Armstrong admits guilt

Lance Armstrong, the winningest cyclist from the era of cycling where everyone involved in the sport seemed to be doping has admitted guilt. Now what?

I was one of those hopeful to the end holdouts that he was riding clean. Yet, his admission did not come as a surprise. There was simply too much evidence to suggest that he broke the rules along with the rest of the team and apparently most of the elite cycling world.

After listening to the Oprah interviews, I was struck, but not surprised by the depth of his competitive nature. Consider that he had the ability to hold an entire organization together. An organization that supported the purchase and distribution of illegal performance enhancing drugs and also aggressively kept the use of these substances essentially private - All of this and still doing the physical and technical preparation necessary to win the Tour de France.

It cannot be forgotten that performance enhancing drugs alone do not put an elite cyclist on top of the podium. Lance Armstrong knows how to win. He is clearly an individual who leaves nothing to chance. Everything that he does and says is tightly controlled. His answers to Oprah were precise. No words were wasted. This is how champions operate.

Armstrong operates at a competitive level that is unfathomable to the average observer. Many of the critiques that I read from the Oprah Winfrey interviews attacked the competitor. If Armstrong had been anything other than what we saw on the Oprah Winfrey show, this would never have happened. Lance Armstrong, the 7 time Tour de France winner would not have existed - performance enhancing drugs or no performance enhancing drugs.

For his role, Armstrong deserves his fate as do his former teammates. They all broke the rules and should be penalized. Because Lance Armstrong held out to the very end, he is still no better and no worse than the guys who have been coming clean over the past decade. The cycling organizations should also do some soul searching along with some objective analysis as they somehow missed this enormous doping scandal. More to the point, it would seem that the cycling organizations did not have the trust of the riders who might have wanted to report the problem.

Sadly, if the entire top tier of the tour, including Armstrong had ridden clean I bet that Armstrong would still have been a great cycling champion.

Mikaela Schiffrin

"It's not going to change anything for me. There will be more interest from the sponsors maybe and media, but I'm still going to be doing the same thing."
US Ski Team member Mikaela Schiffrin talking about her record setting second World Cup slalom victory.

With her victory in Zagreb, Croatia, Schiffrin became the youngest US Ski Team athlete to win twice in a single season. She also became the youngest woman to win two slalom races on the World Cup circuit since 1977.

Champions maintain their focus, even with the excitement that surrounds their success. At the young age of 17, Schiffrin's comment on her victories suggests an understanding of this critical component to winning. If Mikaela Schiffrin can mange to hold off the increasing distractions that come with winning, especially record setting victories, the door will remain wide open for her future.

Ted Ligety: Equipment and Winning

Prior to the start of the 2012/13 World Cup, US skiing superstar Ted Ligety was not happy with the rule changes regarding GS skis.

In fact, he wrote a long opinion on this issue and other problems he had with FIS policy. (the FIS is the ruling organization for World Cup ski racing) Go here for a full read.

So far this season Ted has dominated the World Cup GS races. During the Summer months he obviously put his questions aside and did everything possible to prepare using the new ski design. This is a testament to his immense skill and ability to only focus on what he can control. He cannot control the FIS, but he can control his preparation.

While Ted may still have issues with the FIS and the new ski design, his performance this year tells a different story. His winning margins are some of the widest in 30 years. Should this continue he is on his way to another World Cup GS title and affirming his place amongst the greatest all-time giant slalom skiers.

The messages for all young ski racers are clear. Equipment is important, but what matters most is your preparation and your ability to adapt. Ted Ligety is proof that with proper training, winning is possible regardless of the ski shape.

Armstrong - Still in the news

Lance Armstrong is once again in the news. This time Tufts University, in Massachusetts, rescinded an honorary degree. At some point, I hope that this insanity comes to an end. The attacks on Lance Armstrong by sponsors, institutions, organizations and individuals have gone too far.

Maybe we should look a little deeper into the cycling world during the Armstrong years. Given that most podium finishers during the days of Armstrong were caught doping, why can't we accept that for better or worse that during those years doping was the norm? This means that Armstrong either doped or did not dope. If he did dope, there was an enormous conspiracy that went further and deeper than Armstrong or his team.

It is impossible to have so many accusers and participants for doping not to have been widespread and known to everyone. It must have been pervasive at every level and potentially even known to the organizers. As the accusations go, Armstrong and his teammates were the best.

Breaking the rules of a competition is wrong, but singling out the one at the very top and giving the rest a break because they came clean and apologized is also wrong. What if when Armstrong joined the tour, he saw the writing on the wall? What if he saw the doping and the success that came by combining doping, extreme effort and a burning desire to win? What if at that point he had two decisions - fight the ingrained culture and be ostracized and never have the chance to compete or make the decision to do everything better than anyone else?

