A problem of Hero Worship - Freeh Report and Penn State

So who is guilty and what was the problem at Penn State? What kind of culture of leadership has to be in place to report a crime, especially a crime of this nature?

This is not about the university having poor systems of oversight, a crime this repulsive is about the failings of these 4 men. All of whom demonstrated themselves to be cowards and certainly not worthy of the positions that they once held.

Having just wrote a book on champions in sport and concluding, among other things that we need great sports stars and leaders of business to help us dream and push our limits, I sit here horrified at the Louis Freeh Report further implicating Joe Paterno, former coach at Penn State and 3 other top level university officials.

A coach whose career inspired thousands of former players to reach their goals and dreams has now been shown, at least for the last 10 years not to be that champion coach. In fact, if accurate the Freeh report suggests coach Paterno is complicit in heinous and gut wrenching crimes against children. His failings were not just the standard recruiting violations which could be shrugged off as poor judgment and forgiven with a few mea culpas, his lack of immediate action in this case has no excuses.

Next, 3 university officials including the president of the university were also shown to have known about and discussed this issue behind closed doors. Yet, none of them picked up a phone and dialed 911? All of them wondered what should be done next and how to respond? Graham Spanier, PhD university president was worried that if Sandusky did not hear their message that "we then become vulnerable for not reporting it." (The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 1, 2012). What kind of leaders were these three men? Imagine, university leaders blinded by their adulation of a football coach and a football program?

With respect to the culture of sport and athletics, I believe the problem lies partly in the idea of hero worship. There are bad people everywhere and mistakes made every day, but when sport and "legends" of sport are involved suddenly attitudes change. For some reason, people think athletes and in this case a great coach and a big program are special and and by definition above such behavior. The same assumptions are made about corporate CEOs and university presidents. This problem goes right into the heart of society and our perceptions of ourselves and other people. Tragically, the actions of these 4 men would most likely have been repeated over and over again by many other similar groups of 4 men.

Hero worship not only holds the worshipers back from progressing and reaching their potential, but it clouds their judgement. If the Freeh report is fully vetted, these 3 men should spend a lot of time in jail. Next, underneath the statue of Joe Paterno at the Penn State Campus a new bronze plate should be struck with the words: "Winning Football Coach - Former leader of young men - One time great coach - Destroyer of Dreams and Lives".

Youth Sport and Injury

Without going into the details and statistics that show an increase of injuries amongst kids who play sports, I would like to share with you some thoughts on prevention.

First, consider that the increase in kids getting injured over the last 20 years has coincided with an explosion of youth, group fitness programs and skills development classes. One would assume that with so many experts offering programs that injuries would decrease as performance levels increased. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the case. Do not assume that anyone is looking at the big picture with respect to team practice and the local youth conditioning and skills development programs.

Second, if your adolescent has become a year around single sport athlete and a participant on two teams in the same sport, at the same time you should question the amount of time spent and intensity of practice. While certainly, a year round program will improve your child's skill level and propel him or her to the next level, what is the point? Is it because one child in your area played a particular sport year around and remained healthy and interested enough to have gotten a division 1 scholarship? If so, why do you think this approach will work with your child?

Third, chances are your child is spending more time studying than similar kids 30 years ago. If not studying or playing organized sport, your child is most likely glued to the smart phone, computer screen or both. This means your child is essentially going from sitting to full speed with organized sport and fitness on a regular basis. Thus, even if your child is getting the appropriate levels of coaching, conditioning and skill development doing nothing or going full speed is not balanced.

Fourth, in the days of free play when the coach was not around telling a kid to run faster or jump higher, many base level fitness qualities were developed organically. Coordination along with basic power, strength and endurance were improved before a young kid ever stepped onto the playing fields of organized sport. Today, there is no free play. Kids are developing their sports skills under the strict guidance of a coach who is dictating sets, repetitions and duration. On their own, kids will run and jump until they get tired. With a coach, they will run and jump until the coach says stop.

To address the injury problem, start by taking a step back from the routine. Understand your goals, your kids goals and the goals of the coaches. The coach, especially a volunteer coach cannot be assumed or expected to see the big picture. Next, do not put your child in 6 days per week combinations of sport practice, skills development and conditioning classes. Encourage playing catch, pickup basketball or any other physical activity with friends. Lastly, do not fall for the immediate skill improvement and success that aggressive practice creates for the possibility of high school stardom and scholarship offers. Given that so few kids ever reach the highest levels of sport, excessive training for most kids is not worth the downside of burnout and lifelong injuries.

