leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Ghost

One truism for athletes is “Father time always wins.” How long you get to play or compete in your field is both under your control– and not. The latter is very complex. But one thing I’ve learned is, for most athletes, the slope curves steeply downward towards the end of a competitive career. While knowledge and understanding grows, the physical capacity declines. With the decision to move on, a void opens wide and loud, and demands that you pay attention…

Well, 2022 will be remembered in some fashion as the year one of the greatest tennis players of all time bid farewell. Roger Federer left with a grace and class matching his career and manner on court. He offered a two-page letter to his fans that I urge you to read. If, rather than a good-bye, you consider his words as a vision for a fulfilling future, not a single box remains unchecked.

Even when they leave, the spirit of all the players and performers are out there with you above the field of play. Their memory exists in a wordless fashion as a part of history. Space has memory, and when you get down to it, it really is all connected.

There are enough salutes and well wishes for Federer out there. I would just like to share the impression I had of him when all the tumblers clicked, and I had the unlikely opportunity to see him front row at the US Open in New York City during his incredible run of five straight Open titles.

I’ll spare all the self-evident superlatives. What struck me was that Federer was like a ghost on the court. In an era of high decibel grunts, squeaky sneakers, and loud exhales, Roger moved about without a sound. Sure, you heard him stop, make subtle adjustments and, and at the time, the unparalleled explosion of the ball off his racquet. But in the process, Roger just seemed to float above the court and hover in graceful turns and purposeful lines as sublime and beautiful as any form of dance.

His face serene, not a muscle tense. One purposeful move flowed to another without a hitch in the transition. For the entire match my jaw hung slack. Truly I saw a ghost. I would look up to the huge stadium screen to see if the flat, digital version matched the true experience. Nope. How could it?  

While Federer was on his run of winning majors, over 100 other titles, and sitting at number one in the world, what I will remember most is how he played and competed. His grace and elegance belied the work and effort required to “make it look easy.” In a sports world growing in postures and chest-pounding, Federer offered no seam between the player and the playing.

He inspired the ephemeral and much-needed sense of awe. And, like most artists, left his mark extending the arrow of time in both directions.

photo credit: the author

leadership, Performance psychology, Sports Psychology

Signs and Signage of the Times

Every two years (it used to be four!) I find myself saying the same thing around bedtime. “Five more minutes,” which then turns into ten. And so on…The Olympics refuse to make it easy to say, goodnight, and I find my bedtime extended to hours not typically seen. But to lose a bit of sleep to witness some of the highest and best we have to offer seems like a very good deal.

Some of the greatest Olympic moments that filled me and inspired me are still with me like little notes in a lunchbox to “give your best.” Franz Klammer’s Gold Medal Downhill run in the 1976 Olympics at Innsbruck, a breathtaking 105 seconds on the edge of beauty and catastrophe. The 1980 USA Men’s Hockey team (boys versus men) taking Gold preceded by the question, “Do you believe in miracles?” in their semi-final game versus the USSR.

Many, many more each night over the years and they still give me chills. Awe is a need not so often fulfilled. To feel it and live it reminds that we are less than without a sense of awe at our center.

This year, in 2021, we experience the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. An asterisk will remind that the signage signifies a year of waiting. A year unlike any other. But awe still prevails. So many stories and conversations emerge and for many of us we find common ground in the joy of victory and the pain of falling a bit short. This year and years to come, I will remember Allyson Felix not just for her performance but for the person. In a time when role models and real heroes are veiled by celebrities and influencers, she is the real deal. As real and true as they come.

Since her first games in 2004 to the present, Allyson Felix has represented grace, humility, and a level of excellence unmatched.  The same can’t be said of a certain four-letter sports brand (rhymes with shnikey) who offered a major pay cut to Felix, negotiated while she was pregnant. But Allyson turned insult into opportunity and crossed the Olympic finish line with her own brand of shoes. Amen.

And while disrespected, Ms. Felix kept her eyes on what matters most to her—at home and away. She did it with her fierce will, boundless determination, and joy evident in her ever-present smile. I can’t imagine a better role model, a better representative of self, country—and her own enterprise.

Some come and go. And some are found out. It’s consistency over time that makes the true champion. Allyson Felix has been consistently great as an athlete and a person. We are blessed to be able to experience her greatness and steadfast integrity from a place so far away from home. Worlds away she is worlds above. Someone to look up to.  

Note: This post first published by this author on Afatherspath.org on 8/8/2021

Photo credit: dreamstime.com