Monday, December 1, 2014

Coaching the Soccer I.Q.

The following is an article that appears in the latest issue of Soccer Journal, the official publication of the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (November / December 2014, Vol. 59, No. 7: pp. 60-62). I wrote the article while in Brazil during World Cup 2014. It is based on a working paper that I began while taking an Education Neuroscience class at Harvard Graduate School of Education

Our primary job as coaches is to make players better. Sure, some of us get paid to win games, but most of the coaches reading this article don’t have the luxury of dipping into the transfer market twice a year to go shopping. Instead, we’re in the business of player development, whether we coach youth teams or competitive college sides. Good coaches pride themselves on their ability to teach the technical, tactical, physical, and psychosocial sides of the game, yet we’re often frustrated by the challenge of helping players become “smarter.” This article provides some insights about how we can use educational neuroscience—more specifically, a phenomenon known as “perceptual learning”—to help improve the “soccer I.Q.” of our players.

The best players are often labeled as having a higher “soccer I.Q.,” being more creative, or being able to "read the game." But what does that mean, and how do we help players develop those abilities? While we know how to teach core technical skills to a player, we struggle to find effective ways to help these young performers develop the soccer intelligence that can set them apart. Too often, these qualities are characterized as innate or un-teachable. Based on my experience and research, I believe that this is a cop out! In fact, we’re learning more everyday about how perceptual learning can help us tackle the challenge of coaching the soccer I.Q.

In neuroscience, perception—or the perceptual process—refers to our ability to filter and interpret the mountains of information that our environment throws at us every second. This information—in the form of light and sound, for example—is critical to our survival, but it’s only useful if we can focus on what is most important and ignore the rest. In this sense, soccer is truly the game of life. In the game situation, a soccer player must deal with constantly changing conditions and constraints, while processing and filtering information from countless sources in order to choose from among a limitless set of options. The player that chooses the best option—the player with the high soccer I.Q.—relies on stronger perceptual-cognitive skills to do so. 

You probably won’t find the term “perceptual-cognitive skills” in any coaching manuals. However, these skills have a place within the existing framework for how we currently develop players. Traditionally, we focus on four areas of coaching: technical, tactical, physical, and psychosocial training. I propose that perceptual-cognitive skills, or the ability to read the game, be added to that list. Good perceptual-cognitive skills, when combined with knowledge of the game, enable effective tactical decision-making. In turn, when this decision-making is coupled with good technique, physical ability and mindset, the result is a great play!

Sports science researchers have identified four types of perceptual-cognitive skills that are associated  with higher performance in soccer. These skills are: (1) more effective and efficient visual search strategies, (2) the ability to use postural cues to pick up advance information, (3) pattern recognition, and (4) predicting likely outcomes based on situational probabilities. Professor A. Mark Williams of Brunel University (UK) and Liverpool John Moores University (UK) is one of several researchers at the forefront of this area, having applied some of these concepts in his work with the Football Association (FA), the Irish Football Association (IFA) and the Football Association of Wales.


Higher performing players utilize more effective visual search strategies. These players have a better sense of where and when to look in order to collect valuable, actionable information. When a goal is scored due to poor marking, the at-fault defender is sometimes guilty of “ball-watching.” This is a prime example of an ineffective visual search strategy. While focusing on the attacking player with the ball, the defender fails to perceive other critical information—for example, the other attacker moving into a dangerous scoring position. Efficient visual search strategies allow players to constantly and rapidly gather information from multiple sources, enabling them to make better tactical decisions.

Researchers, including Andre Roca of St. Mary’s University Twickenham London, have found that the visual search strategies of players differ based on the given situation. For example, in situations involving multiple players, higher performers take lots of short looks, or fixations, especially in peripheral areas. This helps them pick up and detect movement of multiple players spread across large spaces. In contrast, during 1 v 1 situations, good defenders focus in on the hip and foot areas of their opponents, while less skilled players stare at the ball.

They also found that a player’s distance from the ball determines the type of visual search strategy that is most effective. When the ball is further away, high performers use multiple, short-term fixations to gather information. This is similar to how drivers are taught to constantly scan the road up ahead while driving on a highway. In contrast, when in closer proximity to the ball, higher performers employ fewer fixations that last for longer periods. 