Cheating, Apologies, Excuses and Honor

Sean Payton, head coach of the New Orleans Saints football team was accused of not stopping the illegal bounty program participated in by his players and organized by his defensive coordinator, Greg Williams. Further, the league found that the head coach lied to investigators about the existence of this program.

If these facts are true, one could ask many questions. First, if the bounty program was so egregious, why did the NFL wait until 2012 to bring out the charges? If the NFL was really worried about the integrity of the game and player safety, Payton and Williams should have been fined and suspended in 2010 and the NFL should have put observers on the field. Next, why are the coaches being praised and supported by players and fans?

A head coach with knowledge, an assistant coach actually organizing the bounty program, the NFL questioning the coaches as early as 2010 and it was not stopped immediately? The coaches and the league together, seemingly allowed this dangerous system to continue. A system that essentially targeted players on other teams with intent to cause bodily injury. None of these individuals involved in the scandal should be praised, including the league.

Moreover, this was not a one time event where a handful of human beings were simply acting human by making mistakes and using poor judgement. In this case, a group of individuals were caught breaking the rules and were told to stop breaking the rules, but instead they continued.

Further, it is troubling to read that Sean Payton is receiving so much support. It is even worse that the team has said it will use this event to come together and do everything to win and honor the head coach. It does not make sense.

Frankly, all of these coaches should be suspended for 3 years. The Saint's Super Bowl Victory should have a large asterisk. The team owner should be questioned further regarding the response of management and the NFL should reassess its priorities and how it enforces the rules it creates. Consider that Olympic athletes are suspended for years and their medals are taken away for taking drugs that only enhance their individual performance. Does anyone remember the fate of Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson?

A different approach to competition

After Phil Mickelson's win over Tiger Woods at the 2012 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-AM, sportswriter Rick Reilly, was interviewed by Colin Cowherd for ESPN radio.

Reilly spoke of Karma and Tiger Wood's approach to his game. While Reilly is welcome to have any opinion that he wants, his questioning of Tiger misses the point of what makes a champion.

First, Reilly suggests that Tiger has bad Karma which resulted from his treatment of people over the years. To carry this logic out to the end, Reilly is then saying that Mickelson won because Mickelson treats people better and therefore has good Karma. I would argue that Reilly is not in a position to judge another human being based on Divine Law. To suggest that one person's Karma is better or worse than someone else is both judgmental and presumptuous.

Rick Reilly then went into alleged details on how Tiger treats his coaches. According to Reilly, when working for Woods a coach cannot have another job and must be on call at all times. Assuming this is true, what Reilly and most people miss is that this is how a champion operates. It is one hundred percent. Every aspect of the preparation is controlled and practiced so that during the competition nothing will happen that is unrehearsed. No stone is left unturned. This can only happen if everyone involved is focused on one specific task. Multitasking and having different or competing interests does not make a champion.

Lastly, Reilly also said in his interview that Phil gives the fans time, even after a loss, and Tiger blows by fans. If this is true, I would argue that this is how Tiger conserves his energy. Further, this action does not mean that Phil has more respect for his fans than does Tiger. It simply reflects two different approaches to competition.

Respect & Teamwork

After helping the Boston Bruins win the Stanley Cup, star goalie Tim Thomas decided not to attend the traditional White House celebration for the champion team. Instead he chose to make a political statement.

Like any US Citizen, he has the right to do and say what he pleases as long as the law is being followed.

Alternatively, he could have exercised his right to stand above politics and his personal point of view to attend the White House ceremony with his teammates. At the moment, this country is full of people exercising their rights to stand up and voice their political opinions. Tim Thomas might have considered that solutions to large and complicated problems generally come from a team effort. This would have been a more powerful message.

Or maybe he could have simply considered that the office of the President deserves respect. We are all responsible for the strength of our country and undercutting our President certainly does not build a strong country.

Maybe what this country actually needs is the reminder that we are all on the same team. As a star goalie on a championship team, Tim Thomas clearly understands the value of teamwork.

If Tim Thomas wants to inspire those who enjoy sport to live by their convictions and to be fearless in their efforts to succeed, he should speak with his actions on the ice and through charity. What this country does not need is yet another individual voicing an opinion that fuels the fires of selfishness and individualism which are now dividing our country.

