IN THIS ISSUE:
Our nation was shocked and stunned last week with the heinous suicide bombings at the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. Our feelings of safety at home were tragically violated, shattering a false sense of security that many American had that “it can’t happen here.” For years, terrorist attacks were something that we saw from a distance in Israel, Beirut, Northern Ireland, The UK and everywhere else around the world but here. When Americans had been victims of terrorist attacks, we witnessed those from afar, the bombing of the American Embassies in Africa, the suicide bombing of the USS Cole. While Americans lost their lives in these events, they did not take place on our shore. Even after the World Trade Center was attacked in 1993 there was still a belief that for the most part, Americans were pretty much safe at home. The Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 shattered some of this security but we could still rationalize our fears a little by saying that the enemy, Timothy McVeigh was one of us. However, as of September 11, 2001 all this has changed forever. We have been traumatized and our lives, in many ways, will never be the same again.
Tragedies like this always force us to put things in perspective. They help us clearly see what is really important in life and what is just simply the fluff. They make us stop and take stock of ourselves. They frame our pre-tragedy life and feelings in an entirely new and different light. It is from this backdrop that we now look at ourselves and where sports fit in our lives. In this newsletter we will take a fresh look at competitive sports and examine its’ meaning in the light of the tragedy in the United States.
ATHLETE’S LOCKER – “Want a real hero?”
PARENT’S CORNER – “What’s really important?”
COACH’S OFFICE – “Where’s the meaning?”
DR. G’S TEACHING TALES -“The Deeper Wound” Deepak Chopra
“Want a real hero?
From the outside looking in, one of the absolutely coolest professions to have is that of professional athlete. This is especially true here in the United States where sports are larger than life and pro athletes get elevated to super hero status. Many of us connect with our favorite sports hero and his/her victories bring us joy, his/her failures bring us heartache and sadness, and his/her struggles for “good” over the “evil” opponent capture our imagination. We project our hopes, dreams, frustrations and desires onto these athletes. Without really knowing them as individuals we think that because they do great deeds in the athletic arena, they must indeed be great people! The fact of the matter is that a great athlete is nothing more than a great athlete. Their physical strength, skill and athletic prowess do not make them larger than life. Their tremendous physical gifts and ability do not make them a hero nor does it make them a role model. They are ordinary people doing extraordinary things in sports. Sport is not the real world. It is NOT the most important thing in life. It is just simply about playing games. Professional athletes play games for a living. Top Division I athletes play games for their college scholarship while they attend school. I, like so many of you out there play competitively because of the challenge and the fun.
The interesting thing about all athletes is that, just like in the general population, some are great people and some are not! Before this terrible tragedy, many of you watched the drama unfolding in Major League Baseball to discover whether Barry Bonds would break Mark McGuire’s home run record of 70. With 18 games remaining Bonds was already at 63, having slugged out three in just one game against Colorado! What an exciting time and what a great hero! Right?
Wrong!! Barry Bonds is a great athlete and an amazing hitter, but I wouldn’t consider him to be a hero. As a matter of fact, I don’t even think he’s a very nice person or a good teammate. Barry is extremely selfish and carries himself apart from his teammates. He doesn’t sit with them. He doesn’t cheer for them. He doesn’t hang with them. He is not invested in them. He is, in the end, out for himself. You may like Bonds and dislike what I’m saying, but Barry Bonds will never be a real hero regardless of how many home runs he hits.
On the other hand, some professional athletes are trustworthy leaders, supportive teammates, and caring individuals. Some are truly class acts and selflessly put their team and teammates in front of themselves. Some are courageous and generous, using their visibility and resources as a professional athlete to give back to their community and country and to help others in need. They have a true commitment in making the world a much better place for all. In this, they are real role models and perhaps true heroes.
But today, during the heart of this tragedy, we look to the real world for real heroes. We look to New York City and Washington D.C. We look to the skies over Pennsylvania where yet another hijacked jet was about to be used as a guided missile.
Real heroes are ordinary people, doing extraordinary things, under extraordinary stressful times. Real heroes put themselves at the service of the greater good. They are far more concerned about doing their job and taking care of others than they are of themselves. They are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. Real heroes are individuals that are truly worth looking up to. Real heroes restore our faith in the human spirit.
How many of these heroes did we lose in New York City? Hundreds of firefighters raced up into the North Tower, the first one hit, to do their job. They ran upwards despite the fear that must have been eating at their insides. Their only concern, to put the fire out and save lives. Far too many of these good people died in this, their last courageous act. What about the EMT personnel and the police? How many of those did we lose as they also tried to respond to the crisis and save lives? Are they any less heroic? Or the countless individuals stuck in the towers who, to try to selflessly comfort or save someone else, ended up paying the ultimate price.