One coach that has been putting these ideas to work is Leigh Sembaluk, whom I first met when we attended an NSCAA coaching course together in 2009. While working in the Vancouver Whitecaps academy, Leigh began to focus on the development of a particular perceptual-cognitive skill in his players. He found that the vast majority of players—even at the elite level—do not perform enough over-the-shoulder looks in order to gain information about what is going on behind them. Over the course of two minutes of natural play, he found that players, on average, checked over their shoulders only 2 to 3 times. Interestingly, female players tended to check more often. Essentially, Leigh explained, this means that most players have an inaccurate, or incomplete picture of the game... most of the time!

Since then, Leigh has been utilizing technology to develop this perceptual-cognitive skill in his players. Using a set of programable lights, Leigh constructs a training environment that pushes players to constantly check over their shoulders, and react to the information provided by the light signals. One practical application of this skill is to help players gather information before deciding which way to turn after receiving the ball. After Leigh’s intervention, players tended to check over their shoulder more than twice as often.  In other words, they developed more effective visual search strategies, which allowed them to make smarter decisions.

The ability to read postural cues is easy to understand—high performers know how to read the body language of other players. Long before Shakira, good coaches have been teaching young players that “the hips don’t lie.” So, when defending an attacking player who has the ball, it is no surprise that high performers focus their visual search on this area because it is a good predictor of the attacking player’s next move. Reading postural cues is also a particularly valuable skill for goalkeepers during penalty shots, free kicks, and in open play. For example, when a right-footed player opens his or her right hip—even slightly—before striking the ball with the right foot, it often signals that the shot is heading to that player’s right.
High performers also demonstrate a stronger ability to recognize and recall patterns in context. “In context” means that this ability is dependent on the situation being soccer-relevant. For example, when shown an image of players distributed throughout a field in a plausible or logical arrangement, high performers can later recall more information about the locations of more players than their low-performing peers. However, if players are arranged randomly, in a manner that would not likely occur in a game situation, the high performer shows no greater recall ability when tested later. These findings parallel results from earlier research examining perceptual-cognitive skills in expert chess players.

This advanced pattern-recognition ability is closely tied with a higher ability to predict situational outcomes. Higher performers are quicker to identify patterns in the game, and are more likely to accurately anticipate what will happen next. For example, if a player can anticipate the movements other players, he or she can make a pass before a teammate is even open, beat an opponent to a spot on the field, or get into position to provide defensive cover.

These perceptual-cognitive skills are rooted in the neuroscience phenomenon known as “chunking.” This ability allows the perceiver to amalgamate bits of information into larger blocks, allowing for quicker processing. We are all expert “chunkers,” as long as we are operating within our area of expertise. For example, when we look at someone, we do not see a nose, mouth, eyes and ears—we see a face, and we recognize that person! The difference is that, through the development of context-specific perceptual expertise, high performing players are able to chunk information in the soccer environment, allowing them to read the game faster than others.


The good news is that coaches actually can help young players develop valuable perceptual-cognitive skills. The obvious question is, “How do we do that?” Work done by Prof. Phil Kellman (UCLA) and his colleagues on perceptual learning in mathematics provides a helpful framework for tackling this challenge. They found that interventions known as perceptual learning modules (PLM), had a significant positive impact on students’ performance in algebra. The PLM approach emphasizes the importance of exposing learners to concepts through varied representations, as opposed to repetitive explanations. Instead of explicitly drilling content knowledge or skills, the PLM challenges the learner to access or retrieve relevant information to solve a given problem. Exposure to these PLMs, even in small doses, was correlated with higher performance when compared to subjects that had either no intervention, or one that utilized a more explicit skill-development approach.

These results suggest that the key to perceptual-cognitive skill development may be repeated and varied exposure to scenarios that challenge young players to make decisions and to evaluate outcomes. Training exercises should give players a chance to experience and react to the patterns that occur most frequently in game scenarios. In practice, this means minimizing the time that players spend waiting in line or performing individual tasks without context. When coupled with effective feedback, this approach could help young players develop more effective perceptual-cognitive skills.