Defining a champion

In his column on December 30, 2011, Farrell Evans offered a birthday message to Tiger Woods that missed the point with respect to the world of champion athletes.

To begin, Evans referenced Andy Miller, the son of golfer Johnny Miller. Andy Miller has never finished in the top 25 on the PGA tour and has not played in any tournaments this season. After leaving the tour in 2003, to do missionary work Miller said that what he missed most about the game, according to Evans was the simplicity and peacefulness of walking the fairways. A champion who decided that it was time to quit and pursue a new interest would miss nothing.

Evans then writes of "our enslavement to outcomes" and its impact to "our growth as athletes and human beings". This would be an interesting topic to dissect in great detail, but according to my research champions do not consider themselves "enslaved" to outcomes. Winning requires an absolute focus on outcomes. This focus is part of the requirement to become a champion. For the champion, the focus and effort required to win and win and win is a choice.

Next Evans references the advice given to recent PGA Tour Q-school graduate Richard H. Lee by his mother-in-law. "Welcome the ball," she said. "Wherever the ball ends up, just welcome the situation." While these words might be very helpful to someone in need of base level sport psychology help, for the champion there is a nuance. The champion golfer will have practiced every possible lie and condition possible so that "welcoming the situation" is a given and making the best shot is the goal.

The pursuit of perfection is another stone along the path towards becoming a champion. If it is a burden as Evans suggests, then becoming a champion would be impossible. Playing the game for the love of it is not mutually exclusive from being a champion. In fact, it is one of the pillars that supports the career of any champion. Simply stated, if a champion does not love the game it would be impossible to put in the necessary effort to win.

Rather than question Tiger's win at the Chevron, evoke the words of someone who has never won or paraphrase the thoughtful words of the mother-in-law of a recent Q-School graduate, Farrell Evans should stick with his simple wish that Tiger have peace of mind.

The NBA, Brandon Roy and Water Training

Brandon Roy of the Portland Trail Blazers just retired due to ongoing knee problems. Given the stress that comes with years of running, jumping, twisting and sprinting, it is remarkable that more NBA stars do not suffer from the same fate, midway through or earlier in their careers.

In the case of Brandon Roy, did his problems come from a specific injury, a predisposition to such problems, years of wear and tear or some combination of all these potential causes? If it was a specific injury or genetic predisposition, then it seems that early retirement was his unfortunate fate as a basketball player. However, if it was years of wear and tear something might have been done to prevent this problem.

I remember back in the 1990's, when a well known coach took over a well known NBA franchise. At that time, the new conditioning coach for this team was quoted in the paper discussing his new program which would include plyometrics. After reading that article, I said out loud to all who would listen a conditioning coach is going to put this NBA team through plyometric training (essentially aggressive strengthening through jumping): "This is wrong and there will be lots of injuries." Sure enough, the team had more than its share of injuries that season.

In any case, while I cannot say for sure whether or not that specific training program caused a statistically significant spike in injuries for the team in question, I can say that over the last 20 years I have helped many people prepare for sport and recover from injury using water. I can also say that in the words of a well known and former NBA star, "everybody should be training in the water". He told me during one of our water workouts that he wished he had been doing water training earlier in his career as it would have "saved" his knees.

Without question, NBA teams should explore deep and shallow water exercise for training, conditioning and recovery workouts. In fact, in my experience over the last 20 years of using water as a training environment, I can say that every professional sports team should find a way to incorporate water based programs into their regular conditioning routines. They will reduce overuse injuries, prolong the careers of their athletes and with fewer injuries they might also save some money and win a few more games.

Youth sports and winning

At a young age, sport is about participating and creating the desire in each kid to return for the next season. Having fun and learning to compete at a young age are of primary importance. Winning should not be the goal, but for those individuals and teams who do win their efforts should be supported.

Unfortunately, for kids the simple act having fun can be interfered with and even eliminated altogether by otherwise well meaning adults. For example, there are leagues that, instead of letting kids play and either win or lose create special rules which advance every team into the playoffs. The idea, presumably to create more opportunity for fun or perhaps to make the young participants feel better about themselves.

Ironically, this message not only over emphasizes winning, but it also supports the concept of unearned rewards. Adults who create such rules are really saying to the kids that post season play and therefore winning are so important that we are going to let all of you finish the season winners - earned or not. In addition to over emphasizing winning, giving young kids an unearned reward can only be counterproductive.

