herrera.  Adrian was a tremendous player and an outstanding teammate, cultivated by the program’s culture of teamwork and unselfishness – “We Not Me.”   An outstanding documentary for student-athletes, coaches and parents to see.  Enjoy!

Welcome: Seeing the big picture

Welcome to the Menlo School Athletics blog. We want to provide timely information on topics affecting Menlo School Athletics, as well as youth sports and athletics nationwide.  We often come across great articles, quotes and resources we want to to share, so we created this blog as a forum to provide relevant information for our community. We also want to share anecdotes and best practices from our coaching staff and various other coaching resources.We hope that everyone finds this blog helpful, and we appreciate any feedback going forward.

Thanks for supporting Menlo School Athletics!

Kris Weems
Director of Athletics

Joe McDonald
Director of Middle School Athletics