What about coaching in the game? Well, one of the keys to developing perceptual-cognitive skills is trial and error—even during the game. Coaches—particularly youth coaches— must understand that every game is an opportunity for players to develop. Coaches should take advantage of the game environment and treat it as more than just a performance, or a test of the material that was covered during practice. Players must have repeated experience with decision-making based on what they perceive. It follows, therefore, that coaches should refrain from making these decisions for players during the game. The goal is not to develop players that are experts at following instructions—we want to develop players that become experts at reading the game for themselves. In an amusing, but true take on this idea, Prof. Williams suggests that “the saying ‘children should be seen but not heard’ should occasionally be extended to coaches." So, when an attacking player receives the ball in a good position to score, the coach must resist the urge to yell “shoot!” That player, through repeated exposure and practice, will develop the perceptual-cognitive skills to recognize when the time is right to shoot, pass, or dribble.

Of course, there is an appropriate time for a coach to speak during the game. Conversations before the match are an important time to prepare players cognitively. Discussing some of the patterns that players will likely see is a good way to support their perceptual-cognitive development. This type of scaffolding may help players recognize the patterns more quickly. Again, helping players recognize the context in which events and decision-making occur is critical. White boards, cones, and other markers are popular tools that allow coaches to visually recreate scenarios, so that players can understand how to act or react appropriately to specific patterns in the game. The same strategy can be used during halftime and immediately after games to help players reflect on the situations that they have experienced. Coaches can facilitate this process by highlighting examples of effective decision-making, and by providing better alternatives for scenarios where players were not effective.

Coaches can also benefit from a deeper understanding of how effective feedback works. Research by John Hattie and Helen Timperley of Auckland University in New Zealand provides an excellent framework for this discussion. First, the timing of feedback is critical. Unlike in training sessions, the in-game environment is not a time for task acquisition, it is an opportunity for players to develop perceptual-cognitive task fluency. Therefore, coaches should not necessarily provide immediate corrective feedback after a player makes a poor decision—in fact, Hattie and Timperley argue that this type of feedback may “detract from the learning of automaticity and the associated strategies of learning." By limiting the amount of immediate feedback we give our players, we can push them to really think through the scenario, and to develop a deeper understanding of what is going on. In other words, sometimes it is better to wait for halftime.

Finally, coaches should provide feedback in a way that encourages the self-regulation of players. The easiest way to do that is to offer feedback in the form of questions. For example, after a player gets caught out of position, a coach might call out, “Where should you have been?” This allows the player to access, or retrieve what they already know before they take another shot at solving the problem. Even if the player does not respond, the pondering of the question supports the development of his or her perceptual-cognitive skills. What if the player does not actually know the correct answer to the coach's question? Well, as Hattie and Timperley point out, feedback is most effective “when it addresses faulty interpretations, not a total lack of understanding." When a player does not actually know what they should be doing, it must be addressed in the training sessions using effective PLM strategies. Of course, a coach may choose to provide the answer during the game as a short-term solution.

Before wrapping things up, I want to emphasize that the perceptual learning approach is not the solution to every coach’s problems. Perceptual-cognitive development should be incorporated into training in a manner that supports, not supplants the development of critical technical skills. Well-designed perceptual learning modules can support the development of technical task fluency while exposing players to scenarios that help them build perceptual-cognitive skills. So, don’t throw out everything you’ve been doing and start getting all perceptual on your players—it won’t work, and they won’t like it. Instead, keep these ideas in mind, and try them out when the time is right.


Throughout the process, I’ve depended on prior research, work, and feedback from many, including Prof. A. Mark Williams (Brunel University), Prof. L. Todd Rose (HGSE), Judy Muir, Peter Hayton, Leigh Sembaluk, and Michael Strawn. The original paper, including all research citations can be downloaded from my Linkedin page. Photos of me in the library taken by Bart Devon at Drivellian Photography.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

American Unexceptionalism

I haven’t always been patriotic. In fact, I’m not sure I am to this day. It’s not that I don’t like my country, it’s just that the idea of the nation-state has never really resonated with me. Maybe it’s the Aquinnah Wampanoag in me that makes me feel like we belong to the land, and not the other way around. Maybe it's that I don't actually think Americans* or America is special. Or maybe it’s that I tend to associate patriotism with politics and war. For whatever reason, I've never quite bled the red, white and blue.