Unearned rewards of this nature value results over effort. Giving unearned rewards say to each kid that you can fall short of the base qualifying standards and skill levels and still get the prize. Perhaps this is one reason why the young adults of today are sometimes accused of being entitled and unwilling to work their way from the bottom up to the top positions in corporate America?

For the young kids, the goal is to make sport so enjoyable that they want to return for the next season - playoffs or not. This sets the ground work for a strong athletic future.

Offering unearned rewards and eliminating the values earned through struggle and effort over emphasize winning and do not teach the inherent values and life lessons that can be gleaned from sport. Further, the everyone is a winner approach to sport does not develop future champions. In life this approach does not develop strong workers and employees. Nor, I could argue does it develop balanced and ethical leaders.


The Champion's Way

A big win for Lindsay Vonn

In the world of international ski racing, Lindsay Vonn of the United States continues to win even as she is going through a divorce. This speaks highly of not only her fortitude, but also of her family and coaches.

People that have always been part of her life have, according to Lindsay stepped up the support level. According to news reports, she and her father are even mending their differences.

What is often lost in a champion level performance is what happens behind the scenes. We just see the event. In the case of Vonn, her main support system has been thrown into turmoil and this could easily have derailed her chances at winning. Yet she has been able to quickly turn things around and perhaps even reach a higher level of focus. Support, is a critical component to an athlete's ability to win, especially for the champion (The Champions Way).

Lindsay stated in a post race interview: "I wanted to win at home so badly. I wanted to win on a men's course. I wanted to prove to everyone here at home that I can win no matter what, under any circumstances."

All three of these quotes attest to her champion level skills. Under her personal circumstance she could have easily gone to Vail with the hope of "doing her best". A benign and meaningless statement, if winning is your goal. To then add additional pressure of wanting to win on a men's course and to then want to prove to everyone at home that she could win under any circumstances and then to have won, her place on the list of sports greatest champions just moved up a notch.

Typically, champions do not perform with the pressure of wanting to prove anything to anyone. To enter a competition with any other goal except to win, only adds additional pressure and distraction. Her record 4th win in a row at Beaver Creek was not just another win. In fact, given all of the current circumstances in her life, it might even be the top victory thus far in her career. With the continued support of her family and coaches and barring any injury, the sky remains the limit for Lindsay Vonn.

Tiger's win at the Chevron World Golf Challenge

Tiger Woods, after working extremely hard on his game and injury recovery won at the end of the 2011 golf season in the Chevron World Golf Challenge at the Sherwood Country Club.

He won with a birdie on each of the final holes, making putts that easily could have missed the cup. Yet, the media questioned the depth of his competition and their desire to win. Some columns even suggested that because the purse was so big that the motivation of all golfers was low.

Tiger Wood's victory, unlike some in the media suggested was significant. It does not matter whether there are 18 competitors or 180 competitors - 11 out of the top 25 or the entire top 25, winning is winning. In the attempts to minimize his victory, the general media missed the primary significance of this end of season victory. At a time when it is easy to lose focus, Tiger won. He again showed his mental strength and tenacity.

Further not only did Tiger win at the end of a season, he also won by working relentlessly on his game and on his fitness. Most competitors would have faded from the scene, given the daunting task that Tiger faced. His home life changed, one can only assume much self questioning, injury and a new golf swing. Every aspect of his competitive environment needed work. The system that had allowed him to become one of golf's greatest champions fell apart.

Tiger's victory was significant, but like any victory or any past event it is now irrelevant. Once the post competition analysis is complete, all that matters in the mind of a champion is the next event.

While everyone will take a paycheck, the media forgets that champions are driven by victory.

Jump Ball

The current basketball strike is simply about two sides looking for the best deal. On the surface, isn't that what everyone wants in life, the best deal?

How can anyone criticize the players or owners for trying to get the best business arrangement for themselves?

Owners spend a lot of money and assume the responsibility for all debts and costs, including payroll. Fortunately, the owners are used to risk as most large fortunes come from taking chances. While there are certainly lots of perks with team ownership, it is safe to say that owners are not purchasing a professional team to simply give away their hard earned money.

Professional athletes are given the opportunity to live out a childhood dream. Imagine having the skill and talent to make money playing the game that provided endless fun and enjoyment during your youth. Anyone who grew up playing the game of basketball has had the dream of sinking the winning basket at the buzzer, in game 7 of the championship series. Yet, only a tiny percentage of those dreamers ever get the opportunity to make a living playing basketball.

