Athlete as Artist

IMG_2976If you are an athlete, as you enter the arena , any arena, you might consider this. You might see yourself as an artist as well as an athlete and ask, ” what am I creating?” Don’t think too hard about it to start with – just ask and then notice. What story are you telling through the way you move, the way you compete, the way you respond to the ebb and flow of the contest? Does it come from within or is it crafted to please someone else, to match their idea of what it should look like? Is it informed by grace, by a certain quality of character, by an authentic sense of movement and play, or by something bigger.

The scoreboard is a part of the arena. The clock and the numbers are a part of it as much as the lines or nets or balls. But, as my son in law, a former golf pro,  told me after a round of golf, ” A score is just a number. A score is not a story.” It’s the story we will tell after the competition that matters. Let it be yours and let it be one you want to tell and remember. jamie+anderson+slopestyle

The Awkward Path To Discovering Grace

Youth soccer skills“A ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups.  All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right side solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” groups: fifty pounds of pots rated an A, forty pounds a B, and so on.  Those being graded on “quality,” however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an A.

Well, come grading time a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.  It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work and learning from their mistakes, the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”

FROM ART AND FEAR – By David Bayles and Ted Orland

Grace is often born of awkwardness; those first fruitless attempts to put the ball in the hole or get it back over the net. How many times do you have to get back up on your skates or your snowboard before it begins to feel natural? How many jump shots in the driveway before you find your stroke and your spot?

When we are children, when we are playing,  it seems easier to make the mistakes we need to make to move from ugly duckling to swan. Because, of course, they aren’t mistakes – they’re explorations. We discover what works, what doesn’t – a little more of this, a little less of that. We smooth out the rough spots till the movement flows and we get what we want. Did we create it or discover it?  Both I would guess.

UnknownArts and athletics teach us the spiritual truth that grace finds her form in the real world through practice. Both the flowing movements that we see during the competition and  the qualities of character that make sports so great take practice. Speed, strength and agility, along with teamwork, sacrifice, and compassion; developed, honed and refined over time, through practice.

So, I’m invited to set aside the “idea of perfect” today and instead to explore and play. Take the first hundred shots, the first twenty runs down the hill, throw the fifty pound of clay and pay attention. Notice where grace is beginning to emerge and follow her invitation. Where will your practice and play take you this week?

little girl balancing

Making The Journey Is What Makes Us

One of the players I coach wrapped up her high school hockey career a few weeks ago. And, while there are certainly bigger things on her horizon as she prepares to play college soccer, she found herself feeling that momentary sense of sadness we often feel when we reach the end.

The beauty of the athletic pursuit and it’s power to transform can probably best be understood as a journey. Whether the goal is to reach the top of the mountain or the bottom, the important part, the biggest part, is what happens between the two.That’s where we experience the wonderful grace of being alive. Challenges are met, courage summoned, disappointments overcome and relationships with competitors and teammates are forged along the way.

There’s obvious satisfaction in reaching the destination. Yea!! we did it. But, making the journey is what got us there. Making the journey is what makes us. Grace is not so much at the finish line as on the way. Which is why the end of the season or a career feels bittersweet.

It’s helpful to stop and look back for a moment; to reflect on what we learned, what we’ll take with us and how we’ve been blessed by taking this path.  Then, when you’re ready, it’s time to pack your bags. New adventures and a new experience of that grace await.  Go hard, stay focused, and enjoy the ride. Great clip below from YETI cycles on following the path.

Love and Joy

The athlete’s journey begins with play. That play manifests itself in the experience of joy and enthusiasm. And, if its encouraged, into a love of the activity. When three thousand Olympic Athletes were asked the primary factor in starting their sport, the number one response was love of activity. We love to play.

” We play because we have an exuberance of spirits and energy…, says Kay Redfield Jamison in her book Exuberance, The Passion For Life … but, we are also exuberant because we play.”

There is something in those movements of gliding and sliding, twisting and turning, running and jumping and rolling over and over that gives us a sense of freedom and delight. That is is the grace of motion:  playful, elegant and transforming.

So in this season of love and joy one of the best ways to experience those is to take time to play, especially if you have snow! As Redfield Jamison writes, ” It is a rare person who remains unmoved by a first snowfall. Snow is magic; it draws us in, jostles memory and stirs desire. It enchants.”   Here’s what enchantment looks like. Merry Christmas!!

Learning to Wait

DSCF1928I’ve been thinking about waiting during this season of Advent. There is a beautiful rhythm to the seasons; times of growth and action, times of dormancy and preparation. Their nature is cyclical and spiraling not linear. Very few straight lines. Everything unfolding in its own time.

So it is for the athlete as well. We train and practice, we do the work and we wait. We wait for the change, the growth , the adaptation that we’re seeking, the body’s response. We wait for our time, the moment, our opportunity to contribute.  And, it doesn’t come  – not all at once or right away  – until it does. Then we step on the track and our time drops. We make the catch or the throw or the move. What we need, what we’ve been working on is miraculously there.

Athletics, like a spiritual practice, teaches us about waiting.  In her book To Dance With God, Gertrude Mueller Nelson writes, “We equate waiting with wasting time …. But waiting is unpractical time, good for nothing but mysteriously necessary to all that is becoming. As in a pregnancy, nothing of value comes into being without a period of quiet incubation: not a healthy baby, not a loving relationship, not a reconciliation, a new understanding, a work of art, never a transformation..”

The athlete learns to wait gracefully, to resist the temptation to force the action, to rush, to press – instead to let the game come to us.

We learn to pay attention, get in position, do the work and then trust the process, so that when the time is right and the waiting is over, we’re ready. We discover that the grace that’s revealed in the beautiful, flowing action of our movements; the generous quality of our character; or the gift of transformation was at work and growing all along in the waiting.  Enjoy the season.

Lean In The Direction You Want To Go

iStock_000011469617MediumIts hard to move gracefully when you’re going in two directions at once. Hips moving one way, shoulders another it’s hard to keep rhythm or balance. Oops, down he goes! In any sport we learn to lean into the change even if it’s ever so slightly so that we can make the change gracefully, shifting momentum and exerting power in a new direction.

I’m learning I do well to remember that in the rest of my life. Whether its an unexpected change to avoid an obstacle or an intentional step in a new direction it seems to be better to lean in the direction I want to go. Grace flows more readily when I  can relax, and commit to the change. Lean in.

Commit To The Journey

IMG_2976  Joyce Di Donato hit the nail on the head this week with her commencement address at Julliard. ” You will never make it, she told the group. That’s the bad new but the shift I invite you to make  is to see it as fabulous, outstanding news, for I don’t actually believe there is an it.”

We play and compete because it’s fun. We also do it because, for many of us it’s way of feeling connected and alive. It’s an opportunity to become more and be part of something greater than ourselves.  One of the things we learn though is that grace, the thing that transforms us and our experience isn’t waiting on the other side of the finish line. It isn’t found in the record books or on the podium. Grace is found along the way in the challenges and choices we encounter and in our response.

Over time we discover that the rush that comes with the victory or the accomplishment is momentary and fleeting. As enjoyable as they are, and they can be exciting, they are not what sustains or transforms us.

Di Donato goes on to tell the graduates, ” One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself right here, right now, in this single, solitary , monumental moment in your life – is to decide without apology to commit to the journey and not the outcome.”

So, play to win? Of course. Strive to better our performance? Absolutely. Remember though, to compete means literally to journey with. To “commit without apology to the journey” and let go of the outcome  – is to play with grace.