Sunday, 16 April 2017

History in the Making - Another Female Football Kicker

I was reading a story about a young woman that signed a letter of intent to play college football at Adams State University in Alamosa, Colorado, as a kicker on the men’s football team.  Becca Longo follows the steps of a few female kickers that have cracked College Football rosters over the years in the NCAA.  The list is actually quite a bit longer than I expected, according to Wikipedia, as it is now sitting at around 11.  What makes this story great is that Longo is the first woman to receive college football scholarship from a D-II school or higher.  

Becca got into football as it was a shared interest between her and her brother.  Being that her brother was 11 years older than her Longo found they didn’t have many shared interests so football became a bonding point for them.  Since her brother had a female kicker on his team when he played he really encouraged her to do it if she wanted to.  

Over the last little while Becca’s story has really started to gain a lot of attention.  Recently it has been a lot more positive but she said that it hasn’t been the case all along.  She initially got a lot of negativity including classmates making fun of her asking her if she was wearing her boyfriend’s jersey.  

The source of strength Becca has found has been in her teammates who all wore her jersey to school before her first-ever high school football game to show her support.  One of the biggest supporters has been her coach at Adams State Timm Rosenbach who treats her like a football player and an athlete not as just as a girl. Rosenbach has explained that his wife was a former pro athlete and so he sees her as a football player who has earned the opportunity on his team.   

Years ago I read “Still Kicking” the book by Katie Hnida who was the first woman to play Division I college football in the early 2000’s with the University of Colorado and then transferred to the University of New Mexico. She talked about the struggles and joys of being on the men’s football team. It is very inspiring to see stories like this continue to evolve.  Hnida put up with a lot of tough circumstances and harassment when she was playing football.  Unfortunately, she was raped and sexually harassed but those circumstances have made her much stronger as she continued her football career at a different school.  

In the book Hnida said “I never intentionally set out to break a barrier; I was simply following a dream.  But as I followed that dream, there were many obstacles that blocked my way.  There were times when it would have been easier to simply back down from those obstacles. But I realized that I had to reach deep inside and keep going to reach my dream.  I know that doing things that are important or significant seldom come easy. I owed it to myself and to those who believed in me.  I wasn’t going to let anyone take away something that was in my heart.”  

There are things that are just innate in people who push to do great things in life. I think the thing that is most interesting is that we are all humans and sometimes we focus so much on the things that make us different than one another.  There are so many things that we have in common. I am not sure why that difference in gender is such a source of contention.  I wish it could be a source of support and pride that someone is willing to challenge the boundaries in an area where they can excel and contribute in such a positive way. I really hope that Becca has a more positive experience in the next phase of her life.   

Hnida went on to say in her book “Sitting here. I can just smell it. Football. The sweat, the fresh-cut grass, the night air. God I love it.  It’s hard to believe everything I’ve gone through to get to this point - so much pain, so much heartache. But when you are doing something that has never been done before, there is no blueprint to follow. There is no instruction manual, no emergency button, nothing solid to rely on. You just go day by day.  I don’t regret a second of any of it, though - none of the work, the hurt, or the disappointments I’ve gone through chasing my dream… it’s made me stronger, forced me to look deeper and strive for more. No matter what I have gone through, no matter what I have to go through, I am going to make this happen.  I know who I am and I know where I am supposed to be - on the football field, still kicking.”  

Wishing Becca Longo all the best as she embarks on her journey and the full weight of her experience.  I hope you take it further than Katie and the other women did before you!  You are going to do great!  

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Force of Nature - Pat Summitt

Pat Summitt was a force of nature on the basketball court.  I always meant to write about her after she died back in June of 2016 but other ideas seemed to take precedents. This week I decided to try to tackle my desire to honour her. I guess the most challenging part is to try to do her justice in a short article.  

When I think of Pat Summitt two images come to mind I think of her icy stare standing at half court with her arms crossed or I think about her yelling her head off on the sidelines into the court.  Always dressed up in stylish trendy outfits for the times in both instances.  She was an intense take no prisons type of lady and seemed to have an ability to bend other people into submission with a simple glance in their direction.  