The players want everything possible for their hard work and dedication. While first class travel is fun, a plane eventually is just a metal tube with seats and a hotel room is just another place to unpack your bags for the night. Why leave money on the table, if there is extra money to be made? Like owners, the players have also worked extremely hard and have taken risks. Also, like owners they are extremely competitive.

It seems that both sides have an over inflated sense of what they deserve. The owners want to earn more money on their investment or perhaps reduce some of the risk and the players want to earn more money to play the game. Yet, based on what one might observe or read in the media both groups seem to have plenty of choices when it comes to material desires. If these assumptions are correct, no wonder the teams and players have so many critics amongst the fans.

After all it is the fans who ultimately pay all of the salaries and expenses. Without someone willing to purchase the tickets, the jerseys, the expensive food and all of the products that are sold in association with professional basketball, the NBA would not exist. Talented athletes and wealthy, potential owners would have to find some other venue to ply their skills, compete and take chances.

Perhaps the players and owners should rethink their arguments and why there is so much money to even cause such disagreements. While it is true that the players are the show and the owners are the vehicle that allow the show to happen, it is the fans who pay everyone's salary and they just want to be entertained.

Greg Norman comments on Tiger Woods

Whether or not Tiger Woods wins another major will only be answered in the future and any current opinions stand a 50/50 chance of being correct.

However, what is 100% certain is that every time Tiger is playing golf, winning is a possibility. Winning and winning and winning is a "sweet spot" in time. The words of an old friend, Topper Hagerman. Tiger had discovered that spot for a number of years. During that time it was all about playing golf. Now Tiger's life has changed.

As Greg Norman said during a recent interview, published by golf.com on 9/28/11, "Tiger, when he dominated, had a single-shot approach. It was only about the golf." "Now there are so many distractions..." A key factor in a champion's ability to win and win and win is having the skill to focus and the ability to do away with all distractions. In the case of Tiger, there are now many new distractions which he must reduce or eliminate.

These new distractions are more powerful than the superficial comments and criticisms and sponsorship questions, as they come from within. Tiger has been forced to question himself to the very core of his humanity. His entire personal operating system must now be reprogramed. He had the recipe for winning at will, but that piece of paper is now lost. It now must be recreated and this will take time.

The good news is that Tiger has the ability to focus - perhaps better than any athlete in the world. Finding the internal balance will be the key to Tiger Woods returning to the top of the golfing world. If he can find this balance, we will see the return of a champion.

NCAA Miami Decision

Eight student athletes from the university of Miami were recently asked to repay the money they illegally received from university booster Nevin Shapiro and athletics personnel. They also were given various levels of game suspensions based on the amount of money and benefits that they received.

While there are larger questions regarding student athletes and their status in the college environment, one has to applaud the NCAA for making a decision that supports its rules and still allows the athletes to return to sport. It is important to remember, that these were kids/young adults corrupted by adults and by the larger society in which we all live.

It is easy to look at a college kid and wonder what he or she could possibly be thinking to accept something that is obviously against the rules. However, who are the adults influencing these kids? What is their role in tempting a kid, who perhaps did not grow up with many choices and maybe did not even have what most people consider to be the basic material needs in life covered?

In this particular case, it took an apparently corrupt adult willing to take advantage and a kid looking for some fun. These young student/athletes might be talented, but they are still young and in need of direction, which if I understand correctly is one of the goals of college. For most college kids, maturity is suspect and the potential vulnerability to nefarious adults is high.

Additionally, one cannot ignore the general society in which we all live as part of the problem. Our current society has been overrun by the "take as much as you can mentality." In the business world there are the CEOs and upper level managers demanding enormous sums of money and at the bottom there are the unions asking for as much as possible. Literally, every level of our society is infected by this concept of taking as much as possible and the continual need or lust for greater material and personal gratification.

In an ideal situation, it would be nice to blame the individual. After all, we are all ultimately responsible for our own actions. Unfortunately or fortunately, we are also greatly influenced by the surrounding environment in which we live. The current environment in which we all are living has seen an extreme graying of the lines between right and wrong or the ethical and unethical. In fact, in most instances, with justification as the goal one can make a case for both sides being right or both sides being wrong.