Again, I am not condoning breaking the rules. I also feel let down by the apparent culture of doping that enabled those athletes to perform super human feats of strength. However, we must remember that champions do not compete for anyone else, but themselves and victory. Oddly, with Lance Armstrong he had something more than himself. He had a charity and a cause that made his victories and success even more important.

How many people reading this blog have ever in their lives felt so driven by a cause that they would do anything and everything to win?

Back to the sponsors, organizations, institutions and individuals who profited massively by their association with Lance Armstrong. If you believe so strongly in your decisions to let Armstrong go, then go all the way! Estimate how many millions your association with Armstrong brought in to your businesses or institutions and divest yourselves of those profits. Do the right thing! Do it 100% or not at all!

Courageous admissions? - Another chapter for Lance Armstrong

I am tired of reading about Lance Armstrong and the allegations by his former teammates. In another unrelated case, I read about US Speed Skater, Simon Cho and his recent admission of tampering with another skater's blades. What is wrong with our society and what appears to be a perpetual need to break the rules?

In the case of Armstrong, I have always been a supporter, but am now getting beyond caring of whether or not the allegations are true. In a sport that was known for doping, one could simply say that the competition was fair and let it go. With all of the other riders in that era being caught or admitting guilt many years later it seems that amongst all the top competitors the competition was fair. Then, if Armstrong really did dope as accused, he still won. Amongst a field of dopers he was the best and ended up on top 7 times. If he did not dope during those years then his prowess is only magnified.

What is clear, cycling has a big problem and I am going to guess that unfortunately most sports have problems. Back in the late 70's and early 80's in my physical education classes, we would talk about steroids and performance enhancing drugs. We would attempt to differentiate between vitamins and special diets and any other "legal" means to enhance performance and steroids being used to enhance performance. What was the line between legal performance enhancement and illegal performance enhancement?

For example, suppose an athlete discovers a special fruit deep from the jungles in Brazil. Then after eating this berry he gets super human powers and a massive increase in his bloods oxygen carrying capacity? Is he a cheater and a doper? Is he breaking the rules because he is using a substance that is not out in the open and on the tables for all to use? Or is he a champion through chemistry?

Not following the rules of sport is wrong and it nullifies the competition. In a sport like cycling, they all seemed to dope, so at this point who cares? Why should a group of 26 that included 11 former teammates, admitted cheaters and others be believed any more than Armstrong? What is their goal?

What if a scientist testified that the damage done to Armstrong's body, just after his cancer treatment was so great that if he did take EPO, he would only just get back to the level of an athlete who never had to fight cancer?

I wish all of these guys would go away. I see no strength our courage in admitting guilt for participating in an alleged major coverup so many years later. These guys have nothing to lose and everything to gain through their admissions. If anyone at this stage has something to lose it is Armstrong. Where were these courageous men when their admissions would have really counted?

What is more beneficial? Cleaning up the sport of cycling or inspiring people to cure and survive cancer? I see no benefit to sport or the world situation by bringing these allegations public so many years later. I would have rather let this gang of 26 and Lance Armstrong live in private with how they pursued their lives and dreams as athletes and citizens, allowing the fans to still have their visions and dreams. I see no moral or ethical benefit to society by their admissions and accusations.

Thoughts on Armstrong and USADA

I woke this morning to the news that Lance Armstrong is no longer fighting the forces accusing him of doping while winning on the tour. As a staunch supporter of Armstrong, this stance has me feeling deflated. Armstrong's competitive nature, skill and work ethic cannot be questioned, nor can his commitment to the sport. While, I certainly believe that every battle must end, I find this entire episode troubling.

I have written about this issue in the past and continue to remain shocked at its staying power. Given that these accusations occurred so many years ago and during a time when many on the tour were accused and found guilty of doping, one could almost say that if Armstrong was doping, what did it matter with respect to the guys at the very top who were capable of winning? The playing field was balanced and doping alone would not help the racer who was not strong enough to contend for a title. However, even if true, cheating is still not justified.

With respect to this entire investigation, there are too many questions that remain unanswered. Is it an investigation that has taken a great champion to his knees or one that has uncovered a very methodical and deliberate cheating scheme amongst most of the field at the highest levels of a sport?

Why did USADA pursue accusations of cheating so many years after the fact? Was the continued pursuit of these accusations, really done for the "good of the sport"? What were the motives of Armstrong's accusers, especially those already found guilty, beyond doubt of cheating? Was Lance Armstrong treated fairly or was this a witch hunt by a biased sport's governing body, jealous competitors and admitted cheaters?

Further, I find it shocking to read that many involved in the accusations are now saying that Armstrong's decision to stop fighting is an admission of guilt. As far as I know, in this country one is innocent until proven guilty. What happened to those standards? Is the USADA's arbitration process fair and balanced? I would suggest that USADA's quick assumption of guilt, without a trial shows their bias and that perhaps they are not capable of conducting a fair arbitration process.