Over her career Pat’s accomplishments are many, some of which include: 
- Amassing 1098 wins 
- Winning 8 NCAA Division 1 Championships 
- Earning Coach of the Year 7 times 
- Winning 2 Olympic Gold Medals as a Coach 
- Winning an Olympic Silver Medal as a Player 
- Received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 

Back in 1974, when Pat started coaching at the University of Tennessee she was a 22 year old graduate assistant. She took over the reigns of the team as the Head Coach when the previous coach suddenly quit the very next season. This meant that she wasn’t more than a year or two older than many of her players.  I am not sure how many female coaches there would have been in women’s college basketball during that time but it certainly wasn’t many.  Her monthly salary her first year was $250 and it was also her responsibility to wash the uniforms and drive the van during team trips.  Pat was an enormous influence in changing the course of women’s basketball from early 1970’s until she passed in 2016.  

One of the players Pat coached was Candace Parker who went on to play in the WNBA.  In her book “Sum It Up” Pat regales the tail of benching Candace twice.  The first time was because she wasn’t listening to the instructions and wasn’t denying the ball to the middle.  Pat told her “You either stick to it, or you won’t play.” The team was trailing at the time but Pat didn’t care it was the principle of it that made her sit Candace.  Pat mentioned that part of her wanted to see how her team would respond without their star player.  The Lady Vols ended up losing that game in overtime.  The second time Candace was benched was due to her missing curfew by 20 minutes.  The team decided to bench her for the first half of the game.  

Pat seemed to do everything she could at times to unsettle her players especially when they were too pleased with themselves.  One time the girls arrived at practice and no basketballs were present.  Pat made them climb all the way to the top of the bleachers and reflect on what it takes for their fans to get there to see them play.  The time the fans take to get to the game and the money they spend to support what they were doing.  She didn’t want them to take the support they had for granted and so it forced them to play with a sense of pride.     

Those close to her often thought Pat was just interested in taking the proverbial snow globe and just shaking it up.  According to her assistant coach that said this he thought she just wanted to see how the snowflakes would fall back down. Pat never wanted her team to get too comfortable.  Her team was played with an edge and weren’t easily rattled.  

Unfortunately, near the end of her career Pat was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers.  This caused her to have to step down from her coaching duties and pass the reigns over to one of her long time assistants.  During the process of being diagnosed those around her were focusing on all the things that she couldn’t do “can’t drive, can’t travel, can’t work,” and the list went on and on. Pat chose to change what the focus was by changing her attitude about it.  She focused on realizing it would become what she made of it.  She had known for sometime that something wasn’t quite right but she had been working her way through it for years.  When it was time she faced Alzheimers head on like every other challenge that came up in her life.  She didn’t resign her coaching role right away she decided to wind down her career instead.  

Although there were symptoms and she had restrictions Pat still believed she could do two things well she was able to still teach and lead.  She received word that Tennessee may not let her continue to be a part of the program which was a huge blow considering where she had taken it over the years.  The Tennessee program she had built had been a labour of love she had put her heart and soul into for nearly 4 decades.  

Pat had to realize that her battle with dementia wasn’t going to be a battle that she could win.  She wasn’t going to be able to raise a banner to the rafters this time.  The victory was going to be maintaining a small amount of say over her daily life and not feeling helpless on a day to day basis.  It was going to be all about buying time as much as possible.

After meeting with the Tennessee executive a role was fashioned for Pat to remain part of the program for as long was she wanted to be there.  The next step in making her condition known was to tell her team.  She gathered her players around and made the announcement about her Alzheimer’s diagnosis.  All of her players started to cry the last thing that Pat wanted was to lose sight of the goal or to have people feel sorry for her.  She quickly said “Listen up, this is not a pity party. Hear me?  We’re not going to cry over this.  I’m still your coach.” She went on to explain that when receiving a diagnosis like this you don’t stop living.  They were going to reorganize the staff and their goals would be the same going forward to “cut down the net”.  She also assured them she wasn’t going to forget their names or forget to yell at them which definitely lightened the mood.  

Pat’s declined was sudden.  According to research once diagnosed a patient’s typical life expectancy is between 8 to 10 years and Pat has already been dealing with it silently for years before seeking treatment.  The thing is that brain issues can be hidden because it is only the person who has the injury who can really truly understand the severity of it.  There are many things that can be hidden until it gets too bad and the person isn’t able to conceal it anymore.  Pat was brave for handling it the way she did.  She rallied against it and didn’t go down easy.  Her decline may have been rapid but it wasn’t for a lack of fight that it for sure.  The courageous way she faced it head on is incredibly inspiring and that she didn’t give up her passion of coaching until she felt she had no other choice. That way of living is truly inspiring!  