I can’t remember anyone around me being overtly patriotic when I was growing up. I never went to a school where we had to say the pledge of allegiance—an idea that I always found kinda spooky, honestly. I didn’t have a lot of military veterans in my family. And to top it all off, I’m black. Let’s just be blunt—my people have some damn good reasons to have mixed feelings about what it means to be an “American.”

I was fortunate to be exposed to a lot of the ugly truths about my country pretty early on in my education. My school never made us dress up like Pilgrims and Indians and hold hands. I can’t remember not knowing that the history of the United States of America wudn’t purty. So, when we were growing up, we didn’t hate America—we just didn’t really bask in the glory of being American... and honestly, the 4th of July was just an excuse to eat chicken and blow shit up.

So, how did a conflicted Black American become such a rabidly fanatic supporter of the U.S. national soccer team? Well, the soccer part is easy to understand if you’ve been following this blog at all. But why do I love my team so much? After all, there are plenty of U.S. citizens and residents that root against us, for various reasons. Some have family or cultural ties to other countries—we call them “Xicanos.” Others just think we’re bad, and would rather support a country with a better chance of winning—we call those front-runners.

The truth is, my love for our team is not a result of my patriotism—it is one of the few sources of it. The first time I ever stood up with a straight face and repped hard for the USA was in 2010 at the World Cup in South Africa. Like many Black Americans who head back to the motherland, I was curious to find out just how African I would feel once I arrived. The answer was... not much. And before you get all Garvey on me, I should point out that the Africans in Africa did not think I was African either, so sit down and relax yourself. I felt the solidarity of blackness, the power of the diaspora, but I was a Black American in Africa. I can remember the feeling when the final whistle blew in our defeat against Ghana. The entire stadium erupted in cheers, except for the section behind me, which happened to have some pretty important Americans in it. At that moment I look up just to see a U.S. flag float down from the upper deck of the stadium, almost in slow motion. That flag landed on the ground in the aisle just behind my section. I shit you not: I looked at Bill Clinton, and he looked at me as if to ask, "Are you gonna let that happen?" I walked over, grabbed the flag, folded it up and tucked it away. He nodded at me and smiled. I still have that flag, the only Stars and Stripes that I own.

The beautiful thing about international soccer is that you don’t pick your team. South Africans cry for Bafana Bafana, Mexicans for El Tri, Nigerians for the Super Eagles, and Cameroonians for the Indomitable Lions (insert cheap shot about win bonuses). The sad truth is that most governments are corrupt and shady, to some degree or another. Chileans don’t think of Pinochet when Alexis Sánchez puts the ball in the back of the net, any more than Germans think of Hitler when Miroslav Klose is celebrating his record-tying fifteenth World Cup goal with an almost front flip.

It’s only natural that many Americans—and many non-Americans—have mixed feelings about any success that the U.S. national team may have. Many feel like the U.S. is already number one at so many things that it’s refreshing to see us get our asses handed to us in the world’s most popular sport. There’s even a contingent within the soccer-loving U.S. population that secretly, or openly wants us to fail. Unlike in the rest of the world, soccer in the U.S. has an ugly elitist streak. The United States is the only place that I know of in the world where the “best” players are expected to fork over thousands of dollars a year in training, tournament and traveling fees. Some of these same kids grow up to be the soccer snobs that actually enjoy the fact that they know more about soccer than their “regular” baseball-loving, hot dog-eating American peers. I think the inevitably growing popularity of soccer in America is a threat to their specialness, and they know that once the U.S wins the World Cup—which we will one day—it will all be over for them. They'll become just another unexceptional American—one of millions that love the Beautiful Game. Personally, I love being just another, average football fanatic, that happens to have been born on U.S. soil. 