Then there were the passengers trapped on the hijacked United Flight 93 that was heading back towards Washington D.C. after both towers and the Pentagon had been hit. At least three passengers on board, Thomas Burnett, Jeremy Glick and Mark Bingham were thought to have lead a group that stormed the hijackers and foiled their attempt to kill even more people on the ground. Officials believe that this is why the plane crashed in an open field in Pennsylvania rather than being flown into the White House.
This is a terribly sad time in our country’s history. The wounds we suffered on September 11, 2001 will take many months and years to heal. For some of us, our lives have been tragically changed forever. What I hope that you can take away from this tragedy is a glimpse into the human spirit. Perhaps the selfless and heroic actions of many of the individuals that you’ve been reading and hearing about can inspire you. Maybe we can look at their behaviors and take away a sense of hope that with these kinds of real heroes among us, we can make the world a little better and a little safer place.
Yes, sports are a wonderful diversion. They’re a place where you can learn to master new things and feel good about yourself. They’re fun, exciting and dramatic. They are, however, in the end, just for fun. Try to remember that your favorite “action super heroes” that you watch on TV participating on the gridiron, diamond or court are simply only human. They have their strengths and weaknesses, their good traits and bad ones. They and the games that they play are not larger than life. Most of them are not heroes in the true sense of the word. However, in this time of crisis we do need action heroes. Real ones. They’re out there all around you! Go find them!
“What’s really important?”
It was 10:00 am and I was doing one of the things that I loved most, playing tennis. I had no idea about the terrible drama that was unfolding in our country at that very moment. I was blissfully ignorant. A half-hour later, however, someone on the court mentioned that we had been attacked and I, like the rest of this country went into a deep state of shock, which, a week later I still haven’t been able to shake. What was especially upsetting for me was when I heard how the attack was perpetrated.
As part of my work as a Sports Performance Consultant, I regularly travel all around the country. While I don’t usually fly out of either Boston or New York, I couldn’t help but think about the doomed people on those four hijacked jets.
I fly cross-country at least two to three times a year and I’m haunted by the thought that I could have easily been on one of those aircrafts!
When tragedy strikes our lives, it as if we are suddenly jolted awake from a kind of going-through-the-motions, dream state. All too often we run our lives on “automatic,” completely preoccupied with what we have convinced ourselves are all the “important things” that we “must” do. We have bills to pay, work to finish, people to meet, places to go and so many demands on our time that we end up stressed out and dissociated from family and ourselves. Most of us let these mundane routines dominate our entire consciousness and run our lives.
We approach sports in much the same way. Some of us get so caught up in the intensity and competitiveness of our own games that we will let our day get determined by how well we played and whether we won or lost. We take this same emotional intensity and the loss of perspective it engenders into the youth sport, high school or college games that our kids compete in. We sometimes act as if these athletic contests are unbelievably meaningful, as if they’re larger than life. As a consequence, some of us yell at our kids, scream at the refs, criticize the coaches and even fight with other parents over the outcome of a game! How terribly meaningless all those things seem right about now!
Tragedy, in all of its’ forms is a sobering wake-up call. It shocks us out of our silly routines and forcefully points out to us what’s really important in life. It reminds us all of our vulnerability and frailty as human beings. It lets us know that life is very precious and all too often, ephemeral. Tragedies scream at us that life and all that we have are not things that should be taken for granted. Life is short and sadly, all too unpredictable. The horrors perpetrated on us on September 11 urge us to get our priorities straight and to stop sweating the small stuff. When it comes right down to it, most of the things that we get so obsessed and preoccupied with are really just a lot of “small stuff.”
So what is really important? What should be the priorities in your life? What do you have that truly makes you rich? Trust me! It’s not work! Don’t get me wrong. You certainly have to make a living to pay the bills and put a roof over your head, feed the family, etc. However, I don’t think anyone on their deathbed has ever voiced strong regrets about not having gone to the office enough over the course of their lives. What is important is all around you. All you need do is slow down long enough to find it. All you need do is open your eyes to see it. It’s your family. It’s your partner and your children.
It’s your brothers or sisters, your nieces and nephews, your parents, grandparents, and your close friends. What are truly important in life are the emotional connections and relationships that you develop that make you uniquely human. When it comes right down to it, these are the only things that really matter. Perhaps that’s why so many of the individuals trapped in both the towers and on those doomed airplanes called parents, brothers, sisters and spouses to tell them how much they loved them and how much they cared. In the end, this is the only thing that is of any significance in our life. What do we need to do to keep these priorities straight and not let so many unbelievably trivial things interfere with this understanding?
