I Don’t Think I Tried

Chances are you’ve never seen me on ESPN’s Center of Sports.  There’s a reason for that- I’m not a very good athlete.  I’m not looking for lame praise to the contrary, I simply know this to be a fact.  Although I’ve always enjoyed sports, always played sports growing up, I have never felt like an offense was built around me or anything.  I was okay, serviceable, a team-player.  And, to be honest, at my age I miss the chances I think I squandered as an athlete.  I think I made some mistakes as an athlete and I think the greatest overall mistake is now clear to me: I didn’t try.

Though I regret this now, there is absolutely nothing that I can do to change the fact that I could have practiced more, could have done more strength conditioning, could have become more of a student of the game.  I didn’t, I didn’t, I wasn’t. I liked sports, I loved certain teams that I was on, I had my moments… but by and large, I could have tried harder to be the athlete I now wonder about.  I wonder, now (and maybe you wonder the same for yourself) if I could have been better if I’d tried harder.  It’s a natural part of the aging process- wonderment.  I wonder, more than I likely realize, who or what I could have been if I’d tried harder.

The hardest I know I ever tried as an athlete was when my dad helped me get ready for a basketball season in seventh grade.  A few nights a week, my dad would go with me to a track behind an elementary school and we’d run together.  I’m not sure exactly how far we’d run each time, but I know by the end of those first few nights I was panting and I know that each time we went it got easier.  I was better that season, I felt prepared.  I still wasn’t great at the foul line maybe, or couldn’t hit many shots from certain distance, but thanks to my dad I was less winded than I might have been otherwise.  I think, looking back, that it was fun to do that with my dad.  It was fun and felt special to do that- running a few nights a week.  I felt like he was teaching me something about training, about trying. I was an athlete that year, that season.  I was prepared, I was better, I was committed.  I’ll never forget it. I don’t remember much of all my years as an athlete, but I remember that one best.  It was support.  It was support in the guise of training.  My dad wasn’t yelling from the sidelines, wasn’t pouring over plays that didn’t work during the car ride home… he was just running with me.  He was there for me.  It was a quiet and continued support.

So who cares? Likely no one other than me.  But, still, I offer it simply to show what might be most important to you and most important to your player or your child- the time you spend helping them try.

-Tom Mooney

Lost in Translation

Class ended just the other day.  As students walked out, one lingered, wanting to talk.  As the last of his classmates exited, the student came to me.  Back to him in a minute.  A day before, a foreign exchange student had been introduced to our class; she spoke little to no English and didn’t understand much of anything said.  I worked through instructions in broken Spanish, embarrassed as I tried to recollect basic words to help her along.  I was doing everything but speaking loudly in an effort to help her.  It was trying, mainly for her.  We worked through some understanding, I Googled the word ‘fate’, found destino, and all moved along from there.  She was sweet and understanding through it all- patient and smiling as I tried my best but managed only to insult the spirit of my high school Spanish teacher all these years later.  Now, back to the other student.  He stood there fairly nervous, it seemed; I’d only known him for three classes so far. It started.

“Uh, hey, um, Mr. Mooney”

“Yeah?”

“The uh, the girl over there, in class, the new girl… does she, uh, speak English?”

“Well she is a foreign exchange student. I think she can speak very limited amounts- but her receptive language is challenging; she can’t really understand it yet.”

“Oh”

“Why?”

“Um, I want to ask her out to Homecoming, but that might be hard.”

“Yeah”

“What’s her name?”

“Sandra”

“But she doesn’t understand English?”

“No.”

“Got any ideas?”

“Not many.”

“Oh, okay. I’ll try to think of something.”

Homecoming? It was the third day of school and I’d known the one student for three days and the foreign exchange student for one.  Again, this isn’t the sorta thing you outline in a college textbook—generally it’s best to remain respectful of student’s personal lives and maintain a professional and appropriate distance and boundary.  But that’s sometimes the thing you don’t expect.  That’s just what happens when you’re dealing with youth.  Short of giving him a remedial Spanish textbook, I was hard-pressed to know what my role was.  I wish them nothing but the best.