Further, as US District Judge Sam Sparks notes here and in the 3 paragraphs below (August 20th, 2010, Bicycling) there were "troubling aspects" of the case, "not least of which is USADA's apparent single-minded determination to force Armstrong to arbitrate the charges against him, in direct conflict with UCI's equally evident desire not to proceed against him."

"Unfortunately, the appearance of conflict on the part of both organizations creates doubt the charges against Armstrong would receive fair consideration in either forum," Sparks said, but added that made it more important for the matter to be resolved by the parties involved - also including the US cycling federation."

"As mystifying as USADA's election to proceed at this date and in this manner may be, it is equally perplexing that these three national and international bodies are apparently unable to work together to accomplish their shared goal - the regulation and promotion of cycling," Sparks wrote.

"However, if these bodies wish to damage the image of their sport through bitter infighting, they will have to do so without the involvement of the United States courts."

Given all that has happened, the career of Lance Armstrong, no matter who is telling the truth will, because of this event forever be clouded. For this, the USADA and its win at any cost mentality should always be questioned. USADA helped to deflate the image of Lance Armstrong. Lance Armstrong has done more for the common good of humanity than the USADA and all of his accusers combined.

Lance Armstrong and his foundation and the hope he gives to people fighting cancer far surpasses any benefit USADA just won for the sport of cycling. Who cares about the value of sporting competitions from so far in the past when the career of the individual in question has given so much hope to so many people in truly desperate circumstances. USADA should be in the business of touting what Lance Armstrong has done with his notoriety and fame and urging other great athletes to do the same.

As someone who at one time blindly trusted and believed in organizations and groups that were designed to protect us and fairly enforce rules, I am without question a skeptic. Everyone has something personal to gain. USADA and the words of former teammates turned accusers versus the words of Armstrong and his supporters, at this point they are all just talking. Great Champions know how to let things go, perhaps USADA and the accusers of Armstrong should learn from Lance and do the same.

Cheating and sport

South African gold medalist, Cameron van der Burgh admitted to cheating in the breaststroke competition. He took extra kicks after the turn. In his words: "It's not obviously - shall we say - the moral thing to do, but I'm not willing to sacrifice my personal performance and four years of hard work for someone that is willing to do it and get away with it." USA Today.

The short answer is to thank this swimmer for what is described to be an unremorseful and even brazen admission to calculated cheating. On the biggest stage in his sport, he has brought into the open an important philosophical and practical issue. Not only do his words and actions remind us of a spoiled child sticking his tongue out at his parents looking for attention and daring them for action, he is telling the sports world that there is a problem - A problem that needs to be addressed.

The beauty of competition and ultimately winning is to be the best while performing within the rules. To blatantly break the rules means that a competition, as it is designated does not exist. In a sense, this individual is the gold medalist of a non-event. Cheating voids the competition. His award is then meaningless.

Sport and competition at the highest level and especially for a select few is only about winning. However, this does not mean victory through calculated rule violations. How the game is played is part of the entire process. Unfortunately, it is sometimes talented, and obviously hard working individuals like this who hurt sport. Ironically, given the immense skill required to make an Olympic finals, I wonder if this individual could have won playing by the rules?

On the other hand, if everyone with a chance of winning was doing the same maneuver could van der Burgh legitimately be called the winner? If what he did is common place amongst all of the top swimmers, then on that particular day he was the best of all the rule breakers. As you can see, the slippery slope starts to get steeper and steeper. Perhaps, the international swimming organization needs to change its rules or install underwater cameras for all major competitions?

In the end Cameron van der Burgh will have to look in the mirror everyday and know that he won Olympic gold not by simply being the best on that given day, but by being the best with some extra help. His years of hard and dedicated effort concluded with victory by breaking the rules.

Champions and retirement

Michael Phelps has been questioned numerous times over the past few days regarding his stated retirement. His responses have been clear and concise, this was his last Olympics.

He will finish as the most decorated Olympian to date, a record that most certainly will stand for many years. This is what champions do, except for uncontrolled circumstances they finish on their terms.

If, on the other hand, Phelps were to continue swimming what would be his goal? In his interview with Bob Costas, he stated that he has reached all of his career swimming goals. He has also become the Michael Jordan of the swimming world. If Michael Phelps were to seriously consider a 4th Olympics, it would have to be for something greater than just the love of competition. For Phelps, the only result that matters is gold.

Champions at the level of Phelps love competing and winning. Competition for the sake of competing is not worth the time and effort. The idea of competition for the sake of competing is an anachronism from an old Olympic Ideal that never really made sense. However, if Phelps were to compete again in 4 years every aspiring Olympian will have to double their efforts if they hope to win.

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.

References

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.



The Champion's Way

The Champion's Way is a must read for parents, coaches, young athletes and for anyone interested in how champion athletes win over and over again

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