It’s been said that you don’t truly appreciate what you have until you lose it. I’ve certainly found some truth to this throughout my life. We all have a tendency to take so many things for granted. Maybe one thing we take for granted is how much time that we all have on this earth. Perhaps that might explain why so many of us are continually putting off the really important things. “I’ll call her tomorrow.” “I’ll tell him next week.” “When Mommy’s done with this project, then she’ll take you to the park.” “Daddy can’t go with you today honey, maybe tomorrow.”
Unfortunately for some of us, tomorrow never comes. Perhaps a tragedy or some crisis interferes with our life. Maybe we get completely deluded by the postponing habit. Maybe we just simply forget, or perhaps we wait so long that our children grow up and leave home before we realize it. When this happens what are we left with? A lot of emptiness and regrets! Because of this, it’s important that we begin to live today and every day to its’ fullest. That means that we have to learn to truly appreciate all that we have in our lives right now. We need to treasure the love that is around us this moment. We need to treat our kids like the blessings that they are and make them the priority that they should be.
Life is far too short and much too precious to be fettered away distracted by insignificant and ultimately meaningless things. When your children continue participation in their sports, will you be able to keep this in mind? Will you take a new perspective into their competitive activities and your life in general? When they make mistakes, lose or otherwise perform badly will you be able to keep your head on straight? Will it be easier for you to understand that their feelings and your relationship with them is far more important than whether they committed an error, dropped a catchable pass, fell on their double Lutz or screwed up their tumbling pass? How you feel about how they performed in the games of their lives is relatively trivial. How you communicate your love and caring to them is NOT!
Be stronger as a result of this tragedy. Be kinder and more tolerant. Keep the bigger picture in mind always and allow yourself to truly live life. All we have is this moment right now. Make it count. Make it important. Use it to truly nourish and appreciate the love that surrounds you. Use today to help your children and yourself to begin to heal. “Yesterday is a cancelled check. Tomorrow is a promissory note. Today is the only cash you have. Spend it wisely.”
“Where’s the meaning?”
I got a call from ESPN’s Greg Garber (www.espn.com) the day after the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked in a tragedy that rocked our country. He had been talking to a number of professional football players and was doing a story on what impact the terrorist horror would have on the league and players’ ability to concentrate once they went back to work. Most of the responses that he got, as you might expect, underscored the utter triviality of professional football when you place it next to these terrible current events.
How can you take a football, baseball, hockey game or any other athletic event seriously when there has been so much terror, destruction and loss of life shockingly thrown directly in our faces? How can something as seemingly insignificant as sports mean anything of consequence in our lives at a time like this? What athletes play are simply games. What happened to us on September 11, 2001, an event that will join Pearl Harbor as a “day of infamy,” was so very far from a game.
When I hung up the phone after talking with Greg I began to seriously question the value of my work for the very first time in my life. I found this quite interesting given that I absolutely love what I do. Like you as a coach, I teach skills and I help athletes and teams perform better. I take frustrated, slumping athletes and get them unstuck and back on track. I help individuals and teams better handle pressure and perform their best when it counts the most. I know that my work makes a difference. I know that it is exceptionally meaningful to the athletes, coaches and teams that I work with. Sitting there with surreal images of planes flying into buildings intruding into my consciousness, what I do professionally just felt pretty darn silly and pointless.
I thought to myself, let me get this straight. I help athletes play their games better. Isn’t that special! So how important is that? How meaningful is it really if I get an athlete who regularly steals defeat from the closing jaws of victory to finally stop choking? How valuable is it if I can help a team to win more games? Are these victories of any real significance in the greater scheme of things? Do they really contribute to the greater good of society? And while I was trolling those waters, I also wondered about the importance of professional sports in general. What’s the point? After all, professional athletes are nothing more than just highly skilled entertainers. I guess I wasn’t in much of a mood to be entertained.
So what’s really happening here? Why the existential crisis? Was this simply my survivor guilt kicking in, the sobering fact that I could very well have been on one of those airplanes? I think that tragedy in general, and this one in particular force us to do a whole lot of soul searching. We are coerced into re-evaluating all that we have held as meaningful in our lives. Tragedies shake the foundation of our grasp on reality and demand immediate attention. Suddenly the “meaningful” becomes most trivial and that which we took for granted stands out in stark relief as absolutely essential.
Does this mean that it’s time for me to find another, more meaningful profession? Does this mean that you too must join me in the hunt for something more “real” to do? I think not! The fact of the matter is that just because you coach a sport, doesn’t mean that you can’t have a significant and important impact on the lives of the kids who parade through your door. As a matter of fact, if you keep your eyes open and priorities straight, you’ll find yourself to be in a position to positively change a whole lot of lives.