But here’s the thing. The tide has already turned. This World Cup, the U.S.A. was drawn into one of, if not the infamous Group of Death. Many did not expect us to advance. ESPN’s Bracket Predictor shows that only 39% of participants chose the U.S. to move onto to the next round—and that’s coming from a user population that is disproportionately biased in the favor of the U.S.. But I’m writing this post from Recife, Brazil on the eve of the USA vs Germany game, and things are looking pretty good. As I fell asleep last night listening to several English-based soccer podcasts, I braced myself for the dismissive lack of respect that I’ve become accustomed to hearing from many foreign commentators. The funny thing was, those blokes across the pond were cheering for us! And more importantly, none of them was really shocked that we are sitting pretty with 4 points and an advantage against Portugal and Ghana in goal differential and goals scored. Americans playing soccer is no longer a novelty. It hasn’t been for a long time.

I’m just glad that I’ve been on this bandwagon since 1986, when my pre-school friend’s mom called my mom to ask if I wanted to sign up to join the Oakland Soccer Club. Since then, the game has brought me so much happiness—the gift that keeps giving. I just came back from playing in our weekly pickup game around the corner, and now I’m sitting across from my homie-brother-bff, whom I really first met playing JV soccer together in high school. That's what the game means to me, and our national team is the representation of that love made real.

One of the best stories of this World Cup so far has been the dominance of the Americans—and by that I mean all of the Americans: North, Central and South. Just like I felt that Black solidarity in South Africa, I know feel an American solidarity with all the countries of the "New World." We have a lot more in common than just being somewhat randomly named after an Italian explorer who discovered absolutely nothing. In this World Cup, the United States is one of many non-European teams with a point to prove—that is American unexceptionalism. We aren't special. We aren't a novelty. We aren't number one. We are just another team that will be judged by what we do on the field. Our team has come a long way—and thankfully, our Supporters Club has too. There was no chance that I was going to associate myself with an ultras section calling themselves "Sam's Army," but the American Outlaws hold it down pretty strong. 

Tomorrow I will probably lose my voice before the game even starts, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ll be cheering for my team, because it’s my team, and I BELIEVE THAT WE WILL WIN.

Pura Vida,

*People from the United States call themselves “American” and sometimes that ticks a lot of Latin Americans off. After all, they are Americans too, no? That’s why they invented the word Estadounidense. But the word Unitedstatesian does not exist in English, and with all do respect to Canada, “North American” doesn’t work for me either. So, for lack of a better word, in this article I use the word “American” to refer to people from the United States.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Country Music Never Sounded So Good

Last night I should have been gettin' busy. I’ve been accused of having a dancing habit, and there I was at a dance club, with two live bands banging out some sweetness in two different rooms. But instead of going nuts, I found myself taking baby steps. Not that there’s anything wrong with dancing with yourself, but I normally only last so long before dragging someone onto the floor with me. But last night was different. This wasn’t Barranquilla, or Boston, and the Bay Area. This was Brazil. And instead of SalsaHip HopFunk or Vallenato, the son du jour was Forró.
osomdoforroI got my first exposure to Forró over a decade ago when the Notorious D.A.D. brought back a handful of CD’s from a trip to Brazil. These are the kind of bands that you won’t find in the iTunes store or at Best Buy. I grew up loving Brazilian music, but that mostly meant Samba Bossa Nova, and other Brazilian Jazz. I have to admit that in comparison, I found Forró to be... well... a lil’ bit country at first. I mean, really... the accordion?
But that was a long time ago. Since then, Forró has grown on me like a untreated fungus. I think the tipping point for me might have been when I got my hands on Tim Maia’s Forró Do Brasil album. That is still my jam. All twelve tracks—but especially “Cross My Heart."
Last summer my relationship with Forró music got a little bit more hands-on, you could say. After missing out two years in a row, I got to go to my happy place, Jazz Camp WEST. I decided to I face my fears and tackled an instrument that I’ve always found inexplicably intimidating—the pandeiro. In Ami Mollineli’s pandeiro class we explored a few different rhythms, but the groove that went straight to my bones was the Forró pattern that we learned.

