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.

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.

Landis & Armstrong - Part 2

Steroids and Doping: A Different Angle...continued

It is easy to be either realistic or cynical when watching all of our heroes or those we look to for leadership or inspiration tumble down the harsh slope of their own crushed reputation. Let's remember that everyone seems to have a skeleton in the closet, the 800-pound gorilla sitting in the room. That's the reality. We're cynical because we have become used to and almost expectant that anyone and everyone in the limelight will be accused of illicit or immoral behavior.

When a sport's generation of future Hall of Famers gets nailed - as did baseball with Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi, Jose Canseco, et. al., the cynicism only increases. Look at the constant skepticism about Albert Pujols. He must have put up 10 years of hitting numbers akin to Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams because he's juiced, a lot of people say and Sports Illustrated investigated in an infamous Spring 2010 cover story - yet he's been clean as a whistle.

Perhaps the realism or cynicism is our problem. As fans, maybe it is our unreal expectation and desire for athletic stars to perform superhuman feats that is the cause for the problems of sport? Sporting events are merely games and entertainment. Yet, we continue to put sports heroes on the highest of pedestals. Show me any human being worthy of such praise and adulation and I will show you a chink in the armor.

What troubles me more than whether or not Lance Armstrong doped, along with what appears to be the entire cycling world, is the affect of these accusations on the thousands of people around the world fighting cancer. For these people, the Tour was not merely about a bunch of people trying to be the fastest to the finish line, but life and the inspiration to live. This is not a game for the individual who is fighting cancer.

Lance Armstrong has become bigger than the Tour. His victory over cancer, the inspiration he has provided those fighting cancer along with the millions of dollars donated by his foundation, trumps any Floyd Landis catharsis or attempt at cleaning up the sport. If every Landis accusation is true, then all the cyclists at the top were competing on the same playing field and Lance was still the best. He still won.

The fans and the purists might shake the hand of Landis and say "thank you" for cleaning up the sport that we all love. All of us as fans, might look forward to the day we are guaranteed a "clean" competition.

But what about the people who do not care just about entertainment and games? What about those looking for any and every bit of inspiration and energy to persevere and live another day?

"On their behalf, I would ask Floyd Landis and any other disgraced whistleblower, Jose Canseco included, "What motivated you? A pure desire to clean up the sport in which you competed, excelled, loved and lost because of your mistake? Or clearing your name and making money?"

It's a fair question that demands a fair response.

Landis & Armstrong - Part 1

Steroids and Doping in Sports: A different Angle (Part 1)

The past six months have been heartbreaking for sports fans and cancer patients who have hitched their loyalty, aspirations and hopes to one of the greatest sportsmen this country has ever known - seven-time Tour de France champion and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong. The recent whistle-blowing comments of disgraced tour champion Floyd Landis have cast a shadow on a career that has literally helped thousands, if not millions of cancer patients through funding, greater public awareness, and, most of all hope.

This blog is not an easy one for me to write. For while I will never promote the virtues of doping or steroid use in sports, I also have to ask myself and the sports world at large: Why are we so focused on disgracing individuals after their careers are over and what is the cost? Especially when the vast majority in their sport - particularly cycling, which in the late 1990s had an estimated 90% performance enhancing use rate, according to the French newspaper Sud Ouest - was using performance enhancing drugs at the same time?

We all watch sporting events hoping that every athlete is playing on even ground. We assume that the rules of sport are being followed, allowing us to enjoy the competition and cheer for our favorite athlete. The accusations that came and continue to come from Floyd Landis, if true, implicate the entire top tier of the cycling world. If true, one could say they all knew the game, they chose to compete under those conditions, they all chose the potential consequences and, most importantly from a competitive perspective, they were all racing on equal ground. (Which the Sud Ouest estimate from the late 1990s makes abundantly clear).

However, as fans, we remained in the dark. We just saw great cyclists working very hard doing what appeared to be superhuman feats of endurance and strength. Climbing Category 1 inclines in the Pyrenees Mountains after having already raced 1,500 to 1,700 miles is the height of superhuman performance, in my opinion. We marveled at their perseverance and painful push towards victory. We were all inspired or left in awe.

Now Floyd Landis is coming clean. He is letting the world know that everyone was doping, most prominently the king of the modern cycling world, Lance Armstrong. My question to Floyd: Why? Even if everyone is guilty as charged, what is the reason for Landis' continued push to implicate the entire upper echelon of the sport? Is it so that he can feel better about himself, or is it for the "greater good" of cycling? As easily as it is to argue the latter - and, from this, cycling will certainly become cleaner - one must remember that, in 2009, Landis threatened Armstrong by email with this very "outing" if Armstrong didn't pay him what Landis claimed were back wages. That, in my mind, is blackmail.

An admitted cheater wanting to clear his name by bringing down the rest of his competitors is either committing the ultimate act of selfishness or falling on the sword to do what he considers best for the fans and the sport of cycling. While Landis might feel good now about his admissions, how do the fans of cycling feel? What about the fans of Lance Armstrong, who are not only sports fans, but also cancer survivors? continued - please go to part 2