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Tony and Lauren Dungy’s schedules are tight – booked from morning to night with commitments to their family, church and their various professional endeavors.

So, when I was able to wrestle thirty minutes from them to discuss the release of their upcoming children’s books, I was keen on maximizing our few minutes together.  Just before my phone rang, in fact, I gave myself a last-minute pep-talk, quietly affirming, “Be concise, to the point.  Don’t waste any time.”

As usual, though, my plan quickly went out the window.  My pre-call pep talk fell on predictably, deaf ears.  

I did talk with the Dungy’s about the release of their upcoming children’s books on August 7th – eventually.  It only took us about twenty minutes to get there.

Instead, we spent our initial moments talking about the Dungy’s love of RV’ing with their kids – and, boy, am I jealous of the life they lead as a big, happy family of adoption.

“We love to go in the RV and watch the kids explore,” you can feel Lauren’s smile through the phone.  The Dungy’s gush about hiking, fishing and the simplicity of being together at campgrounds.

“When we camp, other than the noise our big family makes, we blend in,”  Tony Dungy, the Hall of Fame coach, adds,  “Sure, people are initially curious, but once that wears off, we’re just another family asking for firewood or a match or whatever.  In fact, the family we met yesterday at Mt. Hood were from Tulsa.  They plan to come visit us someday.”

As we talk, I can’t help but think of the stories you’d hear from Tony and Lauren Dungy if you were fortunate enough to sit around a campfire with them.  (Take note, though, that if you have that opportunity, Lauren is the designated campfire-starter in the family while Coach Dungy takes care of “crowd control” duties.)

I can paint a picture of a chat around a Dungy campfire.

Many of the tales they’d tell, I assume, would start with their devout faith.  After all, that is how their life together began.

As Tony tells it, “Meeting Lauren was divine intervention.  My teammate was sick so I stood in for him at an event at a church in Pittsburgh.  After I was done speaking, the pastor introduced us.  A year later, we were married.  It’s been a wonderful 36 years together.”

As the fictitious fire crackles to full maturity, the Dungy’s might move on to tell you about the family that surrounds them and how they came to be.

“Our kids range from thirty to two and a half years old.  There are seven living with us in the house now.  They all have different, special gifts,”  I hear pride in Lauren’s soft tone.

How did this huge family come to be?

Lauren is the first to talk about their journey, “I grew up in a home that cherished adoption.  My grandparents adopted, my parents fostered over 60 children after raising five kids.  In fact, they adopted two kids while in their 60’s.  Adoption is such a beautiful thing – it is really a ministry for us.”

Coach Dungy is more chronological as he begins to explore his adoption experience, “Around 1999 or 2000, one of my assistant coaches was adopting.  I gave a reference and spoke to a social worker on his behalf.  She informed me that there was a backlog of African-American kids in the system that needed help.”

As our make-believe campfire continues to burn, it’s likely that Tony and Lauren would laugh about the hectic life of their big family.  The Dungy’s lives are, like most parents, dominated with kids activities, errands and school drop-off duties.

The couple laughs in unison as I ask them to take me through their mornings.  Tony chuckles as Lauren starts, “It’s a little crazy.  All seven kids go to different schools so we’re on the go.  Most of the time, some of the kids are late while the others are early.  That’s just the way it is.”

She continues, “We try to do as much as we can together.  All of the kids support each other – at concerts or games – we’re all there to cheer each other on.”

With the obvious cohesion of the Dungy family, it is easy to understand their continued ability to co-write and publish books under the “Team Dungy” byline.  The latest two books, Maria Finds Courage and Austin Plays Fair, will be released on August 7th by Harvest House Publishers.

“There is a message in every book we write.  Whether it is about courage or sportsmanship or adoption, our books will teach children qualities that we value,”  Coach Dungy explains.

So, what can parents expect from the two newest books?

Lauren breaks the books down simply, “In each book, the characters are diverse and that is intentional.  These books are for everyone.  Austin learns to always play fair, even if you lose.  Maria is the new kid in a neighborhood and learns about trying new things, taking risks and how to support friends.”

Maria Finds Courage and Austin Plays Fair are the first of more books to come from Team Dungy through Harvest House – look for the next series of titles to be released in the Spring of 2019.