College sport has fallen victim to these attitudes of society. College kids, especially high level college athletes are no longer insulated or protected from the outside world. Even the colleges themselves are guilty of allowing for this exploitation. It is not just the errant booster. There is a systematic failure. After all, we live in a world where money talks - actually a world in which money screams at the highest decibels for attention. With corrupt adults and the temptations of society, perhaps the kids who break NCAA rules and accept money are not cheaters, but victims?

Federer and Djokovic: Was it luck or confidence?

In Roger Federer's loss today at the 2011 US Open to Novak Djokovic, Federer was asked to comment on Djokovic's winning forehand. Was it lucky or confidence?

"Confidence, are you kidding me?" Federer asked. "Please. Some players grow up and play like that. I never played that way. I believe that the hard work's going to pay off."

Hard work is the quality of a champion. An athlete of Federer's caliber hits the shots in competition that he has done over and over again on the practice courts. This is why Federer has won 16 grand slam titles and is one of the greatest all time champions. For the champion, there are essentially no chances taken in a match that have not been rehearsed in practice. Virtually, every shot is calculated and practiced to a level that is superior to the skills of any opponent.

This is not to say that Djokovic did not deserve or earn his victory. He beat Federer. He took a chance and he won. This is the beauty of sport. Chances produce victories and also excitement. In Djokovic's words: "If it comes in, it comes in." "It was a risk last year. It was a very similar situation. I was hitting the forehand as hard as I could. You're gambling." "I was lucky today."

Champion's take shots that they have practiced and know that they can hit. They gamble knowing that they already have the winning hand. Djokovic might win this US Open and finish with an incredible season. A season for the record books. However, if he hopes to attain the winning record of Federer he will need to turn that forehand into a shot that he knows will be a winner.

Presidents Cup: Response to Farrell Evan's letter to Fred Couples

Fred Couples has two coaches discretion choices for the Presidents Cup team. Any choice he makes is the right decision.

They are his choices. Further, if any other golfer who did not make the team has a question, the answer is simple. Next time score enough points to make the team. Or amass enough wins to not only establish yourself as one of the best golfers in history, but also develop yourself as one of the great competitors in any sport.

After reading Farrell Evans open letter to Fred Couples, I was struck by a handful of his comments as they relate to Champions. In his third paragraph he refers to players resenting Tiger. Any golfer who spends the energy resenting a fellow competitor has no chance for victory and certainly should not be on the Presidents Cup team. Ultimately, a golfer who competes with resentment will never be a champion. What should be said to Mark Wilson or Keegan Bradley or any other golfer who does not make the team is answered in my first paragraph.

Further down Evans refers to pressure from the higher-ups in the "golf industrial complex". Again, this does not matter and is irrelevant. Fred Couples can choose any golfer that he wants for those two spots. Also, the facts are clear when it comes to professional sport. For the competitors it is a game and a profession, for the fans it is entertainment and for the sponsors it is a business. Without sponsors the professional tour would not exist. Any golfer who wants to fight the "golf industrial complex" will have no chance unless he is at the very least a winner and in the case of the Presidents Cup a bonafide qualifier.

When Evans blames Tiger for part of this decision and stating that Tiger should have said "he is not fit to play." Champions ironically would rather not play if they did not think it possible to win. Tiger is one of sports greatest competitors of any era. Thus, by accepting this bid it would seem that Tiger is saying, my injuries are in the past. I am able to practice without an issue and I am capable of winning. If this is true, Tiger is the top choice for any coach to be on the 18th with a 6 foot par putt necessary for victory.

Coaches discretion choices to fill out a team always generate questions from those not sitting at the decision table. This is normal. The best way for an athlete to make the team is to score enough points. Otherwise, when it comes to coaches discretion there are no rules. This is the place where a coach gets to be a coach in building his team. Given Tiger's career history, his return to health and the prospects of his game, he would be an obvious discretionary choice for any coach.

Champions & "Cool"

Imagine if your young aspiring athlete came to you and said: "Mom, can you buy me this shirt?" A t-shirt with the word "Dope" written on the front. Your immediate reaction might be to ask, Why suggest to the world that you lack intelligence? More frighteningly, you worry that your kid thinks advertising drugs add up to "cool" and perhaps wonder if he/she could even be lured into taking drugs? Then your child says no mom, "dope does not mean I lack intelligence or take drugs", it refers to my "cool" moves on the skateboard.