jovino-danielsheehanOn top of the pandeiro, I tried out something that is easily 10 times more intimidating than trying to play the pandeiro—taking a class with Jovino Santos-Neto. Here's a taste of what it's like trying to keep up with him. He's the one on the piano and we're the one's scratching our heads and asking lots of questions about the piano part on this piece by his mentor, Hermeto Pascoal.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I’ve been going to Jazz Camp WEST since 1998 and last summer was the first time I took one of Jovino’s classes. Sure, I’ve gotten to rock out with him in a couple of Samba parades, but “sitting” in his class is whole new type of hell yeah. Let’s just say I do not want my money back—more like I want to kick myself in the ass for not doing it sooner. But hey, there is so much damn candy in that candy store that is my happy place, and so little time.
In addition to being the jolliest damn fellow you’ll ever meet, Jovino is one of the most disgusting Brazilian musicians on the planet. That’s a good thing. The man is sicker than syphilis on at least seven different instruments. After a week in his Forró class, my Forró fungus metastasized into a full grown passion for Brazil’s version of Country music. I know, it doesn’t sound right, or fair, to call something as funky as Forró “country music,” but it is what it is. When the southern cities of Brazil were cooking up Samba, Tropicalia, and MPB, folks in the northeast were getting their vaquero on. In many ways, Forró is to northeastern Brazil what Vallenato is to Caribbean coastal Colombia. Unlike Salsa or Samba, there’s nothing slick or chic about it. But, if you were born with it—or if it somehow gets itself under your skin—it will bring you nothing but joy.
So, why the hell wasn’t I dancing? Well, that’s easy: I don’t really know how. I did get a quick Forró lesson from my friend Mila back in Boston, but security broke that one up pretty quick, letting us know in no uncertain terms that The Beat Hotel is not that kind of party. Their loss. So last night I was doing a lot of side-to-side two-stepping, and a whole lot of admiring. In fact, I have to take back my earlier statement—when done correctly, Forró is slicker than owl shit, which I’m told is quite slick.
IMG_1241So now I know how I’ll be spending the next six weeks—that is, when I’m not watching the U.S., Colombia, and Brazil romp through each stage of the tournament. I gotta get my Forró footwork down. Plus, I brought my pandeiro with me, so I’ll be stepping up my game in that department too. Unfortunately, I won’t be making it back to my happy place this summer—every four years the World Cup takes precedence, but believe it or not, it’s a tough choice. So, while Jovino, Ami, and all my Jazz Camp family are rocking out in the woods in late June, I’ll be in northeastern Brazil, getting my Forró on.

Pura Vida,

Jovino Santos Neto photo by Daniel Sheehan

This article originally appeared on the Pura Vida Music Club blog on Saturday, June 8, 2014. To view original article click here.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

12 Years A Clipper

I won’t waste any ink providing background details on what’s going on with the Los Angeles Clippers or the NBA right now. If you’re not up to speed, then click here to get caught up. Instead, I’ll start this story on Day 2, minutes before tipoff in Game 4 of the playoffs between the Clippers and the Golden State Warriors. Full disclosure: I’m from Oakland. Amidst mountains of speculation and anticipation surrounding what kind of statement the Clippers players would or would not do, I sat on my couch waiting for another 1968 Olympics moment. Good Lord was I disappointed.

As the Clippers took the floor for their warm up, they all met at half court in a high-profile huddle. With a big flourish, they tore off their warm-up jackets and tossed them on the floor, revealing red shirts turned inside out. That would be the Clippers refusing to rep the logo of a franchise owned by a recently-outed, but long-suspected bigot. Not a bad start for a protest. Unfortunately, minutes later, they were on the court, playing Game 4 in full Clippers regalia—logos and all.

My problem with this mini-protest is that it failed to do the one thing that a protest must do—create urgency to provoke action. Instead, this show seemed to be an attempt to do as little as required before moving onto to the real business of playing basketball.

With all due respect, I completely understand the coaches’ and players’ desire to stay focused on the task at hand. Still, I was unimpressed. So, while I admit that I’ve never been a professional athlete, I find myself needing to sound off on the late night before heading to bed. Plus, one of my favorite sayings is still “Take my advice—it’s free, and I’m not using it.” With that in mind, I present to you another Live From Tomorrow list...