A quick glance toward my watch tells me that my mythical chat around the campfire with Tony and Lauren Dungy has to end.  As much as I dread the questions left unanswered, I leave our brief time together impressed with those answers I’ve heard.

I feel revitalized and uplifted – ready to try to live up to the shining examples that Team Dungy personifies.  And, I must admit, tempted to start shopping for an RV that will find its way to a spot next to the Dungy’s in the future.

About Team Dungy:

Tony Dungy’s success in the National Football League as a player and coach, his induction to the NFL Hall of Fame, and his on-going role with NBC as an analyst clearly showcases his impressive career. He is the author of several books, including bestsellers Quiet Strength, The Mentor Leader, and Uncommon. However, it’s the work he and Lauren do outside of football that is truly his heart and soul.

Lauren Dungy is an early childhood educational specialist, best-selling author, and frequently sought-after speaker. A graduate of Duquesne University with a degree in elementary education, she taught school and volunteers as a reading specialist in Title I schools. Lauren has a great passion and love for children, and works closely with several adoption agencies and women’s shelters. She is a devoted wife and mother to ten children.

About Harvest House Publishers:

Harvest KidsTM, an imprint of Harvest House, a Christian publishing company based in Eugene, Oregon, creates a wide variety of products that promote biblical values, spark imagination, and encourage young readers up to 12 to develop a lifelong love of Jesus. The Harvest KidsTM line includes Bibles, picture books, devotionals, and other inspiring products, with a special focus on resources for tweens ages 8 to 12.

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***The below post is sponsored although all opinions are my own.***

Lynden, age 11, holding Budweiser’s marinade pouches (July, 2018).

We all know Budweiser as the iconic King of Beers.  You may not, though, recognize the iconic American brand as the new King of Sauces.  

Yes, just in time for peak grilling season, Budweiser has released a variety of sauces and marinades to satisfy any taste.  My family gave a few of them a try – all to great reviews from my five kids.

One of our favorites was the Budweiser Hot Wing Sauce which we used to spice up some grilled chicken sandwiches.

My buffalo chicken sandwich recipe is simple:

Chicken Prep:

  1. Cut several chicken breast into portions appropriate for your selected bun.  (Note: for my young kids, I make sure to slice them thin, no more than a quarter inch thick for ease of biting/chewing).
  2. Pour half of the Budweiser Hot Wing Sauce into a glass pan – make sure the bottom of the container is well coated.
  3. Place chicken breast portions into the container of sauce and refrigerate for the afternoon – the longer, the better but at least an hour prior to grilling.
  4. Flip the portions around a bit, making sure that each is well covered in sauce before storing.

While you wait for the chicken, make the Blue Cheese garnish for our sandwiches, as follows: 

  1. Mix one, 8 ounce container of fine Blue Cheese crumbles with 16 ounces of sour cream (or Greek yogurt)

    Yosef, age 12, digging into his Budweiser Hot Wing chicken sandwich (July, 2018).

  2. Consistency should be a bit lumpy – not runny.
  3. Place in a container, refrigerate until your sandwiches are ready to top.

Back to the chicken:

  1. Take the chicken directly from the container and place them on the hot grill.
  2. Brush on more Budweiser Hot Wing Sauce (to your taste).
  3. Flip frequently until fully cooked – if your kids complain about grill marks, layer the grill with tin foil.
  4. Remove chicken from grill.

The end result:

  1. Place the chicken onto a bun – whole wheat for my kids.
  2. Top with lettuce, tomato, onion and a HEAPING dab of the Blue Cheese sauce you made previously.
  3. Carrots and celery make a great side dish – a perfect complement to scoop up any sauce that happens to fall of from the sandwich.
  4. Repeat for sandwich #2 and #3….and, in my case #4, #5 and #6.

My oldest sons, Yosef and Lynden, love the heat of the Budweiser Wing Sauce but my other kids prefer something more subtle.  In that case, I’d substitute the line of barbecue sauces from Budweiser and follow the same process.  The blue cheese dip tastes great on barbecue chicken as well.

