LAX Coach Provides Metaphors for Life and Politics

Metaphor: a symbol of something abstract

The last game of the University of Idaho 2016 lacrosse season was a loss to Boise State University. For a loosing season, however, there were a lot of wins.  The Lacrosse End-of -Year Banquet turned out to be one of the most surprising wins from my vantage point.  This was a season that took great fortitude. Fourteen young men played 12 games against teams in the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) from much larger, better funded programs such as Simon Fraser, Canada (lacrosse is the national sport), University of Washington, Brigham Young University, University of Utah, University of Oregon, and Oregon State University.  The U of I ended the season with 10 losses and 2 wins.  But we learned at the banquet, most college teams would not even take to the field without at least 20 players to allow for substitutions. To compete in a major conference with only 14 players and play every game was truly remarkable.

My son, Scott, was recognized as one of 3 seniors on the team. First year, head coach James Courter, talked about Scott’s high energy pursuing a finance/accounting degree, serving as president of his fraternity and playing lacrosse. Coach Courter remarked that Scott has an outlook he labeled “SPA”, superior positive attitude, in all situations.  Courter described how when he first met Scott, he found Scott’s  smiling demeanor somewhat disconcerting.  Courter would be talking about something serious the defense needed to do and he would look up and Scott was smiling.  Courter said by the end of the season, he came to learn that Scott just takes on anything with a smile (not a bad trait in life).

Scott Lax banquet
Scott exhibiting SPA with Coach Courter


The biggest surprise to me at the Lacrosse Banquet was not the kudos from the Coach for the team and volunteers but the Coach himself. Thirty-one years old from Florida, Courter moved to Moscow, Idaho for a part-time coaching position just to get into college coaching.  An outstanding college defensive player in the large eastern lacrosse divisions, Courter played lacrosse at Providence from 2004-07 leading his college team to NCAA Tournament appearances in 2004, 2006 and 2007. He earned Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAAC) Defensive Player of the Year honors as a senior in 2007.  Since graduating, Courter has worked his way up in coaching from assistant program director of a youth lacrosse program, to head coach of a high school program, and finally to head coach at the University of Idaho.  His vita tells me Courter absolutely loves lacrosse.  He has travelled across the country to work for a pittance for a team with no funding for scholarships or even the power to get the University to allow them to use the much ballyhooed Kibby Dome during inclement weather.  Courter’s resume also reflects a tremendous tenacity to stay with the sport while climbing the difficult to access college coaching ladder.

Courter is tall, slim, losing some of his hair. He came to the banquet microphone with a slightly wrinkled shirt and tie coming unknotted.

Coach Courter
University of Idaho, firs-year, head coach, James Courter

He is obviously uncomfortable speaking to groups from a podium.  But his presentation was outstanding, not because of the delivery, shaky at best but because of the thoughtful content.


He gave the three team captains a map, a compass, and whistle. As we all know who do any backpacking, this is survival gear.  However, Courter is from Florida not the wilds of Idaho.  He never alluded to the true function of the equipment in his presentation.  Rather he talked about metaphors, he had learned from his father.   For success in life, one needs to have a mental map of where you want to go.  But that map needs to be tempered by a heart which serves as a compass.  Is the map taking you in the right direction in terms of your moral compass, the ability to know what is right or wrong and act accordingly.  The whistle can serve two functions; first, stop the action that is not going according to plan or second, alert others that you need assistance.

I spent the weekend reflecting on Coach Courter’s remarks to his captains.   The metaphors of map, compass and whistle resonated for me because of my degrees in public administration and my life-long career focus on government and politics.  I have sat in many meetings where the map would have been much easier to develop and follow if we did not have to be concerned about the moral implications of the plans we are developing.

