Archive for March, 2012

Pro Parenting

19 year old Jessica Korda won the LPGA title at the Women’s Australian Open last week.  Her father Petra won the Australian Open of tennis in 1998.  Two pretty good family accomplishments.  Jessica’s breakthrough win is well documented in “Jessica Korda still on a high after breakthrough LPGA win.”  Perhaps the most insightful parts of the article come from Petra.

Having been a wildly successful pro tennis player he certainly has wisdom to share with his daughter, right?  As a retired athlete he is certainly itching to get his competitive juices flowing somehow, someway, right?  He made plenty of money playing tennis so he can spend his days folowing his daughter to the golf course, right?

Well, this is what he has to say:

I want to be dad.  Same with my other kids. I don’t want to be coach. I don’t want to be caddie.

Seems like a pretty keen insight.  It’s pretty awesome to be a dad.  Why haze the focus on this joy by taking on other roles that others can probably handle… better than a blood relative.  Pro athletes succeed by executing their most important roles to a fault.  Seems like a good way to play “dad.” 

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Ivy League Resurgence?

With Harvard clinching its first bid to the Big Dance since 1946, one has to consider if this is a glimpse into a back-to-the-future scenario.  Can Ivy League sports see a return to the national prominence they once possessed in the first part of the 20th Century?

While I do not believe Ivy League Football programs will be competing with the SEC anytime soon, I do not see any reasons why athletic programs that do not offer athletic scholarships, cannot compete on a national level with other major collegiate athletic programs.

It is no coincidence that a graduate of Duke chose to coach at Harvard.  Tommy Amaker knows that for every athlete-student and one-and-doner, there is an equally talented student-athlete whose academic commitment compliments their athletic achievements.

Just ask Ben Howland if his integrity is now more important than the potential of what his win/loss record could have been with all of the talent he amassed over the past five years.

One of the positive by-products in the development of the modern day student-athlete has been an increased number of individuals who excel at both academics and athletics.  The second by-product of the youth professionalization model is measured in the sheer number of individuals participating in all sports that lead to college playing opportunities.

The bottom line is that there are more individuals who are academically gifted who also throw 92-96, are 6’11” and can dunk hard, or are the equivalent in another college sport.  With the path already paved by previous generations, new migration patterns created by current and future generations of student-athletes will shift the balance of power to more academically inclined schools, similar to migration patterns to cities occurred during the American Industrial Revolution.

History is a great teacher.  In difficult and changing times, people go to where there is opportunity.  Why would this be any different for student-athletes entering college, when going to college is only more difficult, expensive, and competitive than ever before?

Over the past twenty years, the realities of sport and society have drifted apart.  Social change outside of sport has clearly outpaced social change within sport.  Sport sells itself on individual freedom and expression, yet conformity is now the norm, as it is more important to keep sponsors happy rather than take a stand on social issues.

Like the Arab Spring, I believe collegiate sport is on the verge of experiencing its own march towards truly recognizing the “student” in student-athlete.  This will not be accomplished by another NCAA mandate or rule change, but will be a by-product and reflection of student-athlete choice for balance beyond sport.

I believe this trend will not only continue, but will shift talent away from schools who emphasize sport over academics.  There is a perfect storm forming for future generations of student-athletes, as there are large increases in the numbers of individuals pursuing athletic scholarships, yet the number of available scholarships remains relatively constant.

With the realization that athletic scholarships are not all they are cracked up to be, student-athletes are becoming savvy in seeking a balance between athletic and academic opportunities.   For every athletic scholarship, there are 10 academic scholarships, most of which go unused.

It will also be interesting to see how Ivy League Schools and other academically-oriented programs get caught up in Linsanity and the rapid realignment, expansion and change among major college athletic conferences.

There are millions of economic reasons at stake.  The only difference is that individual, long-term economic self-interest will carry equal, if not more weight, than the economic interests of the NCAA.

Standing Tall for Success

In all likelihood, you were at some point during your childhood commanded by your parents to “stand up straight” and “not slouch.”  You probably obliged, though you may never have understood the reasoning behind their demand.  Well, there may be something to it…

According to new research, “posture expansiveness,” or positioning oneself in a way that opens up the body and takes up space, activates a sense of power that produces behavioral changes in a person independent of their actual rank or hierarchical role in an organization or team.   In other words, adopting an open body posture – shoulders back, standing tall, chest out, chin up – plays an important role in determining if people act as though they are in charge, regardless of whether they actually are! To test this theory, various experiments such as a verbal recall task, word completion exercise and blackjack game were conducted with participants in a 2011 study from Northwestern University.  Those with open body posture thought about more power-related words and generally took more action than those with closed body postures in each experiment.  Strong, powerful posture, it was concluded, had a strong effect in making a person think and act in a more powerful way. 

 

Significant findings, undoubtedly.  Think about the transferability of this for you as an athlete. 

 

First, envision your typical response to such experiences as physical fatigue, on-field mistakes, performance distractions, even altercations with family and friends.  Does your reaction to these challenges – specifically, the manner in which you carry yourself – help or hurt your subsequent performance?

 

For a football player preparing for the Combine or his Pro Day, standing tall and assuming powerful body language on the field and in the weight room will help in a number of areas.  There are, for instance, anatomical benefits.  Open posture assists in reducing stress and strain on your spine and improving muscle tone, especially the core, back and neck.  It also opens the diaphragm, allowing increased oxygen into the system and better breathing techniques which improve circulation.

 

Then there’s the confidence boost – stemming from more powerful thoughts and more decisiveness – that comes with a strong, open posture.  Not only that, but your strengthened posture may change others’ perceptions of you as well.  Teammates may be positively influenced (and opponents negatively so) as a result of your projection of confidence.

 

A professional hockey player with whom I recently worked was lamenting over the fact that his demeanor would, without his initally realizing it, immediately turn negative and ‘drooping’ in the face of a foolish penalty or a weak shift.  He identified that his weakened posture affected his between-shift attitude, which set him up for another poor shift, or another foolish penalty.

 

While a certain posture won’t guarantee success, the “right” posture will yield physical benefits as well as more dominant thoughts and behaviors, thereby putting you in a great position for success.  So why wouldn’t we “stand up straight” and “not slouch” all the time??

 

Think about specific instances in your life in which you easily get “off track” or off your game.  The solution may start with your posture.

A Novel Concept

Over the past few weeks, I heard a novel concept over and over again.  A top NHL draft pick reflected… a Ivy league lacrosse player mused… an ACC tennis player said… a world class rower thought… “enjoying playing could be a good idea for me.”  All are extraordinary athletes, but suspect their may be greater potential waiting to be tapped.

Obviously my tongue is firmly in check when I suggest that this is a novel concept.  Nonetheless, one that seems a bit too far from the immediate reality of elite athletes.  Seems like things are a bit askew… fun replaced by fear… imagination smothered by intensity… enthusiasm hidden by ego… delight overshadowed by discipline.  “Fun” has become a dirty word and lost its ability to resonate with competitive coaches and athletes.

You can decide if it is sad or encouraging that young men and women competing in sport have to stumble back to fun in their collegiate and young professional years.  I do know however that it is immensely valuable that this reconnection with “play” is made.  I am optimistic that there’s a Stanley Cup, National Championship, Ivy League title, head race victory, or some other form of great athletic accomplishment in the future of the above athletes.  Enthusiasm and “fun” will be essential on the competitive journey, without them dearths of potential will remain untapped and the greatest achievements left undiscovered.

“Play” isn’t just for child’s sports… it’s for high performance.


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