By the way mom, Nike's other shirt emblazoned with "Get High" does not mean "high" in the illegal substance sense it actually relates to elevation or to feel good due to your performance. As adults, have we become too judgmental, perhaps superimposing upon our kids words which meant something else in our era? Or is the recent controversy with Nike t-shirts and their edgy association with drugs just another example of advertising pushing the limits and trying to create "cool" - and to what end? Why can't sport be about sweat, commitment, hard work, effort, achieving goals, winning and fun? Aren't these things "cool"?

In Sport, true champions and players of the game do not arrive at the top through casual participation and embodying slogans hoping to be "cool" and to create an image. They arrive at the top through daily and very real effort and time. If a true champion in sport were to be described as "cool", it would not be based on wearing the latest fashion trend, it would come from within. It would come from their effort and results. Champions do not create "cool" and in fact as the superficial definition of "cool" goes they may in fact not be "cool".

Nike has gone too far with these shirts. Pushing the edge and creating artificial "coolness" does not build future champions. The constant drumbeat of graying the lines of appropriateness, especially in promoting the superficial and material is not the path towards building a stronger and more confident youth.

Is Tiger Woods overtrained?

In the Master's this year, Tiger Woods strained his knee while trying to hit an awkward shot.

Was this injury the result of unfortunate bad luck?

Was it the result of overtraining or the many rounds of golf he'd previously played through pain? Or did it relate directly to the previous injury and surgery he had back in 2008? The answers to any of these questions are unclear.

What is certain: injury is the one obstacle that can deprive golf fans of one of their greatest champions. It is the one clear event that can end the career of a champion, or at the least curtail his or her ability to win seemingly at will.

Tiger's champion advantage is that he is willing to remake himself, most notably in his swing changes. He understands that in order to play at his level, his swing needs the occasional revamping. These swing overhauls require a very intensive physical effort. Most other golfers do not undergo such swing transformations - and as history dictates, no golfer in the Tiger Wood's era has the professional record of Tiger Woods. It seems he's doing something right.

In addition to his golf game, Tiger also has an aggressive conditioning program. Unlike golfers of previous generations, who most certainly put less emphasis on fitness, Tiger's body is continually changing due to exercise. Thus, with the standard age-related changes, training-related changes, and golf swing adaptations, Tiger is managing three variables that can affect his physical health and how he strikes the ball.

Over the past 10 to 15 years, conditioning programs have taken on their own life with respect to the careers of great athletes and those striving to be great. Tiger is no different. According to his website, his daily routine begins with a mix of endurance runs, sprints, or biking, followed by weight lifting, golf practice, and more weight lifting.

Is a downside to all this conditioning greater wear on his body? One might even ask, is Tiger overtrained, thus more susceptible to injury? Is the combination of daily running and sprinting too much for his body to handle, particularly for his knees and Achilles tendons? Perhaps Tiger's next move is to reassess his fitness program.

Playing through pain and injury has long-term consequences. The short-term benefit may be an amazing victory and the further defining of a legend. The long-term consequences of persevering through pain and injury along with aggressive training and swing practice, however, might be an assault on the longevity of an athletic career.

Should you play through an injury?

For every great champion who plays while injured or sick, there should be a disclaimer: "Professional athletes only. School kids and any other nonprofessional should follow doctors order's: stay home and get better."

Playing through an injury is often touted as just another level of skill and toughness displayed by a champion athlete. Any basketball fan alive in 1997 will remember Michael Jordan's epic performance in Game 5 of the NBA finals against the Utah Jazz. Sick with the stomach flu, one moment he could hardly move, and the next he was on the floor scoring 38 points in 44 minutes and clinching a 3-pointer to lead the Bulls past the Jazz.

Fast-forward to Tiger Woods' 2008 U.S. Open victory at Torrey Pines. Advised by doctors that he had two stress fractures and should be on crutches, he instead competed, winning after a 19-hole playoff. Eight days later, he had major knee surgery.

Virtually every great champion will have his or her own story of competing and winning while not healthy. Pushing the body beyond the limits normally defined by physiology happens every day in the life of a champion. Champions play at only one speed and with one goal: the speed is full throttle, and the goal is victory. Sickness or health, these goals do not change.

The flip side is that a champion would never compete if he or she knew that victory was not possible. Taking one for the team in order to perform at a mediocre level, with no chance for victory, is not part of a champion's approach to sport.

