Month: February 2012

Phoning Home

When my own mental health permits, I speak to my parents on a weekly basis, usually on a Sunday night. The call follows a similar pattern. My mom initiates the call or answers the phone and updates me on the mundane activities of retirement…..where and what they ate, random encounters with people I may know, amusing deaths and a rundown of interactions with my niece and nephew, Emma and Jack. Then the phone is turned over to my dad (the wiry lad on the left of the above photo), who has over the last 20 plus years since I have lived afar has displayed an uncanny knack for being engaged in a bath at the time of this call. Once properly sorted and on the phone, the first couple of minutes are an rehash of what my mom just told me, but then on the good days, the call comes alive.

Something in the recurrent cocktail of motorsports, my coaching, the exploits of my kids, or more recently this blog sparks and ignites a firestorm of thought. Last night, it was the subject, more specifically, the source of motivation.

Earlier in the evening, Bryson had open futsal. For the first twenty or so minutes, he played indifferently which came on the heels of a week in which he was sick and practiced much the same way. His health was an excuse, but as I sensed at other points this season a measure of frustrated boredom descended as well. Intellectually, I can understand this situation. His team has not won much on the field, and he spends considerable time playing with players who ply their craft as it were at a lower level. He is neither motivated by imminent victory or challenged by his mates. On this particular Sunday, Bryson found, and perhaps, created motivation. The source he won’t disclose. The result there for all to see. Long dribbing runs, solid tackles, sharp, violent shots and inventive passes. I didn’t say much on the ride home, but he noted that futsal was “pretty good.”

It is my deep, unabiding belief that it is truly more fun to play at your best than at any lesser level. My dad agrees. We spoke of how the truly greats like Michael Jordan, and recently Kobe Bryant, will fabricate fueds and slights to channel their best performances. The reality for players of that ability is that they will play with and against inferiors on a constant basis, and if they allow themselves, their performance will dip to the prevailing level. They will not achieve nor maintain greatness without maintaining motivation to be great.

Both Jordan and Bryant are praised for their exceptional drive. I believe a significant portion of this drive originates with external praise. As a young player, praise is vital. It is the fuel to train and to become exceptional. As a young player improves, he distinguishes himself from his peers. In doing so, he begins to not just earn the praise of his family, coaches and teammates, but third parties with no reason to praise other than their genuine appreciation of what they have seen. I believe this praise in particular resonates and becomes a part of the young players self-image. In “The Talent Code”, psychological studies establish a link between self-image and improvement. In the studies, the self-image one has of themself as a soccer player, violinist, or chess player was a more consistent factor in improvement than actual practice time. Once the initial fire is ignited, by external praise it must be stoked.

This is the place where Bryson exists. It is easy to stoke the fire of motivation in the face of a challenge like ODP try-outs. It is a clear and unambiguous test of your quality. The greater challenge is stoking the fire in lesser moments mindful that “going through the motions” is not going to render any lasting improvement or elicit any external praise, and thereby reduce the chances of meeting the larger challenges when they are available.

The highest evolution of this is Jordan and Bryant, who so supremely managed their motivation, to recraft their games to compensate for diminishing physical skills roaming the NBA landscape like aging gunfighters waiting for someone worthy enough to better them at what they mastered.

A Get Well Soon

I got some bad news last night. One of our players, Devon Ortiz, fractured his hip playing baseball for the school yesterday. Devon started the season on my JV team, and was pulled up to varsity in January. He hit two clutch free throws to give us the lead before Viera beat us in the closing seconds of our Regional Quarterfinal game.

Devon is a tremendous two sport athlete at Winter Springs, and we hope he makes a quick and complete recovery.

Laugh, Think and Cry

I got an email this afternoon from a friend who has been going through some tough personal things.  The email was framed as a thought for the day, and quoted at length Jim Valvano’s speech from the 1993 ESPY’s.  I had two thoughts.