-Tom Mooney

Watching Your Child Play

Play Ball

Down 2-1. The heart beats faster. 2 outs. Palms get sweaty. Runners on 2nd and 3rd. Muscles tense. Bottom of the 6th. Grip tightens. My son Andrew was up to bat in this exact situation in his Rec League Baseball game just last night. The beating heart, sweaty palms, tense muscles, and tight grip were mine. Andrew – he was fine.

It’s difficult watching your child play or perform, sing a song or do a dance. It’s difficult because we all want to see our children do well. However, it is in the tough moments, challenging situations, and difficult losses that your child is given the experiences that are so important to helping them learn, grow, and mature. IF we allow it to happen.

Here are a few things to remember – that I have to remind myself – when watching your child play:

  1. It is your child’s experience. Your career is over. Better yet, their performance is not a reflection of your parenting ability. Their response to the many lessons that sports offer to them, however may be a reflection of your work at home.
  2. They are going to strike out, serve a ball into the net, miss the wide open goal. They are also most likely going to get a key hit, make a great save, and score at some point in their careers. Be more concerned with their reaction to the failure or success than the actual act.
  3. They don’t need or want your instruction. Your seven last minute batting tips while junior is on his way to the plate will be forgotten just like the socks on the floor and the lunchbox on the counter. Your genuine attempt to help your child is actually causing more harm than good. Take a seat and let them play.
  4. When the game is over, put your arm around your child and walk back to the car.

In a fantastic article about the dreaded car ride home, John O’Sullivan of Changing the Game Project wrote, “Many children indicated to me that parental actions and conversations after games made them feel as though their value and worth in their parents’ eyes was tied to their athletic performance, and the wins and losses of their team.”

I have personally made it a practice after games to ask my kids what the best part was. Then I tell them I love them. Not because I saw them play. Not because they played well. Not because they won. Simply because they are mine. I never want my love for my children to appear to them connected to their performance on the field or on the court.

By the way, Andrew walked. They lost. I walked back to the car with my arm around him. I asked him what the best part was – he said how exciting it was to be at bat in the last inning. We went home and had ice cream.

-Mike Schall

p.s. On this topic, I highly recommend the new book by Dr. Jerry Lynch. Dr. Lynch has worked closely with Steve Kerr, the Head Coach of the Golden State Warriors. He also speaks with the Changing The Game Project. His new book, titled Let Them Play, can be purchased through this LINK.

Let’s be Trammells

This house is your house

Alan Trammel

John Smoltz—8-time All-Star and 1996 National League Cy Young Award winner—was inducted in the Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2015.  In Smoltz’s speech he recalled his first experience in major league baseball; his anecdote provides a lesson to us all.

Smoltz’s first taste of the bigs came in 1985.  A 22nd round pick of the Detroit Tigers, the Michigan native Smoltz spent 35 days with the club in August and September of that year getting a taste of what the pros experienced.  On that Detroit Tigers team was Alan Trammell, an established star who by this point in his illustrious career had already won four Gold Gloves and three All-Star selections.  Simply put, Trammell was a star; Smoltz was a nobody.

Smoltz recalls his first interaction as an 18 year-old kid in his July, 2015 Hall of Fame speech: “I remember sitting in the locker room at Tiger Stadium, a fish out of water, scared to death. And a Hall of Famer in my mind, a guy that I will never forget in making the first impression in my big league career, Alan Trammell came up to me and said, ‘Hi, I am Alan Trammell. Anything I can do for you, don’t hesitate to ask. This house is your house.’”

At this point in time, John Smoltz was not Hall of Famer John Smoltz; he was a-few-months-out-from-being-high-school-player John Smoltz.  It made no difference to Trammell; they were equals.

Smoltz continued to reflect on that interaction, “It was as if he gave me a baton and said now pay this forward every chance you can, because this game has a chance to impact a lot of people.”

