Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category


November 16 on the Banks of the Cache La Poudre

I live an analog life. I don’t have a bucket list of restaurants that I need to get to. I stopped recording an annual bird list years ago. I talk more than text to a few close friends. When I dream at night, it usually about the same regrets.

I’m alive at seventy-two because I let go of a passion to coach. Or was it a passion to not lose? Either way, it is so far in the past, that it sits in my brain like a set of persimmon golf clubs that stand, covered in spider filament, in the corner of the garage.

Last year we visited the rim of the Grand Canyon. It felt like I had drifted back into the 1950s. I wanted to buy one of those stickers that I use to see on the station wagons of families who lived in our neighborhood, but it meant we would have to make a U-turn and head back to the gift shop. I hate turning back on a road trip.

When I was a boy in Northwest Indiana, there was wilderness everywhere. Not the kind you see on the internet with photographs of a remote river in Russia that holds enormous trout, but smaller stuff, a pasture across the highway with a creek that held crawdads in the bends.

I could head out in any direction on a bicycle and see something I had never seen before: a black bear in a cage at gas station, a root beer stand that sat with no thought about traffic, a backwash off a river, shallow enough to freeze solid before Christmas. Wilderness is not a destination but a place where you haven’t been.

Everything that takes place on the internet is moving too fast for me. Life is spinning faster than the centrifuge at the gym that removes water from my shirt after a workout.

Should I get comfort from knowing there are billions of galaxies beyond the horizon, and the possibility that there may be a civilization that is not marketing Coca Cola, lies, war and famine? Is creating our own departure built into our skin?

These are not rhetorical questions that I consider, as I head out to walk beneath the leafless cottonwoods, whose roots run deep beneath the river.

Terry Pettit – terrypettit.com


The Problem With Loyalty in Collegiate Sport and Congress

Many teams and athletic departments include “loyalty” as one of the primary tenets in their mission statements. Frequently it is joined with other values like integrity, service, and work ethic.

Institutions tend to make decisions based on goals and performance rather than the values that are part of a mission statement. This is true of athletic teams, BMW salesmen and members of Congress.

Several men’s basketball coaches who are in the Hall of Fame have put their universities on probation by either ignoring NCAA rules or deliberately looking the other way while directing their assistant coaches, managers, graduate assistants, or academic counsellors to commit felonies and misdemeanors.

Only one of these coaches has been fired. (Rick Pitino at Louisville)  Goals trump values when it comes to revenue sports. Athletic departments are much more eager to embrace a mission statement when there is a transgression by a female head coach, or someone coaching a non-revenue sport, like tennis or lacrosse. God forbid, a woman’s field hockey coach pushes her players too hard or yells at them inappropriately. There is a direct relationship between revenue and coaching longevity.

The real problem comes when goals and values collide. For example, a head coach chooses to ignore that some of his players are enrolled in a bogus class that does not require a syllabus, periodic tests or, as in the recent case at the University of North Carolina, attendance.

The team cannot reach its goals unless certain players are eligible and academic fraud is one of the ways to guarantee those athletes will be on the court. This situation continued for over twenty years at UNC and yet Head Basketball Coach, Roy Williams, claimed he had no knowledge of it.

I have admired how Coach Williams has coached his teams at North Carolina and Kansas, and the genuine concern he has in the welfare of his players. He is one of the goody guys in college basketball. But I also know that it is in the DNA of every head coach to know what brand of toothpaste an athlete is using, who they are dating, whether or not they are going to class and whether or not the athlete is eating original or multi-grain Cheerios for breakfast. A successful head coach’s life is dependent upon gathering information and recognizing patterns.

This is where loyalty comes in. A head coach is asked to have loyalty to several different communities: individual athletes, the team, the athletic department, the university, the local community, and at a state institution, the people who pay taxes to fund his salary. When the battle between goals and values begin, a head coach is emotionally connected to players and the team’s goals much more so than to the larger communities.

For a coach to choose to lead with values over expediency requires him to have already made that decision before the battle begins, otherwise he will lead with emotion rather than the mission statement tucked away in a shoebox in the attic.

In a successful program, you can come to believe that the team you coach does so many worthwhile things in helping to develop the lives of the people that you are coaching, that you put yourself in position to ignore something that might derail impending success or the image of what you have helped to create.

When this happens, an All-American quarterback who has committed a felony sits out for one game against a weak opponent instead of being suspended for the season. (The argument being that suspending him for longer than one or two games would penalize all of the players who were not committing felonies.) A basketball player who breaks his hand by slamming it into the wall after practice in a fit of rage is promoted for a red-shirt year which is not designed to reward this type of behavior.

Both of those decisions may help the success of the individual teams but they also may hurt other programs in the department who lose a recruit because a family chooses not to send their daughter to a school that doesn’t recognize the larger communities that are impacted by being “loyal” to the player or to a head coach’s goals instead of creating a safe environment for their daughter.

This is not easy stuff and I don’t know of any head coach or leader who has not struggled with making the right decision every time. I once coached an exceptional player who went out drinking, came back to the dormitory and decked a fellow student who called her a derogatory name. This was on the eve of an off-season regional event that we needed to win to go to a national tournament. I benched the player for the tournament, and we were fortunate enough to win and advance. But would I have made the same decision if it had happened during the regular season?

I would hope so, but I don’t know. I was an inexperienced coach trying to establish success, and I hadn’t really even thought about mission and purpose. I was more worried that everyone would find out that I didn’t know what I was doing. With the increase in budgets, salaries, and expectations, conflicts with divided loyalties are even more prominent today.

When you look at the behavior of the house and the senate, two teams that we believe should have as their primary loyalty to do what is best for the people of our country, they appear to have loyalty only to their own political party, major donors, or in many cases their own political future. We are waiting for a team made up of prominent members of our federal government to step forward, and act like a team that is grounded to the mission tucked away in the shoe box.

We are waiting for them to embrace the values of our first team who signed their names to this mission:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

–Terry Pettit www.terrypettit.com


Walking Toward Dusk On the Back Nine At South Ridge Greens

golf

Brown mulch gathers at the bottom of Fossil Creek
As it ribbons across the eleventh fairway
Where cottonwood leaves settle into the bottom
Of the burn like abandoned swing thoughts.

I am walking the course backwards
Hitting lost balls with a mashie-niblick
Watching our rescued golden retriever
Scurry back and forth from the marsh to fairway.

Golfers in groups of twos and threes,
Windbreakers wrapped to their waist
Pull trolleys with nine to fifteen clubs.
Golf in November is not about scoring.

No one offers advice.
No one is looking to shoot a career round.
The backlit sky is soft on the horizon
Like the pause in my father’s backswing.

Ben brings me a like new Titleist
He finds in the plum bushes
And then watches as I swing for the click
That comes from a well-hit shot.

The ball sails over the railroad trestle
into a wilderness without bunkers,
Or manicured bluegrass,
Out among coyote scat and bull snakes.

Far out on the seventeenth hole
A singleton in woolen cap
Is swinging a midiron back and forth
Walking his way home in rhythm.

As twilight brushes his silhouette
I think of St. Andrews, Carnouste and Royal Dornoch,
The unyielding desperation of the Highlands
Where a herder with a staff and a small flock
Lofts stones toward a place in the dark.