10 Things That the Los Angeles Clippers Should Have Done

1. Refuse to play. They could have just stayed home. Or, they could have showed up, but refuse to take the court. Honestly, this is my least favorite option. I can still remember watching the World Cup in 2010 as several French players refused to play because of a disagreement with their coach. I was, and still am, disgusted with their actions. I subscribe to  the idea that in some respects, you play for yourself, not the coach or the owner. But, at least refusing to play would have created urgency.

2. Request an off-season trade. What if every player on the Clippers spoke with their agent, then filed a formal trade request with the franchise? This would have raised the stakes without jeopardizing the team's playoff run. After all, NBA players have been known to request trades for much smaller offenses than what the Clippers have been subjected to. And please, spare me that played out “they have kids to feed” B.S. The minimum salary in the NBA is around a half a million dollars per year. That means every player on the Clippers is doing just fine, even the ones with splinters in their asses from riding the bench every night. If there is an NBA player that cannot financially afford to sit out a season, then he is an idiot, and needs to learn how to manage his money better. Find another team... go play in Italy... find a ghost writer to do a screenplay about your story and call it 12 Years a Clipper*. If grape-pickers, miners and garment-workers can do it, so can you.

3. Bring the message onto the court. This action is very common in professional sports around the world. Almost every week, teams in the English Premier League sport a ribbon, patch, or arm band of some sort to commemorate something important. NFL players even wear pink socks! While a little insignia would not have been groundbreaking, it would have been a way to channel and highlight the team solidarity.

4. Rock the mic. If I can listen to the 2nd runner up from American Idol butcher the Star-Spangled Banner, then I know there’s room Chris Paul** to say a few words on the mic—and to the world—at halftime or before the game. It’s better than watching a crew of backup dancers shoot cheap t-shirts into the second row with an air gun.

5. Drop the logos. Completely. The Clippers could have kept going with their idea, which was a good start, except fort the fact you could still see the logo on their pants. What if they all took the court in plain uniforms with no logos? The great thing about this action is that it would have forced the hand of the NBA. I'm sure Adidas would've had something to say about it. Plus, my guess is that somewhere in the rule book, it says that NBA players can’t just wear whatever they want. After all, didn’t they fine players for wearing their shorts too low? Can you imagine if the league had to make a decision about what to do? Do they make the Clippers forfeit the game? Do they let them play in plain uniforms? I doubt Mark Jackson’s Warriors would have been filing any complaints in the latter case. My sense is that what the players want most is for the league to get off the fence and have their back. I can’t think of a better way to do this than to put the ball in the commissioner’s court—are you with us, or against us?

6. A work slowdown. This is a classic protest move of industrial laborers—they don’t exactly strike, but they don’t exactly work. The Clippers could have taken the court as if everything was normal... but then refuse to play offense! Imagine how awesome that would be to watch Chris Paul walk the ball across half court then just stop. How beautiful would it have been to watch them rack up back-to-back-to-back 24 second shot clock violations. The message would have been clear. The irony is that the Warriors put up 39 points in the first quarter, leaving the Clippers down by 15 after only twelve minutes of play. Maybe if the Clippers had just “slowed down” the game and focused on playing some defense they would have been better off.

7. Black Player Salute. This one might be my favorite. The Clippers could have taken the court with custom jerseys sporting the names of some of the greatest black basketball players on whose backs the league was built. Some giants that come to mind immediately are Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Russell, Julius Erving, Bill Russell, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Moses Malone, Bill Russell, Lenny Wilkins, and Bill Russell, just to name a few.*** If they wanted to get real creative, they could have included great black athletes who broke down barriers in other sports: Muhammed Ali, Arthur Ashe, John Carlos, Althea Gibson, Florence Griffith-Joyner, Jack Johnson, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Carl Lewis, Joe Louis, Willie Mays, Jesse Owens, Leroy "Satchel" Paige, Jackie Robinson, Sugar Ray Robinson, Wilma Rudolph, Tommie Smith, Marshall "Major" Taylor, Venus Williams, Tiger Woods****, and the list goes on. Can you imagine J. J. Redick stepping on the court with a red and blue Jim Brown jersey? And don’t try to tell me that they didn’t have enough time to get the jerseys made. I got a dude in East Oakland that can get you customized knockoff soccer jerseys from any club in the world by tomorrow, so holler at ya boy.