To you, the veteran teacher, the varsity player, to you, the one who has lived in the neighborhood or gone to the church for years; to you, the veteran coach…let’s be Trammells.  Let’s reach out to the new kid, the new hire, the new neighbor.  This house is their house too.

-Dan Schall

Volleyball? Yes, Volleyball.

My volleyball IQ when I was 22 was about 4.  Genius is 143.  I knew the sport had a net… and the higher score won.

When I first started teaching, at 22, I was lucky enough to meet a colleague named Dan.  He was an easy-going guy who always had something funny to say and was continually offering help.  We became friends.  Towards the end of winter that first year, I sat down and opened up an email from Dan, something about volleyball.  At the time he was coaching both the girls and boys volleyball program.  By comparison, the only experience I had in volleyball was going front row for my Aunt Carol at a family reunion some 9 years earlier.  I knew, of course, that the sport was invented in Nepal and I knew that my then fiance had played all four years of high school, all four years of college, and was, since I’d known her throughout the entire time, a decorated player in the sport.  I hunkered down and read the email.  He wanted me to coach.

It started by answering questions that Dan thought I might ask had he asked me face-to-face.  Leading the list was the fact that he realized I’d never played volleyball.  Second to that leading item was, again, his acknowledgement that ‘yeah, I know, I know… you’ve never played volleyball and know little about the sport.’  I remember laughing- he certainly knew that I knew nothing about the sport.  So why ask me?

His email went on to say some really nice things about who he thought I was and how that was more important to him in a coach than my experience as an athlete in the sport.  For a moment, and maybe this has happened to you, I almost thought that I had a memory of myself being a volleyball player earlier in life- as if I’d somehow forgotten it and the email had jarred the recollection loose- but then I realized that I was lost in some ‘Top Gun’-styled imagining… I’d never played organized volleyball in my life.  I looked back to the email, assuring myself that he quite possibly sent this coaching request to the wrong recipient.  I checked the name.  Mine.  Hmm, strange.

I later talked with Dan, explained my IQ, impressed him that I knew higher score won [something he seemed to have just discovered himself], and told him I would give it a try.  I’m sure I told him I hadn’t played, didn’t know how to smack a volleyball, couldn’t do spiking, and didn’t know where to serve from.  He told me he just needed who I was, not what I knew; the rest could come later.

I went on to coach the next season- Head Junior-Varsity, Assistant Varsity.  It was awesome.  I had never coached before.  Now that I think about it, I’d led a pretty dull and sheltered life in athletics up to that point.  Anyways, I was new to coaching and was determined to do my best.  We ended the JV season undefeated.  Undefeated.  I realized something.  It was the players who made the season successful.  I was the coach, I could call timeouts if needed [as I once called a third one in a tournament and lost the serve and point all in one idiotic moment]. I was the coach, but the players won the games.  Those kids were amazing that first year- they knew my limits and helped me patiently, they knew I was new and they helped me to enjoy the game, they knew I cared and they, in turned, cared as well.  It was a great season.  The team was full of leaders who demonstrated respect on and off the court, and they all, to a man, showed me respect and appreciation.  It was a great moment in life.

I went on to coach for a few more seasons, endlessly enjoying the time I got to spend with players who loved the sport and a friend and coach, Dan, who was unlike any coach I had ever been around; he made the team a family, they made the impossible possible game-after-game-after-game.  The level of success was something I’d never been around, and the memories I have are priceless.

Leaving coaching was one of the harder decisions I’ve made.  I learned so much from coaching.  My volleyball IQ these days might be nearing 36, mostly from now knowing the two timeout limit and what ‘side-out’ means.  When it comes to the meaning of the sport, I’ve learned more than I ever realized was possible.  That first team, that first group of players who showed me how to win, were some of the greatest teachers I’ve had in life.  I have tremendous, endless respect and appreciation for the way they treated me and conducted themselves.  Still, I gotta say, none of it ever would have been had Dan not done what few ever do– cast aside the common approach, the ordinary expectation, and asked me, a guy whose fiance later helped him learn serving rotations by drawing them out on diner napkins, asked me to just be myself and know the rest would come along later.