In my own neighborhood in recent months, St. Lukes Health System, the largest employer in Idaho has developed a master plan over many years to expand their Boise campus by closing off one of the main streets, Jefferson.  The administrators at Lukes have seemed surprised when the neighborhood has raised an outcry about the blocking of a main bike artery and their  failure to ensure the plan was pedestrian and bicycle friendly.  Given the outcry, St. Lukes has subsequently revised their plan, hosted numerous neighborhood meetings and recently sent out post cards to the neighborhood.  But it would have been much easier if Lukes administration had started their plan with not just what is easier and most efficient for St. Lukes (map) but what does the community’s moral compass tell us would be the best approach for serving the East End.  Final decisions have not been made on this issue.  The East End neighborhood was very effective at bringing out their whistles quickly and loudly when they were not involved from the beginning.  The neighborhood protest about the unfairness of not being involved from the beginning was shrill and loud, significantly slowing down the approval process.

We have another example of the map, compass and whistle metaphors in our national government. In the U.S. Constitution, the Supreme Court was established as the final arbitrator of whose map and moral compass should be followed during any period of American history. The Republican majority in the  U.S. Senate have delayed confirmation of a new Supreme Court Justice in the hopes of electing a Republican Presidential candidate who will appoint a justice  closely aligned with their conservative moral compass.  In other words, their map for the rest of the year is delay. During this interim period, the Justices are not able to rule on many controversial issues because they have a tie vote between liberals and conservatives. The fact that the Republicans in the U.S. Senate have essentially negated the power of the court by not allowing a replacement should concern citizens of both political parties.  This is a fundamental violation of the U.S. Constitution.  The Republican Senators are allowing their partisan strategy to interfere with their moral principles.  Without a strong referee, in this case the U.S. Supreme Court, the potential for unintended consequences and long-term harm particularly to vulnerable populations is great.  Right now in our country, there is no one in place to enforce the whistle.

In the end, these three simple metaphors, a map, a compass, and a whistle provide a measure of who we are as individuals and a country. A key question for each of us every day is: How do we develop a positive, ethically grounded future with the ability to ask for help or stop ourselves when we have gone too far?

Life lessons: Becoming a Graceful Loser

America is built on a culture of winning as exhibited by the current Presidential race. The over-the -top rhetoric and bullying, we see in the debates and tweets are a direct outgrowth of Americans’ proclivity and appetite for winning at all costs. As Vince Lombardi famously said, Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.”

I have to admit I like to win.  In my teens, I successfully ran track. I have a wooden box filled with my track medals (now almost 50 years old). In college, I played on the women’s volleyball and golf teams, always second string but at least making the team. My son, Scott at 22 is a senior playing lacrosse for his university team. My daughter, Kayla at 16 played high school volleyball and club soccer until her ACL was torn a couple of weeks ago. I want to emphasize that as parents, my husband, Pete and I  never pushed our children into a sports.  But if a they chose to go out for a team and were selected to play, we expected them to fully engage. During my sports career and  watching my kids’ teams for the past sixteen years, I have experienced and witnessed a lot of wins and losses.

Obviously, one prefers the elation of  winning. Especially sweet is a David versus Goliath triumphant where you unexpectedly beat an opponent who is on par or maybe better than you on any other day but that one special day you happen to win. Unless, the opponent is truly unworthy a win always feels a lot better than a loss. But losses are part of being in sports and an opportunity to learn some important life lessons.

This spring, my son’s man down lacrosse team, (his team has 15 players where most university teams have at least 30) has encountered a number of losses. The small team means large amounts of playing time but no time for rests or to pull out players who are struggling. Given Kayla’s injury and Scott’s pattern of losing games, the past few weeks have provided me with plenty of opportunity to reflect on the values of losing. Losing with grace requires the athlete develop his/her personal skills in composure, reflection, goal setting and resiliency.

1.Composure: to remain calm and have steady control over one’s emotions in a difficult situation.