In my opinion, Pat didn’t just blaze the trail for women coaches she also created a map and paved the road.  At least 25 of her former players have pursued careers in coaching and basketball management.  Each one of the players she worked with over her 38 years of coaching are better people for having experienced her tough love no nonsense approach of getting things done. As mentioned before Pat was a force of nature and love was the counterbalance to every move she made.  I have personally learned a great deal from her and think that she is one of those women that could get the best out of anyone she worked with.  Rest in peace Pat Summitt. 

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Uncommon Compassion

I saw a video on YouTube the other day about a young girl who was wanting to learn how to skateboard.  The skate park was full of teenaged boys who were being loud and obnoxious which can be incredible intimidating for anyone let alone a younger elementary school girl.  She was all ready to go with her helmet, protective padding and of course her skateboard.  She was apprehensive at first to get on to the ramps and try it out until her mom encouraged her it was a community skatepark which meant she was allowed to use it just like everybody else.  

When she got on the park the boys where zooming past her from every angle.  Some of them weren’t showing any concern for her personal space.  One of the boys approached the girl thinking the worst the mother got ready with her best “she is just as entitled to use the park as you are.” But, then something surprising happened the teenaged boy instead asked if he could help her with a few things and when she said yes he gave her some pointers on how to fix her feet as well as her technique.  He stuck with it and even protected her from the other guys when they weren’t being considerate of her despite being ridiculed by some of his friends.  The little girl left with a very different experience than had he not been there which is so special. 

I couldn’t help but remember back to one of my experiences when I was going to college at NAIT in Edmonton.  It was the summer and I was training to be part of the women’s team again in the fall but I had a problem there wasn’t a lot of places where I could go to play pick-up. Many of my teammates were working or had moved back home for the summer.  As is the case for many female athletes you get used to playing against guys in order to have a good run and to get better.  I heard from some of the guys on the men’s team that there were runs at Common Wealth Stadium where the Edmonton Eskimos’ CFL Football team plays so I decided to check it out.  

I am not going to lie it was a bit of a rough crowd because at the time the locations around that stadium was intense.  It was also one of those runs that if you don’t win you are waiting hours to be able to play again.  It was also an atmosphere were guys would argue over whether something was a foul or not for what seemed like hours.  There were even blood stains on the floor from when some of these arguments got escalated.  At first I would just go and watch and shoot around on the side.  It wasn’t long before I started to be invited to play with some of the regulars when they were short a player.  I soon found out that many of the guys were part of the Edmonton Eskimos football team.  They told me that basketball was the first game they loved but many of them either stopped growing or had a more physical build that lead them to excel further at football.  

I remember one day I was at the gym and I wanted to get in on the game.  I was as usual the only woman in the gym.  I started asking around who had “Next” I was pointed to a white guys in his early or mid-thirties.  I asked him if his team was playing next and he said yes.  Then I asked him if he had a full team to which he responded No.  When I asked him if I could play on his team his response still sticks in this mind to this day.  He looked up from tying his shoes and said “Are you kidding? I’ll get killed if I have a girl on my team!” I just looked at him stunned and White Dude went back to tying his shoes.  

One of the CFL guys heard him say that to me and he immediately stepped in and said “You can be on my team! We Got Next after them”. It just so happened White Dude picked up a couple of guys from the team that lost right before his game so they ended up winning.  Now the team I was on was playing against him. I ended up scoring a couple of the baskets and we lost by 1 point in a very good close game.  As I made my way off the court White Dude came over to me and shook my hand at half court.  He looked me in the eye and said “Good game!”  I was a bit stunned that he was brave enough to come over like that after being so blatantly sexist a few moments earlier. I think I stayed around to watch a few more games and made sure to thank the football guy for stepping in and letting me play on his team. 

On my ride home I was so disappointed and hurt by White Dude but I was also so impressed by the football guy who stepped up and came to my defence.  I went home pulled out my sports magazines and made a collage of the male basketball players and then I pulled out all my fashion magazines and actually found female heads that matched the positions them men’s bodies were in and glued them over top. It was hard at that point in time to find actual pictures of female athletes.  I left that up on my wall for years as it was my way of making a statement that I was just as capable as the guys were.  It looked so powerful to me and helped me to not get caught up in someone else’s definition in terms of what I was capable of.  