When I coached at Trinity Prep under my mentor, Matt Hixenbaugh, we played the speech for our players in it’s entirety.  I am very proud of the coaching we did at Trinity on the floor, but even more what we taught off the floor.  We were blessed with a very intelligent goup of players that fully absorbed the life lessons we exposed them to.  I don’t believe I have coached another group quite like them.

My second thought was when I met Jim Valvano during his final season as a broadcaster.  I was a senior at Florida State working as a volunteer in the sports information department.  Basically, this meant I did random errands before, during and after the game, and had access to the media buffet in the bowels of the Tallahassee Civic Center.  Ten years earlier, Valvano engineered on the greatest Cinderalla stories in March Madness history when his led NC State to the National Championship on an unintended alley-oop over a Houston team that featured hall of famers, Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.  The image of Valvano running around looking for someone to hug is immortal.  By the time I reached the media buffet, Valvano was losing his battle to cancer, but for the thirty or so minutes I spent in the media buffet you couldn’t tell.  Jimmy V told story and jokes to everyone at his table and soon everyone within earshot.  The entire room was convulsing with laughter.

Shortly before the game, I was asked to deliver a name and number to Jimmy V.  He was getting make up done just off the floor as I approached, I handed him the information and he looked at me drawn with sunken eyes, “what’s this a cure for cancer?”  It was flat and weary and cynical, but it was real.  By the time of the ESPY’s, Valvano was close to the end.  He walked up to the podium, and left everyone who watched with something far more enduring than anything he did as a coach or broadcaster, and what my friend gave to me and everyone else on his thoughts for the day email list.

“…Now I’m fighting cancer, everybody knows that.  People ask me all the time about “how do you go through your life?” or “how’s your day?”  Well, nothing is changed for me.  As Dick said, I’m a very emotional and passionate man.  I can’t help it.  That’s being the son of Rocco and Angelina Valvano.  It comes with the territory.  We hug, we kiss, we love.  When people say to me how do you get through life or each day, it’s the same thing.  To me, there are three things we all should do every day of our lives.  Number one is laugh.  You should laugh every day.  Number two is think.  We should spend some time in thought.  Number three is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy.  But think about it.  If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day.  That’s a heck of a day.  You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.

It’s so important to know where you are.  I know where I am right now.  How do you go from where you are to where you want to be?  I think you have to have an enthusiasm for life.  You have to have a dream, a goal.  You have to be willing to work at it.

I just got one last thing.  I urge all of you, all of you, to enjoy your life, the precious moments you have.  To spend each day with some laughter and some thought, to get your emotions going.  To be enthusiastic every day and as Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Nothing great could be accomplished without enthusiasm,” to keep your dreams alive in spite of problems whatever you have.  The ability to be able to work hard for your dreams to come true, to become a reality.

I know, I gotta go, I gotta go, and I got one last thing and I said it before, and I want to say it again.  Cancer can take away all my physical abilities.  I cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart and it cannot touch my soul.  And those three things are going to carry on forever.

Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”

 

 

Ronald Nored

The first time I heard the name Ronald Nored was during Butler’s inaguaral run to the final game. He was a starting guard, who defended well, but couldn’t shoot, or at least that’s what a scouting report might tell you about him. In truth, he was the first Butler player to catch my eye, even before Gordon Haywood and Shelvin Mack, who would go on to play in the NBA. There was a passion to his play, a complete involvement in the moments that matter epitomizing to me how Butler and any other underdog slays Goliath.

Everything, I have read or seen of Nored from that moment has been affirming of his brand of greatness. During Butler’s 2011 run, Nored was no longer a full-time starter, but in watching each Butler game his leadership and quality was evident. Tonight, Butler fans will honor him at senior night. This morning I read two articles about him. The first identified his ten greatest moments for Butler. It was a litany of clutch performances, what was notable was only one was confined to his ostensible forte…defense (a relentless pestering of future NBA star Steph Curry that rendered him “barely able” to walk into the post-game interview area). The majority of the remainder of the moments, involved improbably clutch shooting from a player who routinely struggled to shoot from the field or the line. As a Butler Bulldog, Nored has hit three point shots in tourney games and buried strings of free throws when his team needed them most. The second article spoke more of Nored as a student athlete fully invested in his school as class president, AAU coach and teacher. I found a connection in the two pieces, admittedly speculative, that it is Nored’s deep investment in his team and school that has given him the strength to make the shots he has.