As for those athletes who are not at the champion level (and that's virtually everyone, whether on a team or as an individual), competing while extremely sick or injured is not the right decision. Take it from the playbook of a champion: why would you ever compete if you or your team did not have an absolute chance and ability to win? Furthermore, what is the risk-to-reward ratio when considering the rest of your career?

In the rarified world of the champion, the decision to play or not play has its own set of rules and parameters. A champion's reasons for playing or not playing should not apply to everyone, and certainly not if you are anything but a professional who is getting paid to go to practice every day.

With rare exceptions, playing at any level other than full capacity brings on the potential for additional injury, not to mention a subpar performance. For the mortals of sport, show your strength and mental fortitude by missing the game, recovering, and returning to your sport at full capacity - when your body is ready .

Overtraining in young athletes: not worth an injury

A few years ago, I worked with a young high school runner who experienced severe Achilles tendon pain every time he ran too long or too hard. His parents and three different coaches all wanted him to recover, yet pressure from this group of adults for him to continue running was also very strong. Fortunately, one of the coaches recognized there was a problem and asked me to help with a pool training program.

As I began working with this high school runner, I told him to stop running completely and let his Achilles tendon recover. I also suggested a new doctor.

However, his parents and school coaches were not on board for this "unusual" approach of allowing an injury to heal. There were the standard protests about the team needing this runner, getting noticed by colleges, and that old standby argument: "he loves running so much" that we could not force him to stop.

Needless to say, everyone was impatient with the slow pace, and this young runner lasted only a few weeks in my program. My telling him not to run wasn't what anyone wanted to hear.

Yet even when exercising at low levels in the non-weight-bearing environment of the pool, this young man still had to be careful. Unfortunately, the agenda for him was out of my hands. He eventually disappeared from my schedule and continued to run and work out.

Six months later, I learned that he had developed so much pain walking was difficult. The family consulted a new doctor, who recommended surgery.

Whether or not he continued running, this young runner may still have needed surgery. But the fact that he would not stop running, and that the adults in his life were not as adamant as I was that all running be immediately stopped, means we all failed.

This story demonstrates what can happen when too many coaches and agendas mean no one - and everyone - is in charge. It also makes one wonder: why do we push through pain? Unfortunately, this talented runner's push to continue running, with correspondingly poor results, did nothing for his team, nothing for his college prospects, and certainly did nothing for his long-term health.

As it stands currently, a year and a half later, this athlete is still sidelined. I would bet everything I have, double or nothing, that in every state and every town in this country, this exact scenario is currently playing out. The question remains: why?

Who is in charge?

With statistics and trends over the last 20 years pointing towards an increase in overuse injuries among kids who are playing sports, the obvious next step is to determine the causes and then do everything possible to reverse the trend. Pinpointing the exact cause will be difficult, while the answer is simple.

I will start by dissecting a year-round training program. Generally, sports programs have two areas of coaching influence. The first comes from the discipline coach. Using rowing as an example, the discipline coach teaches a kid how to row, which includes the proper use of technique and tactics. Technique involves the skills necessary to get in a boat and row. Tactics are how the game is played - or, in the case of rowing, how the race is managed.

The second area of influence comes from the conditioning coach. This individual might be hired privately by the parent to help a child get into shape for sport. Or, he or she is a paid coach hired by a high school to prepare athletes for all sports during a school year.

There is a potential third coaching influence: a specialty skills coach. For example, some baseball teams have a batting coach. Or a parent might hire a batting coach for some "extra" swing work. Whatever the case, it is possible that a child will have one or more coaches from the sports side and then a conditioning coach who either comes with the program or is hired privately.

Given all of these coaching possibilities and influences, the first question to ask is straightforward: "Who is in charge?" With a potential of two or more coaches - each talented and with an agenda - telling a kid what to do, the possibility is very high for a problem developing. This is generally not a concern if the coaching staff all works together under the direction of a head coach. However, problems start to arise when there are outside coaches. It doesn't even matter if all of the coaches are the "best".

Too many workouts, along with too many directions, can cause problems, even with the best of intentions. It can lead to over training, confusion, extra pressure and potentially end a kid's sports life forever.

The simple answer to the question in the first paragraph is to drop one of the teams and one of the extra coaches. Let your young aspiring athlete get more rest, perhaps some unstructured play, and then with the "right" type and volume of exercise and sports participation, you will see fewer injuries and more success.