It wasn’t long after that that whenever I would go to the Common Wealth other football players would invite me to be part of their team.  Some of them would downplay it and say “I’ll take the girl I guess” when we were making school yard picks so that they looked like I was getting the sympathy vote we would catch other unsuspecting guys off guard that didn’t know me.  One time I hit 2 threes on one guy before one of the guys on his team yelled at him and said “Man, D-Up there is a reason she is playing with guys!  She can play!” I still hit a couple more shots on him even when he was trying.  

I think it is so powerful when people help to create an environment for people who are outsiders to feel included.  I really liked in the skateboarding story when the boy asked if he could help the girl before just starting to help without getting permission.  Some people refer to this unsolicited advice as “mansplaining” because some men have a bad habit of thinking they need to fix things or women are doing without their permission. If you are going to provide help you should ask if the person wants it first.  It is much less intrusive than just giving it without knowing if it will be received. Plus, sometimes the recipient knows more than you so it isn’t necessary to explain.  

The last point I want to make is many times male teenagers get a bad reputation for acting like jerks especially when they are in a group together.  They are often loud, aggressive and act intimidating. I would love to know that some of my players and young men I work with take a step outside the box and surprise people with showing uncommon compassion. Just like the teenage boy did for the girl at the skate park and the football player did for me in the pickup game.  Compassion and care go a long way and give people the gift of support which helps others in marginalized groups feel a sense of power and a feeling they do belong.  Who knows if the little girl will continue to skateboard but I know I continued to feel comfortable in male dominated environments due to the kindness I was shown by those football guys.  You never know how a small act can spark someone else in a very big way or the long term impact it will have.   

Sunday, 19 March 2017

James Clear's Article - Grit: A Brief Guide on Building Mental Toughness

One of the places that nearly every single player can build is mental toughness.  I often refer to James Clear who writes amazing articles on finding personal greatness.  Here is what he has to say on this topic of Building Mental Toughness. 

Grit: A Brief Guide on Building Mental Toughness
by James Clear

If you want to become more mentally tough, then you'll want to read this article.

Grit is one of the hottest concepts in psychology right now. Researchers are talking about how athletes can develop more grit and mental toughness in their training, how teachers can foster greater grit in the classroom, and how individuals like you and I can build grit into our daily lives. In this short round up, I'm going to lay out a summary of what grit and mental toughness are and share a few of my best resources on the topic. 

What is Grit?
First, let's define grit. In technical terms, grit is the perseverance and passion to achieve long–term goals. Sometimes you will hear grit referred to as mental toughness. Angela Duckworth, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the leading researcher on grit, suggests that grit is a strong predictor of success and ability to reach one's goals.
Duckworth's research on grit has shown that…
West Point cadets who scored highest on the Grit Test were 60% more likely to succeed than their peers.
Ivy League undergraduate students who had more grit also had higher GPAs than their peers — even though they had lower SAT scores and weren’t as “smart.”
When comparing two people who are the same age but have different levels of education, grit (and not intelligence) more accurately predicts which one will be better educated.
Competitors in the National Spelling Bee outperform their peers not because of IQ, but because of their grit and commitment to more consistent practice.
If you'd like to dive into the details, I wrote about Duckworth's research here.

For a video explanation, you can watch this short TED Talk, which explains the concept of grit and how it helps foster mental toughness in our everyday lives.

How to Be Mentally Strong
As a quick primer, let me lay out three simple steps to develop grit and become more mentally strong.

Step 1: Define what grit or mental toughness means for you.
For you, it might be…
going one month without missing a workout
delivering your work ahead of schedule for two days in a row
calling one friend to catch up every Saturday this month
Whatever it is, be clear about what you’re going after.

Step 2: Build grit with small physical wins.
So often we think that grit is about how we respond to extreme situations, but what about everyday circumstances?
Mental toughness is like a muscle. It needs to be worked to grow and develop.
Choose to do the tenth rep when it would be easier to just do nine. Choose to create when it would be easier to consume. Choose to ask the extra question when it would be easier to accept. Prove to yourself — in a thousand tiny ways — that you have enough guts to get in the ring and do battle with life.

Step 3: Build strong habits and stop depending on motivation.
Grit isn’t about getting an incredible dose of inspiration or courage. It’s about building the daily habits that allow you to stick to a schedule and overcome challenges and distractions over and over and over again.
Mentally tough people don’t have to be more courageous, more talented, or more intelligent — just more consistent.
Grit comes down to your habits. It’s about doing the things you know you’re supposed to do on a more consistent basis. It’s about your dedication to daily practice and your ability to stick to a schedule.