8. Win the game. If the Clippers hadn’t gotten spanked, then we’d all be talking about how they rallied together and used this adversity as motivation. But they did get spanked. In all fairness, I know they wanted to win. But they didn’t. I’m just saying. Maybe it sounds harsh, but as I write this, I feel bad for the players, but I do NOT feel motivated to rally behind them. If they had actually taken a stand, then I would be writing a very different article write now. But they didn’t, so I’m just another Warriors fan hoping that they lose, and hoping that they all find a better team to play for next season.

9. Play 2 on 2. The Clippers could have let J. J. Reddick and Hëdo Turkoglu take on the Warriors by themselves. Or, better yet, the two teams could have coordinated to arrange a 2 on 2 matchup: Reddick and Turkoglu vs. David Lee and Steve Blake. In other words: imagine an NBA without the black people.

10. Do nothing. Part of me feels like doing absolutely nothing would have been better than staging the mini-protest that they did. Wouldn’t that have been more true to their stated mission of staying focused on the game and playing basketball? I guess I feel like they did something just because they had to—but what they did was useless. 

Ultimately, they missed an opportunity to make history—not to make a scene, or to make history for themselves, but to create a moment that would live on in history forever. Like Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the winners podium. Like Ali refusing conscription into the army and forfeiting his heavyweight belt.. Instead, it may become another footnote in the history of American racism and so-called "40 million dollar slaves."

* The title of this blog post is taken from a hilarious meme that started circulating on the internet on Sunday, April 27, 2014.

** Ironically, Chris Paul is President of the NBA Players Association.

*** I was tempted to include Michael Jordan, but the cat always seemed to have his tongue when it was time to say something important.

**** Don't even start with me

UPDATE: At the time of writing this article, I did not know that the Clippers did in fact do #3. Apparently they wore black socks or something like that. So, my apologies for the inaccuracy. But, I will point out that I watched the entire game without noticing, so that says something about how meager the statement was.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Spring Broke

If you were to google "spring break," a short video of me eating mojarra frita in my chancletas would come up... actually, that's probably not the first video you'd find, but it should be. Apparently, March 20th was the first day of Spring. Apparently, Spring did not get the message. Either that, or it’s broken... temporarily out of service... under construction. Whatever the reason, the bottom line is that I just landed back in Boston last night and it’s colder than a witch’s tit. So far, this readjustment has been harder than any re-entry to the U.S. I’ve ever made before, and I’ve made a few. I can’t lie, it’s not just the weather—the last ten days were pretty special. Barranquilla is just as off the hook as it was when left it last June. The Lopez/Deal/Matheson family is still the tightest crew on the Colombian Coast—especially now that they’ve welcomed a new batch of kittens and puppies. 

My girlfriend, the lovely miss Allison Bak-Dashian, is still awesome and beautiful, especially on her birthday. 

Speaking of which, La Troja is still the epicenter of all Salsa-flavored desorden.

I’ve made it through my morning class, “Management of Financial Resources in Non-Profit Organizations.” In truth, my body was there, but my spirit was still a few thousand miles to the south. Now I’m sitting in the library, trying to give myself a fierce metaphorical kick in the ass. The next two months are the home stretch of this Master's program, and I can’t afford to be moping around campus wishing Spring Break was a two-week affair. If there was ever a crunch time, it is now. The good news is that I’ll have some help staying focused now that I’m back. For starters, we’re getting buckets of snow dumped on us tomorrow, so they’re won’t be much to do other than stay inside and study. On top of that, my Spring Break adventures left me spring broke, so my social life will be necessarily constrained for a bit. Hopefully, putting these thoughts to paper will help me get my mind right and get to work. Hopefully by the time you read this post, I will have gotten my academic mojo back. 

Pura Vida,