What do I mean by this? I think that if you take an honest look at your work as a coach you might agree that much of your job has to do with teaching your athletes to be “good” people. Good coaches coach life skills over winning. Good coaches appreciate the importance of the relationship they develop with their athletes and therefore spend time nurturing it. Good coaches encourage their athletes to take responsibility and to strive for personal excellence. Good coaches recognize the potential and goodness in those around them and work to bring these out. Good coaches demand and expect open and honest communication, modeling this for their athletes. Good coaches teach far more than how to skillfully play a trivial little game.
Regardless of how trivial our sports may seem when juxtaposed with this national tragedy, they are never the less an important part of our make-up and your role as a good teacher is critical. As most of us begin to try to make the adjustment back to our “normal” lives, it is important that the games go on. While this may seem rather harsh and cruel, it is a lesson of life that ultimately, life itself does go on.
I hope, that as we try to get on with our lives we can better appreciate our games and the ultimate purpose they serve for us as a vehicle to produce better, more effective people. I’m left thinking about those 4 or 5 men who heroically and selflessly stormed the hijackers on United Flight # 93, thwarting their efforts to turn that plane into another terrorist missile. These men were all athletes. They were risk takers. They were courageous. They were leaders. They were team players willing to give it up for the good of the whole. They spontaneously came up with a plan and, as far as we know, successfully executed it knowing full well that they very well might perish. I leave you with one thought. Think about the kind of coaches who must have shaped the lives of these heroes. There is nothing trivial about what you do!
DR. G’S TEACHING TALES
“The Deeper Wound” By Deepak Chopra
As fate would have it, I was leaving New York on a jet flight that took off 45 minutes before the unthinkable happened. By the time we landed in Detroit, chaos had broken out. When I grasped the fact that American security had broken down so tragically, I couldn’t respond at first. My wife and son were also on separate flights, one to Los Angeles, one to San Diego. My body went absolutely rigid with fear. All I could think about was their safety, and it took several hours before I found out that their flights had been diverted and both were safe.
Strangely, when the good news came, my body still felt that it had been hit by a truck. Of its own accord it seemed to feel a far greater trauma that reached out to the thousands who would not survive and the tens of thousands who would survive only to live through months and years of hell.
And I asked myself, why didn’t I feel this way last week? Why didn’t my body go stiff during the bombing of Iraq or Bosnia? Around the world my horror and worry are experienced every day. Mothers weep over horrendous loss, civilians are bombed mercilessly, refugees are ripped from any sense of home or homeland. Why did I not feel their anguish enough to call a halt to it?
As we hear the calls for tightened American security and a fierce military response to terrorism, it is obvious that none of us has any answers. However, we feel compelled to ask some questions. Everything has a cause, so we have to ask, What was the root cause of this evil? We must find out not superficially, but at the deepest level. There is no doubt that such evil is alive all around the world and is even celebrated.
Does this evil grow from the suffering and anguish felt by people we don’t know and therefore ignore? Have they lived in this condition for a long time?
One assumes that whoever did this attack feels implacable hatred for America. Why were we selected to be the focus of suffering around the world? All this hatred and anguish seems to have religion at its basis.
Isn’t something terribly wrong when jihads and wars develop in the name of God? Isn’t God invoked with hatred in Ireland, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Israel, Palestine, and even among the intolerant sects of America?
Can any military response make the slightest difference in the underlying cause? Is there not a deep wound at the heart of humanity?
If there is a deep wound, doesn’t it affect everyone?
When generations of suffering respond with bombs, suicidal attacks, and biological warfare, who first developed these weapons? Who sells them? Who gave birth to the satanic technologies now being turned against us?
If all of us are wounded, will revenge work? Will punishment in any form toward anyone solve the wound or aggravate it? Will an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and a limb for a limb, leave us all blind, toothless and
Tribal warfare has been going on for two thousand years and has now been magnified globally. Can tribal warfare be brought to an end? Is patriotism and nationalism even relevant anymore, or is this another form of tribalism?
What are you and I as persons going to do about what is happening? Can we afford to let the deeper wound fester any longer?
Everyone is calling this an attack on America, but is it not a rift in our collective soul? Isn’t this an attack on civilization from without that is also from within?
When we have secured our safety once more and cared for the wounded, after the period of shock and mourning is over, it will be time for soul searching. I only hope that these questions are confronted with the deepest spiritual intent. None of us will feel safe again behind the shield of military might and stockpiled arsenals. There can be no safety until the root cause is faced. In this moment of shock I don’t think anyone of us has the answers. It is imperative that we pray and offer solace and help to each other. But if you and I are having a single thought of violence or hatred against anyone in the world at this moment, we are contributing to the wounding of the world.
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