Countless combat veterans have been interviewed about their motivations during times of duress, and outright fear. The expected answers of family, friends, even God have relented to the steady beating drum of “the guy next to me.” When I read and reflect on Ronald Nored, I think of his great, but unlikely shooting moments in this regard that he made those shots not for himself, but for Gordon, Shelvin, Matt, Coach Stevens, and the rest of the Butler Bulldogs.

During my coaching career, I have printed off a number of things that I have impacted me affirming or expanding my coaching philosophy. I keep them in a notebook and refer to them as “core articles”. Among them is a piece by Dan Wetzel called “Butler Goes Down Its Way”. It describes the Butler locker room after they shot 12/64 from the field and lost the national championship game. Proud players sobbing uncontrollably.

“And that’s when Ronald Nored, eyes red and tear-filled as well, noticed his teammates, got up, crossed the locker room and reminded everyone what this entire pursuit is about.

He pulled Shawn Vanzant [who most directly cut into Nored’s play time] up off his stool and hugged his friend, physically and emotionally attempting to lift him out of depression.

After a few seconds, Nored stepped over to Howard and did the same. And soon enough, his teammates followed.”

Of the moment, Nored said, “That’s what we’re here for, we’re here for each other.”

Silver Linings Far From Home

The weekend did not go well for our team as previously discussed, but as is the way of nature, it is important to take something for each experience in life. To that end, Bryson flew for the first time without incident. I ate more breakfast food in the last three days than I have in the last six months. I located a McDonald’s in Overland Park, and in doing so, preserved some sense of dietary normalcy. Most importantly, I watched the U-16 team from Bethesda Maryland win the National Championship.

They were for me the most entertaining team in the tournament. Futsal features four field players and a goalie on a playing space equivalent to a basketball court. The game is incredibly fast when played at a high level, and most teams use some form of man marking that leaves little time or space on the ball, or open options to receive the ball. The key is rapid movement of the ball and the players to create the time and space to play. The boys from Bethesda employed a brilliant array of explosive player movement and deft creative passing balanced by tough tackling and rapid recovery when without the ball.

Offensively, no other team was as quick in thought or inventive in pass. The four field players moved as a synchronized unit finding and exploiting space, and at times holding the ball to allow for additional runs off the ball. The myriad of passes the played from deft on touch rolls, chips, lobs, full speed drop passes were incredible to watch in their unpredictablity. So many of the other teams play fell into a pattern that could be deciphered and dull. Not so with Bethesda. It should be noted on both games I watched, I was there to watch different games, but my eyes could not be diverted from them.

Defensively, they were equally remarkable. Without the ball they matched up man, and were the most reliable one v. one tacklers I saw. By and large their players were short in stature, but all blessed with low center of gravity. With the ball, they held one player back to balance against a counter. They also recovered in transition exceptionally well. Slowing the ball and matching up.

The final component of their success was on court demeanor. Turnovers, missed shots, breakdowns and goals conceded were all met with the same reaction…..nothing notable. While so many teams hung their heads, pointed fingers, demonstrated in some reported instances with actual tears, the Boys from Bethesda simply played on. Next play. Presen moment. Unburdened by that which cannot be changed.

For these attributes they are deserving Champions.

3 Days in Kansas: US Youth Futsal Championships

I am sitting in my hotel room in Overland Park, Kansas. We got here Friday night, and it’s now Sunday night. The Heat are clobbering the Magic, and we are out of the tournament, save a 7am friendly match tomorrow morning, thanks to three losses in three matches.