Examples of Grit
Mentally tough athletes are more consistent than others. They don’t miss workouts. They don’t miss assignments. They always have their teammates back.
Mentally tough leaders are more consistent than their peers. They have a clear goal that they work towards each day. They don’t let short–term profits, negative feedback, or hectic schedules prevent them from continuing the march towards their vision. They make a habit of building up the people around them — not just once, but over and over and over again.
Mentally tough artists, writers, and employees deliver on a more consistent basis than most. They work on a schedule, not just when they feel motivated. They approach their work like a pro, not an amateur. They do the most important thing first and don’t shirk responsibilities.

3 Articles on How I Develop Grit

If you'd like to see additional resources like the best books to read on grit and mental toughness as well as a complete list of the articles I have written on these topics, then check out the grit category page here

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Former Player Profile Mahershala Ali - Oscar Winner

This week's blog has to do with a young actor that you may have seen in movies like The Place Beyond the Pines, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and the Netflix series House of Cards.  Mahershala Ali just recently won an academy award for his role in the movie Moonlight.  The reason I decided to highlight him this week has to do with learning to deal with shifting directions in life.  So many times I hear young basketball players tell me how much they would like to play in the NBA.  Playing at that level is a very admirable goal but I speak from the heart when I say it isn't for everyone.  I think it is made to look much more glamorous than it is in reality.   I personally think there are many other worthwhile things to achieve depending on your individual goals.  Having a goal to play professionally is amazing but so is following the path of your particular life by applying the same passion to those pursuits that call you.

The article below was done written back on October 20, 2011 by the school where Mahershala Ali attended school at St. Mary's College in Moraga California.  
(  This is the same school where Patty Mills from the San Antonio Spurs and Matthew Dellavedova from the Milwaukee Bucks attended and played basketball as well.  Learning to listen to the path of your life and being brave enough to follow it is admirable in its own right.

Mahershala Ali ('96)