No matter the taste, my family loved our sampling of Budweiser’s line of sauces for grilling.  And, although, the line of sauces may not immediately overshadow the beer that made them famous, there is no doubt that Budweiser may be on its way to becoming the new King of Sauces.

Allergy notes: Those following a gluten-free diet should not use the Budweiser Sauces.  Please be sure to read the ingredients list carefully to ensure compliance with any other allergies in your household.

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About a month ago, an article about CNN’s Anthony Bourdain appeared on my social media feed.  And, while I can’t remember who posted it or the exact words they used to draw me in, I took an interest in reading about this seemingly quirky host of a show I’d never watched.

The article had little to do with Bourdain’s enormously successful career.  Th piece was about his modest beginnings and, I’m a sucker for a good story about rising to predominance from nothing.

The story, as I began to understand, was that of a New York City chef whose life turned upside down after submitting a piece he’d written, called Don’t Eat Before Reading This, to The New Yorker magazine in 1999.

As Bourdain told it, he was late on rent and heading into another downward spiral when his mother persuaded him to mail the article to the magazine.  A few months later, still broke and working his way through kitchens in the city, Bourdain’s piece was published and his television and literary career was created.

His rise was as meteoric as his fall.

That article was the only thing I knew about Mr. Bourdain.  His show, CNN’s Parts Unknown, never appealed to me.  I mean, my wife had to convince me of the existence of vegetables other than corn for the first three years of our marriage.  Hell, I complain about a $12 cheeseburger so his tasting of ornate meals in distant places wasn’t a great fit for me.

His rags to riches story intrigues me, though, as much as his suicide has me shaking my head.  And, as I normally do, I tend to think about the tragic news of Bourdain’s passing in the context of how my kids will ask me to explain it.

I guess, I’ll say something like – Sometimes the most famous of people can be the loneliest. 

Or, maybe I’ll take the opportunity to introduce them to Bourdain’s work and Parts Unknown, saying – See, he loved food and turned it into a career of traveling around the world and eating!  You can do the same if you work hard enough.  

I could just tell them that, as important as Bourdain was, the issue of suicide and mental health is larger – If you see someone struggling, you have an obligation to human kind to help in some way.  

These answers will satisfy my kids insatiable need to be in the know.  But, in all  honesty, I’m not sure I’ll be heeding my own advice.  In fact, I know I have friends that are struggling – maybe not as badly as Bourdain – and I haven’t taken the time to help, to call or to ask.

In fact, if there are days that go sideways for me, I’m not one to ask for help or to phone a friend either.  I let things boil up and fall back on fact that doing so is a “man thing.”  We’re tough – able to shoulder the load, to push through.

Stories like Anthony Bourdain’s, though, make me think that pushing through might not be for the best.

In 1999, in the piece that made Bourdain an icon, he described kitchens as “the last refuge of the misfit…a place for people with bad pasts to find a new family.”

We all need a refuge – a place to be at peace.

For me, that place changes all the time – a running trail, to chat with an old friend, a cold drink, watching my 9 year-old’s dance recital, a glorious sunset, a cool swim or the glowing night of my laptop late at night.

And, though I’m no chef or foodie, I can take a lesson from Bourdain by rearranging his thought a bit as it relates to my family and I.

After all, my family cares not about any bad pasts and hopes only that we find refuge in our own occasional misfit-ery.

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“Do the coaches call traveling during scrimmages?”

My son is not the most skilled basketball player and, at age 12, I was sure that he’d been cited multiple times during his first two days of basketball camp.  Moreover, I wanted to open the door to a conversation about how he was enjoying his time at the high school gymnasium this week.

“Yep.  The coaches are pretty serious.  They even call traveling on the little kids,” Yosef replied with certainty.

“Really?  How little?”  I questioned further with a pinch of judgement.

“Like Lincoln’s age – I guess the youngest kids are 6 or so.”  Yosef made reference to a family friend for my benefit, I’m sure.

I nodded, flashed an understated smile, saying, “That seems pretty young to be calling traveling.  What’s the point?”

With his typical grin, Yosef nodded agreeably – not wanting to go any deeper in the discussion with his dad today.  Yosef, I gather, detected that I didn’t agree that holding little kids to the strict rules of the games was warranted.

