Archive for January, 2012

The Big Break

I’ve sat court-side for much tennis racket abuse. Rackets smashed, stepped on, bitten, and thrown clear from the courts (in my mis-spent tennis youth I may have even participated once or twice). On the golf course I have witnessed a three-wood broken in two and then thrown into a nearby lake. In the squash box I’ve done my best to avoid flying graphite as a racket met its untimely demise upon the wall again and again and again (@thinksport may have been involved..). On the ice I’ve been moderately amused by the poor wisdom of slashing and high sticking the goal’s crossbar. I have worked with a ball player who’s bat had an affinity for meeting water jugs on a regular basis.

Baghdatis put on a formidable display of racket abuse to the amusement of Chris Fowler and onlooking Australian Open fans. I can hardly believe I’m commenting on such nonsense, but ESPN’s Aussie Open notes titled Players Rationalize Racket Rampages have me opening my big blog-mouth.  Sure it is somewhat cathartic, but is smashing a tennis racket really a bright idea for a player (bank account implications aside)?  I guess I have a few quick thoughts for consideration on the matter:

1. Does breaking a tennis racket improve you game? For every ten times you smash a tennis racket, how many times does it improve your play? If your answer is north of 50% of the time, perhaps it’s a bright idea. Honest reflection likely leaves you with odds of improved play not being one’s you would take to a casino.

2. Does misshaping your racket help your focus? When you step in to return the next serve is your focus filled with the yellow ball that is about to be fired at you or is it filled with thoughts like, “Wow, I’m a real $@#*&!%.”?

3. Along these same lines, do you feel good about yourself after a few good cracks of graphite? Are you sacrificing short term release for later shame (cue Slapshot: “All bad. You do that, you go to the box, you know. Two minutes by yourself, and you feel shame, you know.”)

Djokovic: “I’m not doing it as often, which is good for my coach, good news. But when I have a smash of the racket, smack of the racket, I usually feel relieved afterwards. I feel that the pressure is out. But a bit embarrassed, as well. So I try to hold my composure.”

4. It’s not easy to show racket wrecking restraint. Yet, each time you show restraint, it will be easier to maintain composure and focus during play in the future. A bit more restraint… see 1-3… yields better feelings, better focus, higher performance.

Jo-Willie’s dad has it right, “”My father told me all the time, if you broke the racket, I broke you. So I go easy with the racket.” Breaking a racket breaks you. The ESPN article had a lousy title. Read the player’s quotes closely there is little to suggest it is a bright idea. Athletic anger mismanagement is a momentary feel good release, good for the fans, good for ridiculing friends… lousy for good play and high performance. Take #4 as a challenge… energy and focus towards playing the game is a bright idea.

Is “Shirts and Skins” Outdated?

As my eight year old daughter and I walked into the gym the other night for her basketball practice, we were both confronted with a first.

My daughter had never seen a group of boys playing full-court basketball, with one team not wearing any shirts.  I had not seen a group of young boys playing “shirts on skins” in some time, myself, and it was the first time since the Sandusky and Fine sex abuse scandals.

We both were hesitant to walk in the gym.  Naturally, my daughter was embarrassed to see a bunch of 4th and 5th grade boys running around in nothing but their shorts and shoes.

Seeing the kids instantly brought back uncomfortable memories for me, too, as I always hated being a skin. While very athletic, I did not like my skinny pre adolescent body and I did not like taking off my shirt to play sports.

As my daughter and I peered through the little windows of the gym door, debating if we should or should not walk in, I noticed that many of these kids looked just like me.


Stuck in the small gym lobby, I started thinking to myself, is playing “shirts and skins” appropriate anymore?

In light of the events over the past few months, I wondered if such a commonplace norm in men’s sports, especially in unstructured sport, was appropriate for youth and adolescent participants in 2012.

As a kid of the Cold War era, shirts and skins was a standard practice.  There was no choice, you were either a shirt or a skin, no questions asked.  In 2012, I am not so sure this is appropriate anymore in structured youth sport environments.

I am torn because, on one level, I hated being a skin and I know that there are generations of boys who would agree with me.  There is another side of me, the traditionalist, who says this is simply one aspect of sport that used to be commonplace and should continue as a right of passage from adolescents to manhood, something that is handed down from one generation to the next.

I know there are those out there saying “If you don’t have the confidence to play without your shirt, then you don’t have the ability to play out there anyway.”  This may be correct, yet the point of youth sport is not about how good you are, it is about participation, inclusion and providing an environment for kids to feel comfortable enough to learn about and engage in their sport.

At a societal level, I do not see a place for shirts and skins anymore with boys under the age of eighteen in structured and organized sporting events.   Don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing against getting a tan and staying cool while playing if you are outside, in hot and sunny weather.  I am not trying to advocate taking any fun out of a game of basketball.

Yet, I do have a difficult time accepting that it is ok for young boys to be running around, barely clothed, in structured and organized practices.

The Sandusky and Fine molestation cases force us to question and rethink any “old school” practices that place kids in vulnerable and uncomfortable circumstances.  I now find myself in daily quandaries, as I am now questioning many long standing traditions in sport.

Many of these traditions were innocently born in the unstructured environments of the playgrounds of the past, yet now it is our obligation to consider consequences and be vigilant about outdated practices that have now become questionable and debatable.

We can no longer assume innocence and claim ignorance when it comes to the motives of adults who coach, teach and mentor our youth.

If we do continue with this blind trust, one day we will read a story about a youth basketball coach, accused of molesting children, who loved to divide their team into shirts and skins.

The Top 20th Percentile on January 15th

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

According to research, approximately 80 percent of the population who sets a New Year’s Resolution will admit defeat by January 15th. Self improvement is difficult and takes considerable discipline. It’s a much more complicated process than we care to admit. Following these 3 guidelines can assist in attaining a new personal standard, regardless of the time of year or habit to be refined.

  1. Choose Meaningful Challenges

Is the change truly worth the struggle about to be faced? If the change is worth it – where is the bar set for “successful” achievement? We know that a challenge set too low will become stale and boring. We also know that a challenge set too high will lead to frustration and quitting. Be thoughtful.

  1. Commit to Action

What are the newly modified, daily actions required to reach the challenge? There are many aspects of life that are outside of one’s control (family and professional needs, altered schedules, unpredictable weather, etc). Individuals who act upon a small, daily action (a purposeful 5 minutes is better than an excuse for 0) that is fully under their own control continues to keep the ball rolling in the appropriate direction. Small, daily action becomes significant, monthly momentum after 30 committed days.

  1. Evaluate (#1 & #2)…and Revise if Necessary

On a daily, weekly, and monthly basis – evaluate…(#1) whether the change is still important enough to struggle through and is the bar set at the appropriate level; and (#2) does commitment remain to the controllable, daily actions in order to align today to the desired result down the road? If yes, continue to embrace the struggle to success. If no, choose whether a revision is more worthwhile than total defeat.

We all have the best intention for self improvement. Those who maintain passion, priorities and are willing to struggle (and fail) from time to time will gradually see their dreams becoming reality on January 15th and beyond. For more insight on this topic please follow this link to a previous entry on our blog by Dr. Doug Gardner

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