Archive for the ‘Sports Topics’ Category

The Education of a Coach

Sunday, May 18th, 2014

The Book of the Week is “The Education of a Coach” by David Halberstam, published in 2005. This ebook describes the career of Bill Belichick, eventual head coach of two different professional American football teams from the 1990′s into the 2000′s. His excellence at analyzing films of players in action was instrumental in assembling winning teams and Super Bowl victories.

Job security is poor for coaching positions in college sports departments and in professional sports. There are many factors out of the control of the personnel, and networking is crucial for obtaining the next job, often in a different city. A newly installed athletic director could fire the head coach, and the assistant coaches would have to leave with him. Players could get injured or the team owner could interfere with the coaching of the team. Egos are big and the system for how players are chosen for professional football teams has changed over the decades.

Read the book to learn how Belichick rose to the top and why he ran into trouble in Cleveland but achieved tremendous success in New England.

The Outsider

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

The Book of the Week is “The Outsider” by Jimmy Connors, published in 2013. This is the autobiography of the American tennis Hall of Famer.

Born in 1952, Connors grew up in Illinois. His mother and grandmother were instrumental in turning him on to tennis.  He started playing in junior tournaments at twelve. However, at that time, there was no money in tennis, so he played to try to get a scholarship to college. That turned out to be a moot point, as his grades were poor, partly due to an undiagnosed learning disability.

Connors was left-handed, and a two-handed-backhand player. Like John McEnroe, he was a hothead on the court and launched profanity-laced tirades when he thought the line judges were making bad calls. He became an “outsider” when he hired a litigious, greedy manager who shook up the then-professional tennis organizations of the early 1970′s.

Read the book to learn about the people who influenced his personal and professional life, and the people who shaped his generation of tennis players.

The Secret Olympian

Sunday, August 4th, 2013

The Book of the Week is “The Secret Olympian” by Anon, published in 2012. This ebook is about Olympic athletes (who were interviewed by the author) and the issues they face before, during and after the Olympics.

Most nation’s teams travel to the metropolitan area of the Olympic games locale two or more weeks prior to the actual competition. Of course, the better funded teams use the latest technology in adjusting to the local conditions. For instance, if the venue is at a higher altitude than what the athletes are used to, they sleep in “hypoxic altitude tents” if they don’t find them too noisy. Other high-tech devices are used to test the athletes’ physiology more than once a day– “…oxygen utilisation, lactate generation, statistics about lung capacity… at different cycling and running speeds…” Blood is drawn from the ear to be tested; a rectal thermometer tests core temperature.

In 1968 in Mexico City, Olympians saw various “firsts” in addition to high altitude that they hadn’t previously encountered. Gender and low-level drug testing were initiated. Mexico was the first developing, and Spanish-speaking nation, to host the Olympics. At those games, East and West Germany competed separately.

The author relates how extremely rare gold medallists are. In Great Britain, athletes who have won gold medals number about 300 out of a population of approximately 60 million; .000005 or 1 in 200,000 people.

Read the book to learn about various athletes’ experiences in training, competing, clothing-exchanging, doping, partying, retirement and much more.

Running For My Life

Sunday, June 16th, 2013

The Book of the Week is “Running For My Life” by Lopez Lomong and Mark Tabb, published in 2012. This suspenseful ebook tells the extraordinary life story of a “lost boy” born in the nation that is now South Sudan.

Lomong’s childhood was cut short when he was snatched from his family at six years old, along with many other boys, by rebel soldiers fighting a years-long civil war between Muslims and Christians in that country. The recruits were called “lost boys” because they were forced into leading violent, empty lives, instead of becoming productive members of society.

Lomong, too, would have been destined to become a soldier or die of disease or starvation were it not for three older children who aided him in escaping from the captives’ camp. In the next chapter of his life, he still suffered extreme hardships, but he had a chance to play soccer, which he enjoyed, and excel at running, at which he was a natural athlete.

Read the book to learn how Lomong achieved tremendous success in various endeavors against impossible odds (considering his initial life circumstances), and what led him to set a goal to help his native people obtain what citizens of industrialized nations take for granted– clean water, health care, education and nutrition.

Sum It Up

Sunday, May 5th, 2013

The Book of the Week is “Sum It Up” by Pat Summitt with Sally Jenkins, published in 2012. This ebook is the autobiography of a long-time coach of the women’s basketball team at the University of Tennessee; Olympian, Olympic coach, daughter, wife, mother, etc., etc.

Summitt’s childhood consisted of doing hard labor on her family’s Tennessee farm, drag racing and playing aggressive basketball with her three older brothers. Her father was a gruff, hard worker who refrained completely from showing affection toward his family. Nevertheless, he had a passion for basketball. Therefore, in the mid 1960′s, he had the family move to a fixer-upper residence so that his daughter could play high school basketball on a very good team.

Unfortunately, the team was part of a pathetic interscholastic program that existed for girls at the time. There were many inequalities between male and female sports programs in Summitt’s generation. For one, she had to pay full college tuition, because “…athletic scholarships for women simply didn’t exist in 1970.”