I have concluded that I don’t like Kansas very much. Our hotel while fancy has done little, but piss me off from the first night. It is isolated and charges for wi fi service. It is populated by the state GOP convention which means sharing an elevator at 7am on my way to the treadmill with a group of suit wearing, glad-handing and pretensious politicos. I am eager to get back to my beloved Florida.

The competition as alluded to earlier has gone badly. It didn’t start that way, and that probably makes the experience all the more exasperating. In our opening match, Bryson score two goals and assisted a third as we led 3-0 in fifteen minutes. All seemed possible. We conceded two goals before half, and two more shortly after. We mustered a nice team goal to tie the game at 4, but collapsed like the French Army losing 9-4.

Game two started much like the final minutes of game one and we trailed 2-0 at the half. Through some good fortune and gutty play we tied the game at 4 with five minutes to play, but conceded a goal to lose 5-4. The loss mathematically eliminated us from the tournament, but we still had one more group match this morning.

We reached a new low in a 16-2 battering. I have never favored a mercy rule, whereby the game is terminated when the leading team reaches a certain margin, but I would have had no complaint if they stopped this game.

Perhaps after some soul-searching McDonald’s and a trip to the bar, I might muster some enthusiasm for tomorrow morning’s match, but that’s uncertain. For now, we have been weighed, measured and found wanting.

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Opportunity Lost

I made the wise decision to avoid taking the bus to Viera for our regional quarterfinal tonight. I met Mr. Charm and Mr. Charm Sr. was our wheelman for the night. Back at school, the team waited….and waited for the county bus to pick them up. Frantic calls and a makeshift car pool ensued, and the bus arrived 45 minutes late. This guaranteed that the team would arrive at the scheduled tip off. Viera and our game officials graciously pushed the game back to give us twenty minutes to warm up.

The game started tight for us. For almost three minutes, neither team could score. Viera got off first and ran to an 8-1 lead. We responded with an 8-0 run to take our first lead of the night at 9-8. Viera led 13-9 at the end of the quarter. We were hesitant on offense and shooting poorly. On the defensive end we were hurt by dribble penetration and second chance points.

In the second quarter, we played some zone, but our rotations were flawed and Viera maintained a 3-6 point advantage. We scored at the buzzer to trail 23-20.

I was opptimistic at the half, acknowledging that we had played poorly, but were very much in the game. We made a few defensive adjustments and felt if we could settle into the game we would be fine.

As has happened so often this season, we did not come out of the half much better. Viera got up by as many as nine, but could not put us away.

As the fourth quarter progressed, we looked to be out of ideas. Offensively, we went with a high pick and roll featuring our sophomore point guard Devon Ortiz. We scored a few times, but got stagnant. Interestingly, our senior scorer, perhaps feeling his final game getting away from him, expressed frustration with our offense. This is interesting because he responded from that moment forward hitting four three pointers including an and one that got us the lead. It was a great showing by our only senior starter, Daemon Ashley.

Here however is where opportunity was lost. On two occaisions with less than a minute to play we had the ball up one. In the first instance, we stagnated offensively and Graham Sweeney was bumped into a backcourt violation. In the second, we got the ball in transition and Marcus Camacho’s cross court pass was intercepted. Viera took the lead 45-44 after the turnover. On our next possession, Devon Ortiz drew a foul and knocked down both free throws to go up 46-45 with eighteen seconds left.

We matched up man, and nearly had the ball when Viera’s post player appeared to traveled before their bench called a time out. Viera inbounded underneath with 5.3 seconds left. We played 2 zone with the plan of matching up if Viera through the ball deep. They did, we matched well, but their player hit a running floater with one second left. We did not get a timeout and a desperate heave the length of the floor fell short.

I find no excuse in the delayed bus, some dubious officiating or Viera simply hitting a shot. It makes for a good story, but does not speak the truth of our loss. Four missed free throws in the first half including the front end of a one and one, and two turnovers in the final minute with the lead are the story of this opportunity lost.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”