Name: Mahershala Ali.
I was born Mahershalalhashbaz Gilmore, and I went by Mahershala Gilmore while at SMC.  I changed my last name in 2000, and from 2001-2010 I was known professionally as Mahershalalhashbaz Ali. 
In the spirit of simplicity, I've presently settled on Mahershala Ali. I'd love for people to be able to say my name. Especially with the work I do. So, I'm ready to embrace this version of my name now. Easier for all!
Major: Mass Communication
Class of 1996.
Born in Oakland and raised in Hayward, Ca.
My fondest memory of the Communication Department would be the Oral Communication class, taught by the late Br. Ray Berta. You'd be hard pressed to find a student that didn't absolutely love him. He was a light, and passionate about his students. Brother Ray actually changed the trajectory of my life through his Oral communication course, which was truly just an acting class in disguise.
My fondest memory in my time at SMC was doing Spunk my senior year. Spunk is a George C. Wolfe play, which features a collection of Zora Neale Hurston writings. I felt a peace during that period of time that seemed to give my life a defining purpose. At 22 years old, I'd experienced some great highs and lows, and I think I really wanted to find an in . . . an opening, a beginning. I needed something that would help me understand myself better. Spunk as a process, as an experience, inspired me in a way that nothing had before.
This might sound strange, but I don't miss SMC. At all. I miss the professors. Victoria Trostle, Denise WitzigBrenda HillmanRebecca EngleBr. Ray Berta – they all had a profound effect on me and my well being. In a sense, I didn't know where I was, or what I was doing there . . .  I was a scared kid just trying to hold it all together. 
The first semester of my junior year, I was basically failing Victoria Trostle's documentary film class. My father had died a few days before school started. I had mentally checked out. I didn't really care, and didn't feel like caring. She called me in her office a few weeks before finals, and first, talked to me about what was going on in my life. We came to an understanding in that meeting. My father's death was an absolute tragedy, yes. But it wasn't going to be an excuse to fail. And then she walked me through the necessary steps to pass her class. I can't say I miss that, but I appreciate it to this day. 
I went to SMC on a basketball scholarship. But when I graduated, I no longer thought of myself as an athlete. Honestly, I kind of resented basketball by the end of my time there. I'd seen guys on the team get chewed up, spat out and I was personally threatened with being shipped off to the University of Denver. All in the name of wins and productivity. 
I experienced a very clear, palpable transformation while in college. I started writing and performing my poetry. I competed in poetry slams, and began to take my academics more seriously. I always took school seriously, but I think I did better in college because I started to understand how I learned, as well as the concept of "finishing" began to take root.  I can't say I retained much of the information from my classes, but I understand how I learn, and I understand beginning, middle and end, which in turn leads to finishing. I can't think of two tools more powerful or useful in the "real world."
"In a nutshell, I came to SMC wanting the fullest experience as a student athlete, and left wanting to experience life as an artist and well rounded person." 
My road after college was somewhat interesting. First, I knew I was taking a year off, and second, I knew I had to go back to school. Rebecca Engle, who directed Spunk, and was leading the theater program at SMC, had somehow managed to set up an audition for me with the California Shakespeare Festival, located in Orinda. Long story short, I made the cut as an apprentice, which meant I was grouped with other young actors, studying and pursuing the craft. It was an intense four months. The training was closer to my experience as an athlete than a student. At the end of the day you'd be exhausted, and then you'd have a show to do that night. I think I had an advantage in some ways. I'd done that for years as a student athlete.
Most of my peers had been acting for quite some time. Socially, I was a bit out of my element. They knew all the cool avant garde films, plays, writers. I had only read Shakespeare in pieces – a few monologues, some sonnets, but not a play in its entirety. I actually auditioned for The California Shakespeare Festival with two poems I'd written. And suddenly I'm on the main stage, with professional actors, playing Montjoy in their production of Henry V.  It was a great role for me at the time – enough for them to offer me a spot as a professional the following season. (Which never happened, because I was going back to school . . .)
My Grandmother had always told me to have three options. As I had gotten closer to graduating from SMC, I noticed she would say that more often. Cal Shakes had sort of fallen into my lap. Up until that point, I was looking at doing one of three things, grad school for creative writing, law school, or perhaps . . . just maybe . . . a graduate program for this acting thing. 
Cal Shakes was done at the end of that summer. It was 1996. I had a good, go-to, hookup job while at SMC. I could work on the ferryboats in San Francisco for almost $20 as hour, as a deckhand. But I decided against that, because I was worried I'd get comfortable, and get stuck. So, I took a job making minimum wage at The Gavin Report, a record industry magazine targeted at music insiders. I recorded spins, meaning I tallied how much a given record was played on the radio in a week – the absolute definition of boredom.  But I got a lot of free music and even met the Notorious B.I.G. the week he died. 
Again, I played basketball on full scholarship while at Saint Mary's, so the extent of my bills were probably gas, and my trusty pager.  I had done a few interviews before graduating that May, the traditional corporate entry-level positions, which are terrific if that speaks to you. That's part of the college experience, actually. Your family wants to see you grab that diploma on Saturday and walk into a great job on Monday. But that terrified me. I didn't feel suited for that.
The day I had become serious about grad school was the day Victoria Trostle, a professor from the Communication Department, handed me a card. It basically said that I needed to go further. I needed to be around other students/ actors, acting teachers that would push me. And I needed to think about getting into one of the best programs in the country. I still have that card. 
In February of ‘97, I auditioned for NYU's graduate acting program. The audition was at ACT in San Francisco. Yale and NYU were the best graduate acting programs in the country at that time. Yale received my application a day late . . .  and wrote me a letter saying they wouldn't be seeing me as a result of my tardiness. 
I did two monologues that day, York, from Henry VI, and a piece I had written myself, a poem of sorts. I was asked to stay, and do the pieces again for the legendary Zelda Finchandler. I distinctly remember her looking at her watch while I was performing. Damn. 
It had to have been an act of God, because I was invited to NYU in March for the Top 50.  50 students, hoping to be one of the final 18. And I got in. It was three gut-wrenching, soul-searching, tortured years of self expression and exploration. But I wouldn't trade it for the world. I can confidently say that I would have never gotten there if it weren't for the guidance and love I received from the professors at Saint Mary's College. 
Getting through the program was incredibly difficult. Three years, six days a week, and you're there a minimum of 12 hours a day (except Saturday – Saturday's usually a bit lighter). Voice, speech, yoga, Alexander technique, scene study, the list goes on. Oh yeah, and whatever play you're rehearsing at the time. 
I started to become more comfortable with myself, and own my individuality in a deeper way. New York forces you to do that. If you embrace it, it can really change your life. 
By the end of my second year, I was feeling pretty burnt out. I was seriously contemplating dropping out. It was so damn hard. It's not something I can really explain. That type of work takes a toll on you. Three of my classmates dropped out. Two in the first year. The expectations you put on yourself in that type of an environment can either make you or break you. I became so aware of my weaknesses, limitations, my vulnerability that it made me more conscious of my soul. And if I was going to take on the stories of other people, real or fictional, they needed to be infused with spirit as well. My search for a greater understanding of who I was, in connection to God, is probably what got me through that period. 
I finished NYU in May of 2000. I was really fortunate to walk out with an agent, and two jobs in hand. I was the lead in an indie film called Making Revolution, and that followed with the lead role in a play called The Great White Hope. A few months later, I booked a pilot and did the first season of Crossing Jordan.
I've been working professionally for 11 years. I've been in blockbuster films like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Predators; I've done a number of TV shows, including The 4400Crossing Jordan, and Law and Order SVU, and I'm looking forward to seeing recent projects come into fruition. This summer (2011) I did a film with Ryan Gosling, Bradley Cooper, and Eva Mendes, called The Place Beyond The Pines. I think it's going to be an amazing film. I'm really proud to be a part of it.
I'm heading to Vancouver in a couple of days to do an episode of a new show called Alcatraz. It's an amazing, complicated, troubled character, which is both the good and the challenging aspect about the gig itself. As much as I've trained and worked, auditioned and rehearsed, at the end of the day, I don't know what the heck I'm doing. So please, wish me luck. 
My life is first and foremost about balance. I deal with trying to balance the water of spirituality with the vessel of religion. I find, that if I begin there, if I exist in that space, things fall into place in an organic manner. I'm healthier on that path. 
And funny enough, now I'm a sports nut. Way more than in college. I don't care to play basketball anymore, but I love to watch it. If my TV is on, it's usually on ESPN. 
And it brings me great joy seeing the success of the Gaels under coach Randy Bennett. I met coach Bennett in the spring of 1991, in my junior year of high school. He was an assistant coach at the University of San Diego, and the first to offer me a scholarship. He was genuinely disappointed when I turned down USD for SMC. He was the hardest call to make upon coming to that decision. I loved that guy! I'm actually glad he wasn't at Saint Mary's when I was there, because I probably would have had a great experience as a player and never discovered acting. 
It's difficult to describe what kind of person I am, because I'm conscious of how much I've changed over the years. SMC gave me structure for the areas where I've struggled with discipline, and freedom where I've struggled with rigidity. And to this day, I have to tell myself that I'm a student. Things go better for me with that approach. When I remind myself that I know very little, I learn so much more. 
The best advice I could give to any student would simply be to listen. Listen for your life signs. And respond accordingly. Intuition is a muscle, and it's developed in the manner of call and response. 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