At 22 years old in 1974, even when she was named head coach of the women’s basketball team at her alma mater, she was given a budget that was a fraction of the men’s team’s budget. Also, unlike a male coach, she had to play many roles in addition to coaching, such as serving as driver, laundress, ankle-taper, gym-floor cleaner, and bench assembler. Her office was at the top of five flights of stairs in a hot attic with no elevator and no air conditioning. At the same time, she was taking four master’s degree classes and was required to teach undergraduate classes.

Finally, in 1975, Title IX– which was supposed to “even the playing field” for male and female athletes– was signed into law by President Gerald Ford (according to the book). Summitt started to benefit from progress, but even in the late 1970′s, the men’s sports teams still had bigger marketing budgets and staffs than the women’s teams; plus the men traveled by airplane while the women had to drive hours and hours.

Summitt also discusses basketball as a metaphor for other aspects of life. She writes, “The point guard position in basketball is one of the great tutorials on leadership… they only follow you if they find you consistently credible… If there is a single ingredient in leadership, it’s emotional maturity.”

Read the book to learn about the coaching-career teams, victories, setbacks, comebacks and defeats; and family, health and retirement issues in the life of this overachiever.

Bonus Post

Saturday, May 4th, 2013

In honor of the Kentucky Derby, this blogger would like to report on “My Guy Barbaro” by Edgar Prado with John Eisenberg, published in 2008. This ebook tells the story of a horse named Barbaro, ridden by the author, a jockey.

Prado grew up in Lima, Peru in a poor household with seven brothers, three sisters, his mother, and a father who was a horse groomer. Two of his older brothers became jockeys. He had a natural rapport with horses, and became a licensed jockey at fifteen and a half. He graduated high school, and at eighteen, moved to Miami, Florida in 1986 for more challenging racing.

Prado rides on different horses in various states in races throughout the year. The Triple Crown is a trio of races very difficult to win. It consists of the Belmont Stakes on Long Island in New York State, the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, and the Preakness Stakes in Maryland. Up until 2008, race tracks in that third state suffered financially in the past decade, unlike those in Delaware and West Virginia, as it declined to allow cash-cow slot machines at its race tracks.

In the 2006 Kentucky Derby, Prado had the privilege of riding Barbaro, a horse that was a racing prodigy, owned by the late pop star Michael Jackson. Read the book to learn of Barbaro’s fate.

Bonus Post

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Besides Andre Agassi’s ebook, there is Pete Sampras’: “A Champion’s Mind,” published in 2008.  This ebook’s author tends to be a bit narcissistic, as is evident from the title, and the fact that the passages describing the matches he won, outnumber those he lost, by a few.

Nevertheless, Sampras racked up bragging rights through becoming the number one ranked tennis player in the world for six years. He won fourteen Grand Slams. He overcame various problems, including the stress from unfortunate occurrences concerning a fellow pro tennis player and two of his coaches (deaths and crime), his illnesses and injuries, plus meeting the psychological challenges of playing many finals matches in major tournaments against Andre Agassi, a formidable rival, beating him more often than not.

Read the book to learn the details.

Open

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

The Book of the Week is “Open” by Andre Agassi published in 2009. This engaging ebook tells the life story (up until his mid-thirties) of a famous American tennis player.

The author’s traumatic childhood invites the reader’s sympathy and the entertaining writing keeps the reader enthralled. Although this is a first-person account and the book is all about him, he does not come off as narcissistic. He has bragging rights as a world-class tennis player, and has done some serious introspection– he shares with the reader his emotional states while recounting his life lessons.

Agassi’s childhood was tennis-obsessed, as his father ordained that he was going to grow up to be a professional tennis player. As a powerless child, he could not argue. Besides, he told himself that he loved his father, wanted his approval, didn’t want to make him mad. His father became even more tyrannical than usual when angry. So his tennis career became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Fortunately, during his journey to the top, Agassi met friends, mentors, lovers and even opponents, who helped him to become a better athlete and a better person. When he got his first taste of celebrity, Agassi writes, “Wimbledon has legitimized me, broadened and deepened my appeal, at least according to the agents and managers and marketing experts with whom I now regularly meet.”

Grateful for his fame and fortune, the author decided to give back. He wanted to create “… something to play for that’s larger than myself and yet still closely connected to me… but isn’t about me.” He co-founded a charter school called Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy, located in Nevada.

Agassi proudly describes the school; a few aspects with which this blogger takes issue. He claims that pouring money into the school would make it a better school. He says Nevada is a state that spends less money per student on education than most other states. At least one study has shown that spending is not a factor in improving education quality.

Agassi also supplied the 26,000 square foot education complex with “everything the kids could want”– the very best entertainment and computer centers, athletic facilities, etc. On any given day, a famous politician, athlete or musician might drop by to teach the kids.

The author boasts, “Our educators are the best, plain and simple.” Yet, he goes on to write, because the school “… has a longer school day and a longer school year than other schools, our staff might earn less per hour than staffs elsewhere. But they have more resources at their fingertips and so they enjoy greater freedom to excel and make a difference in children’s lives.”

In other words, Agassi’s take on education is misguided in various ways. It seems he thinks kids will get a better education with quantity over quality when it comes to money and time. True, passionate teachers do not work solely for the money, but they value student enlightenment and recognition more than sparkling new classrooms. Admittedly, the author is a man of contradictions. Read the book to learn more about them.