Team sports are not for the faint of heart. Even at very young ages, large numbers of parents and assorted relatives show up at games to encourage their individual child on voraciously.  As parents, we receive annual written instructions on being positive and keeping criticism of our child, the coach or other children’s performance to our selves. Unfortunately, few parents heed these directives.  Children are berated from the sidelines for poor plays and scolded as they walk off the fields.  I have seen children leave games sobbing. As children transform into teenagers and college athletes the expectations from the crowds grow geometrically.  Winners are celebrities and losers can be booed by the fans and harassed in the media. One unfortunate Boise State University field goal kicker even received death threats for missing a field goal for a conference championship.  A player who is able to develop the composure to loose with humility, wish the other team well for their winning efforts and walk off the field with his/her self integrity in place to play another day is a great athlete and role model.

Given our cultural focus on winning, learning to lose with grace is not easy.  When my daughter, Kayla,  tore her ACL, she was up one moment kicking the ball and knocked flat the next by the opposing team player.  The referee ordered Kayla to get up.  She couldn’t move.  At that point, our coach went out and carried her off the field.  I tried to take her home but she wanted to stay for the game. She told me later at the emergency room, she was really proud of herself because she didn’t cry.  I told her it would have been fine to cry.  She said one of her goals was not to be one of the overly emotional girls on the field who cry about everything.  I hardly think anyone would judge her for crying over an injury but controlling her emotions was an important personal goal. She performed magnificently.  While I can understand the frustration of tears at a hard fought game, teams and fans need to develop the internal control to be good losers as well as good winners. Threats, name calling, and unwillingness to acknowledge the other team have no place in sports.

2. Self-reflection: to engage in serious thought about one’ action

There is nothing worse than a sore loser who blames his/her team mates, the coach, the play calling, the other team, the referees, the weather and everything else for a lack luster performance. The best athletes accept the loss as the opportunity to honestly review what he/she could have done differently and use the self-assessment  to improve their performance in the future.

3. Goal setting: to establish something you want to accomplish with measurable steps to achievement

Based on self-reflection, an athlete’s next step is to establish personal goals for improving his/her performance in concert with his team and coach. This weekend, my son’s team lost a big game to a team ranked in the top 20 in the nation.  My son’s team held the offense to a low score in the first half but were blown away in the second half and never scored at all throughout the game.  In the midst of the second half, my son missed a key, easy pass which led to an immediate goal by the other team.  Even as a mom, who knows little about the sport of lacrosse, I could see this was an error on his part. When we talked about it after the game, Scott was honest in admitting he had not played his best, he had made a number of mistakes and would have to work harder for the games coming up next weekend. My advice was to review what he could have done differently and then shake it off. There is no point in beating yourself up after a game or in life.  But there is every reason to understand what you can do to be successful the next time and take the necessary steps to improve your performance.

There is a great deal of personal satisfaction in assessing your performance, seeking ways to improve and meeting your personal goals.  Arthur Ashe, the great tennis star, explained reflection/goal process as follows; “You are never really playing an opponent. You are playing yourself, your own highest standards, and when you reach your limits, that is real joy.”

4: Resiliency: to recover quickly from setbacks and move forward

Unless it is the last game of the season, you and your team will be back on the field within a few days or weeks. I have seen young athletes and parents become totally discouraged by the need to go out and practice after a loss, even more so after a series of losses. I have seen young athletes quit because they aren’t winning. I have seen athletes of all ages freeze up in fear the next time on the field because their opponent is bigger, better and stronger than the team that beat them the week before. But playing on teams requires that once  the athlete chooses to play they must fully engage win or loose.  This means that regardless of the outcome of the last game,  the athlete shows up for practice, ready to participate.  To do this, week-in and week-out when a team is not winning requires an athlete  to persist in pursuing personal goals and gaining new skills without the external acclaim that comes from winning and  remain steadfastly committed to other team members. In other words, when athletes lose they must be resilient if they want to continue to play the game.  When they become resilient in sports, they will find that their ability to deal with adversity will serve them well in other life settings.