23 Characteristics of Great Players

I am part of a distribution list called The Coaching Toolbox which gives amazing resources to coaches  and I came across this article. Apparently it was a part of Alan Stein’s Coaching Nuggets Collection. The author is Coach Lyndsey Fennelly of  Lyndsey Fennelly is a former WNBA player and is now a coach that does a great job of developing players.  I love her material a lot so you will have to take a look at her list.  

1- Getting Better – the #1 emphasis and purpose behind training. Each athlete’s goal every time you walk into a gym should be to pick up 1-2 new golden nuggets of improvement. Commit to this improvement by starting a basketball journal and writing the concepts you learn each day down on paper for maximum information retention. The way to create big separation in your game is by picking up as many ‘little things’ as you can.

2- Energy – there are 2 things people do when they walk into any room: they either take away energy with frowns, negative body language, and constant complaints or they give energy with genuine smiles, positive body language, and encouraging comments. An energetic gym is more fun to be so, as is living an energetic life. Create the energy in your own gyms, classrooms, and other environments.

3- Focus – most people attribute the success of athletes to the physical game. This is key and important, but you cannot under-estimate the power of a strong and focused mind. Great players focus on what is taking place in every drill, every practice, every game, and every day. The mind is constantly asking oneself : What can I do in this moment to get better?

4- Hustle – great players have an uncommon hustle. You should know that your career window is limited, so make it a habit to maximize every second every time you are in the gym. Set the standard of hustle in your practices, not in games. Great players don’t have an ‘on-off switch’; they simply have it always turned ‘on’!

5- Attitude – one of the few things in life we can control. You have only one today your entire life. Why not have a great attitude every single day? What’s special is having a terrific attitude every day under every circumstance. Show off your great attitude during the toughest of times – that’s impressive.

6- Commitment – the act of being pledged, loyal, and true to your dreams and visions. Create a goal for this season. Write it down somewhere that you can look at it daily. Remind yourself of the commitment you’ll need to make both on and off the court this year to have a successful season.