What coach, what man, ever tends to think that way?  Maybe it’s something to think about the next time you need someone.

-Tom Mooney

More of This

Franklin Road was up by almost 20 on the University School of Tennessee with a minute left to play.  As has been the team’s tradition on past years’ senior nights, Franklin Road suited up and actually played their team managers.  A noble tradition—a hat-tip to the unsung, a moment in the spotlight for those who do so much.

There were two features that made this year’s senior night special:

  • One of the team managers, Robert Lewis has Down syndrome.
  • Robert’s younger brother Matthew played on the opposing team.

With a minute left, Coach John Pierce had his two managers—one of whom is Robert—enter the game; University School’s coach, Mike Jones, countered by putting in Matthew, Robert’s brother.   Everyone in the gym wanted Robert “Money” Jones to sink the three.  Robert would later reflect: “I did not know my coach was going to play me.  But I loved it.  And when he got me in the game, I was like, ‘I’m gonna nail that three-pointer.’”

Jones spotted up in the right corner at the three-point arc and an understanding defense let him get the shot off uncontested; it fell well short; University School rebounded and pushed the ball down the floor.  Time was limited; the clock was ticking.  Franklin Road would get one more possession.  Again, to Robert Jones in the corner.  The bench stood in hopeful anticipation.  He gathered his feet with his brother—the defender—giving him space.  He released.   And—as his nickname, which his brother gave him, would foretell—money.  Nothing but net.  Joy.  Joy in its truest form.  Fans’ arms went up.  The bench celebrated jumping, flailing.  No one was happier than his brother who, despite the opposing jersey, hugged his brother as they jogged down the court as the last seconds ticked off.  The horn sounded; the students swarmed.  Robert is lifted on their shoulders.  Disney couldn’t do it any better.

Robert reflected on the moment: “After I made that shot, everybody was storming the court, and I felt loved.  And I loved that moment.  And I just love everybody at FRA, and that was the moment I will never forget.”

Neither will we.

-Dan Schall

Link

The UCLA…Steelers?

This really happened.  If you thought the only time UCLA men’s volleyball collided with the Pittsburgh Steelers was when the Steelers selected standout UCLA wide receiver/middle blocker (a combination as rare as cross-country skiing and shooting a gun; apologies to our extensive biathlon readership) Danny Farmer, think again.  I reiterate, this really happened.

I was young; 7.  Young enough that I couldn’t be left at home when my dad drove to the bank, and so long ago that people actually went to the bank.  (For the record, my dad still goes to the bank; ATMs are apparently too state-of-the-art and convenient.)  But there were other people at the bank that day—that’s a bit of foreshadowing in this short tale.

I begrudgingly climbed into whatever jalopy my dad was driving at the time, and we made the three mile trip to Mellon Bank in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.  (Among Latrobe’s claims to fame are the banana split, Mr. Rogers, Arnold Palmer, Rolling Rock…and the site of Steelers training camp.)

When we pulled into the parking lot, there were four very large men (I was seven; everyone was large) gathered around a rather ironically small sports car. The large men were doing their best with a coat hanger to unlock the door.  But here’s the thing, these were more than men.  These were, yes, Pittsburgh Steelers.  Typically, there were only two things that could make a trip to the bank worthwhile: playing with the pens that were chained to the table as though they were under house arrest and the Dum Dum lollipops that a kind teller might offer up as a consolation prize for being too IMG_4937young to not be able to stay home when your dad went to the bank.  But on this day, right there, trying to get into the car which they had locked their keys in when they were depositing their paychecks were John Stallworth, Donnie Shell, Bennie Cunningham, and Calvin Sweeney – not just Steelers but among the very best Steelers.

UCLA volleyball? Well, I had to get them to sign something. And while the jalopy did not have a sunroof, ventilation, power locks, and reliable engine, it had a Volleyball Monthly featuring Al Scates on the cover in the back seat. As proof that this really did happen, here’s the magazine, likely the only Al Scates Volleyball Monthly with four Steeler signatures on it.

-Dan Schall