Let’s face it, as parents we have to remain resilient too. I have sat through a couple seasons of soccer without a single win. The seasons where my kids’ teams won city championships were much more fun. One year when Scott played high school varsity lacrosse, he only got to play in 2 games for about two minutes. My husband and I went to every game to be supportive. One game as we were sitting in pouring rain, I accidently dumped an umbrella of water on my husband’s head as I leaned over to speak to him. He said with a smile, “Are we having fun yet?” Actually, my answer was absolutely! To see my children engage and grow in sports has been a gift which I shall never forget.

Early this spring, my son called from college to tell us that his lacrosse team was small (15 players) and really young, mostly freshman. He wanted us to know since we were planning to attend a number of games that chances were the team wouldn’t be very good. My husband and I discussed this over several dinners and decided we would still show up at the games. We felt that the times when winning is the hardest, are also the times when our son and his team probably needed the most support.

Learning to  gracefully lose, provides important life lessons in developing composure on and off the field, being self-reflective, developing skills at personal goal setting and remaining resilient.  These are not only skills to master in sports but key aspects of living a successful life.

John Wooden, famous UCLA basketball coach who won ten NCAA National Championships in 12 years wrapped up how to address defeat in a three simple sentences; “Losing is only temporary and not all encompassing. You must simply study it, learn from it, and try hard not to lose the same way again. Then you must have the self-control to forget about it.”




Spotlight–Go See it!

Spotlight has been consistently ranked one of the top movies of 2015.  Rated R, this true story focuses on the work of the Boston Globe reporting team, called Spotlight.  In January 2002, the team broke the story of the Catholic priests molesting children and the Catholic Church systematically covering up this molestation.   The scope of the scandal, worldwide and to the highest levels of the church, led Pope Francis to apologize to victims when visiting America in fall 2015.

Since most viewers know the outcome, what makes this movie so engaging? The movie focuses not on the priests, the church, or the victims though all are back stories.  The spotlight of the movie is the gritty, hard working Boston Globe reporting team. The movie title Spotlight is actually a double entendre, gleaned from the name of the reporting team, the movie in turn focuses the spotlight on the work of afore-named team, on the cover-up within the Catholic Church and ultimately on the treacherous tentacles that draw seemingly normal, good people into administrative evil.

In the movie, the team is composed of top actors (Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffal, Rachel McAdam and Brian d’Arcy).  The Globe’s team in 2001/2002 was composed of some of the top news paper reporters in the country.  The Spotlight team’s performance and work ethic meets the standards of a Harvard Business Review article. Everyone understands the goal and their role in getting the story done.  Each member of the team gives their all to create a cohesive, documented story under a tight deadline.  The entire team is emotionally impacted by the tawdriness of Catholic Church’s failure to protect children and the egregious long-term impact of molestation on victims.

Cast of Spotlight
Cast of Spotlight: Michael Kenton, Live Schreiber, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdam, John Slattery and Brian d”Arcy


But the real hook isn’t the high quality acting. The compelling question for the viewer is how did this go on for so long?   As the movie unfolds, a culture of complicity unfolds before us.  The Catholic Church is one of the most powerful entities in Boston. More than 50 percent of the Globe’s readership were Catholic. The reporting team along with many Bostonians grew up in the Catholic faith and went to Catholic schools.  This embedded culture led to children being seduced by priests, parents being shamed by church officials for complaining, and lawyers legally negotiating sealed settlements.  Even when the Globe was first given the story in 1992; the blinders of culture kept a member of the Spotlight team from grasping the pattern and scope of the problem.

The viewer is told at one point that only an “outsider “could really see the problem.  The outsider in this case was the new Globe Editor in Chief, Marty Baron, from the Miami Herald (Liev Schreiber).  Jewish and from out of state, Baron found a column about a priest molesting a number of children noteworthy while his Boston staff did not.

In final analysis, Spotlight isn’t only a story about molestation in the Catholic Church.  Rather, it is a stirring analysis of administrative evil.  Guy Adams in his book, Unmasking Administrative Evil (2014), describes administrative evil as ordinary people engaging in acts of evil unaware they are doing anything wrong.  Some of these individuals even view their evil activity as good. In Spotlight, we see several people who argue their cover-up is for the good of the church.  These individuals equate what is good for the church as equaling what is good for Boston and the Globe.