7- Passion – do what you love and love what you do. You cannot fake passion. If you truly love the game of basketball, you should have a passion for your improvement and development. You should have passion every time you step into the gym with a willingness to learn and mentality of, ‘what can I do to get better?’

8- Teamwork – in a team sport like basketball, the we is always more important than the me. The better the team, the more noticed the player. Do all you can to foster great teamwork, knowing that will get you the attention most players desire? A program with great teamwork, constantly putting others before themselves, is easily envied by the weak.

9- Body Language – 93% of what we say is non-verbal. You are constantly communicating even if your mouth isn’t moving. Communicate all the time that you’re paying attention, you’re engaged, you’re tough, and you’re eager to learn more. Great body language will make your coaches coach you more, will make your teachers teach you more, and will make an employer want to hire you one day.

10- Hard Work – “If everyone worked as hard as I did, I would be out of a job” is a quote by Steve Nash that is a great reminder that there is truly no substitute for hard work. Hard work is unquestionably one of the best
skills you can master to master a successful life both on and off the court. Allow no one to out work you.

11- Control – control of body, control of eyes, control of thoughts, control of emotions, control of the game,control of the tempo, and most importantly, control the controllable. Rather than blame, make excuses, or point
fingers, focus on the things you can control : your effort, your attitude, your mind.

12- Practice Makes Pe…Permanent – practice does not make perfect, it instead makes permanent. Great players don’t go half speed at any time, knowing that the opportunity to become permanently great was just missed. Practice habits that will make your game permanently improve and allow you to compete at the highest level.

13- Sportsmanship – the best players have a respect for the game, its rules, officials, and participants, including coaches, players, and fans. Be gracious in defeat and humble in wins without compromising the unrelenting desire to succeed, improve, and most importantly win.

14- Character – you speak louder in action than you do with words with the decisions you make. Live this simple rule : “do the right thing”. If you don’t whether you know it’s right or wrong, it’s most likely the wrong decision. Treat others as you want to be treated, including your teammates. Be ‘bigger’ than negative people and show off your true self all the time, not just when things are going well.

15- Pride – a true champion has the pride of a lion: self-respect and personal worth. You have satisfaction with your achievements, and you allow your pride to fuel your burning passion to always improve. Those with pride
have a feeling of ‘dislike’ when they know they’ve fallen below their own standards.

16- Loyalty – you are honest with your family, your coaches, your teammates, your friends, your teachers, but most importantly, yourself. You are loyal in words and actions with those you surround yourself with. Be loyal to these people in life by never violating their trust, turning your back on them, or speaking about them instead of to them.

17- Appreciation – life is TOO short to not appreciate each and every day you are given on this Earth. Two powerful words that we don’t use enough: “thank you” can be said more often than most do. Be verbally appreciative with sincere words and physically appreciative by never wasting an opportunity on court to improve.

18- Respect – most importantly, respect yourself because it’s impossible to respect others if you can’t respect the most important person in your life, you. Treat others as you want to be treated: coaches, parents, teachers, friends, family, teammates, officials, and opponents. Respect the facilities you play in and the environments you are surrounded by.

19- Accountability – you are the driver of your own life and of your own career. Do not fall prey to allow others to dictate your future. Take accountability and responsibility for your actions, your dedication, your work ethic,and ultimately, your decisions. Hold yourself to a higher standard of excellence than anyone else.

20- Finish – the great Michael Jordan once said, “It’s not how hard you push along the way, it’s having something in you to finish”. The great players and people in life finish what they have started. Make it a habit to complete everything you do with the same energy and effort you start with.

21- Intensity – an effort defined by expression of great zeal, energy, determination, and concentration. You ‘attack’ drills with speed, power, and a rage for improvement. Your end of game intensity is paralleled by your in
practice intensity. You show off your intensity not only in effort, but in your consistent body language.

22- Poise – having a calmness under every situation and always being yourself. Pressure situations don’t faze you, but instead bring out your greatness. You are always communicating an “I got this” with your teammates and coaches. People turn to you knowing you have an un-faze-ability.

23- Excellence – “the habit of excellence can become enjoyable addictive” (Dick DeVenzio, author of Stuff Good Players Should Know). We have trained all Fall Skills in creating habits of excellence on the court. Make excellence your habit in everything you do. Be an excellent student. Be an excellent friend. Be an excellent daughter, son, sister, brother. Be an excellent athlete. Be an excellent human being.