The movie ends with a haunting, long list of all the locations around the world where cover-up of priest molestation has been documented. The lingering question for each audience member is, “Where might I be tacitly contributing to administrative  evil just by looking the other way?” Is it global warming, failure to speak up for refugees or laughing when politicians endorse building elaborate walls. Possibly even more subtle, equally complicit, do I silently watch unkindness, lack of compassion or ethical violations by my boss, coworkers,  my neighbors or my church?  What tentacles of administrative evil  are creeping into my life? Where do I need to go under a spotlight?

Mission Impossible: The Quintessential Team

Mission Impossible planEthan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team have been roaming the world searching out bad guys in the commercially and critically acclaimed Mission Impossible (MI) series since 1996. In the newest of four sequels, MI–Rogue Nation, Cruise and his buddies, the Impossible Mission Force (IMF), are dismantled by a Congressional Committee at the behest of the CIA Director Alan Hunley (Alec Baldwin).  Director Hunley, viewing Hunt a threat to America’s interests, commits all of the CIA’s vast resources to tracking Hunt down.  While the CIA is seeking Hunt, a network of former undercover operatives initiates a series of terrorists’ attacks to destabilize existing governments and establish a new world order ( a’la the Rogue Nation).  The plot hinges on Hunt’s ability to outwit the CIA while he and his IMF team root out the leadership of the Syndicate.

Cruise in 1996, Jerry McGuire
Cruise in 1996, Jerry McGuire

The movie has everything you would expect from a blockbuster; i.e.a big movie star, Tom Cruise, who had both Renee Zellweger and me, “At Hello!” in Jerry McGuire (1996). Cruise, now 53, is still in great physical shape and exudes quiet confidence. Hunt’s persona remains incredibly consistent through all five movies; the loner who establishes immense loyalty among the men and women he leads, propelled to do impossible feats by adrenal, shear willpower and commitment to his country.  Sexually attractive to women, he is unable to commit because his first love is the mission. The haunting Mission Impossible theme song (Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen) with the strong beat, recognizable to most Americans, strings the sequels together as does the continuation of members of the IMF team .  Luther Stickell (Ving Rhames) has been in all five movies,  Benjamin “Bengi” Dunn (Simon Pegg) in the last three, and William Brandt (Jeremy Renner) in the last two.

Rebecca Ferguson provides a role model of a strong woman committed to the team
Rebecca Ferguson provides a role model of a strong woman committed to the team

Newcomer Rebecca Ferguson, playing British agent Ilsa Faust, provides a strong female protagonist and  positive role model of the capabilities of women.

Rogue Nation engulfs viewers in a great motor cycle chase, impossible under water aquabatics, roof and plane jumping, guns, bombs, torture, fighting and surprising impersonations.  The plot line is propelled by dazzling techno/gizmos, disappearing data, and improbable security breaches. Needless to say, this is Tom Cruise and his team so in the end America and Europe are saved and  the Syndicate is annihilated.  While there is no surprise to the overall plot , there are lots of fun twists and turns throughout. Attending an $3 afternoon show at a second run theater, I certainly got my money’s worth.

teamThe five series Mission Impossible juggernaut, running 19  plus years  and amassing $2 billion worldwide, is propelled by a series of consistent themes.  The IMG team continues to resonate with viewers because  the core relationships are founded in the reality of successful  work teams. The  eight winning characteristics of the IMF team include:

  1. Ability to execute
  2. Focused on solutions
  3. Flexible/adaptable as the situation changes
  4. Proactive
  5. Loyal
  6. Trustworthy
  7. Organized
  8. Respect for and reliance on the unique skills of the team members regardless of gender

Every day business spends a fortune attempting to create the 8 facets of the successful IMF team culture. The next time your boss suggests a team building exercise, why don’t you propose going to Mission Impossible-Rogue Nation 2