I didn’t think much more about the conversation until later on.  That evening I stood near my 5 year-old, Everett, at the local golf driving range.

I don’t play much golf, but my little son loves it.  Something about intensely swinging a golf club and whacking the dimpled ball twenty yards is cathartic for him.  I’d promised to take him to the range as a reward for a good day at home so, there we were, in the Florida summer heat with our $9 basket of yellow practice balls.

Standing about ten feet behind my son, shifting through work emails and occasionally glancing up to watch him, I witnessed about five vicious swings that sent balls everywhere.  I put down my phone, feeling the need to assert my dad-golf knowledge.

My lesson began:

“Everett, don’t swing so hard.  Easy does it.”  I used to hate when my dad said that to me.  But, damn, it does ring true in finesse games.

Whoosh!  Everett reared back and missed the ball – not heeding my advice.


And, again.

Everett, age 5, practicing his golf swing (June 2018).


Finally, after three unsuccessful attempts, he made contact – sending the ball into the ground about 15 feet from the AstroTurf threshold from which he stood.

Again, I thought he could do better so I butted in.

“Everett,”  I interjected, “Keep your front arm locked and straight.  And, switch up your hands – just like in baseball – right under left.”

Sweat now drenching his brow, Everett, launched into a violent five-missed-swing tirade that ended as his back foot shook loose of his worn flip-flops.

Obviously blaming his errant swings on my uninvited instruction, Everett looked at me in disgust, “DAD!”

My lesson, today, was over.

Everett returned to his reverse cross-handed swing.  He missed the ball less.  He hit the ball the same, sub-par distance.  Everett, though, did so with a markedly better disposition.

As we jumped into the van, a thought entered by mind –

Why would I be annoyed at an official calling a 6 year-old for a traveling violation at basketball camp, but later insist that my 5 year-old use proper form in hitting at the driving range?

Is it my duty to coach my kids to perfect while others should take it easy and step off?  This didn’t feel right to me.

In these moments I realize that my expectations of what I feel coaches should deliver to my kids is often different from what I practice with them.

I tell myself that I want one thing for my kids’ sports adventures at this point – for them to be actively enjoying their time playing.  That’s it.  I just want them to have fun – no rules, no adults breathing down their necks, no pressure-packed championship game, no screaming fans, no agitated referees blowing the whistle for every meaningless violation.  Just have fun, I say.

Too often, though, I catch myself scoffing at a coach’s approach from the sideline or complaining quietly to the parent standing next to me.  It seems more difficult to hold myself to the same, “just fun” standard.

I need to try harder.

If a 6 year-old needs four steps to garner the strength to hurl the basketball eight feet into the sky, that’s fine by me.

It’s okay if the toddler soccer player grabs the ball while playing midfield – just put it down and start again.

If my tee-ball kids miss home plate or run toward third base first, so be it.

And, if Everett wants to swing as hard as he can with his right hand above his left, I should shut up and let it be.

After all, for little kids, the goal should be to, simply, just have fun.

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ESPN star Mike Greenberg and his wife, Stacy, lost a dear friend to cancer in late September of 2009.

That family friend’s name is Heidi Armitage and, nearly nine years after her passing, I can hear the emotion in Greenberg’s voice as we talk about her impact on his family.

Normally a smooth wordsmith, Greenberg’s plain talk catches me off-guard, “I was pissed when Heidi died – there is no other way to say it.  I was mad – she was such a great person and for her to be gone hurt.”

His voice trails, then regains strength, “Afterward, I just had to do something.  I found that writing was that thing.”

Greenberg channeled his anger into writing his first novel, All You Could Ask For, a story based on Armitage’s battle with cancer and the network of friends that cared for her throughout.

The book not only took the germophobic, hyperbolic anchor known to colleagues as “Greeny” outside of his sports-cocoon, it provided the Greenberg family the chance to donate over $150k to fund cancer research.

That, it seems, was just the beginning of the ESPN star’s philanthropic efforts to eradicate cancer. 

On May 8th, Mike and Stacy Greenberg will release a co-authored, classic children’s book entitled, MVP: Most Valuable Puppy.

Greenberg is matter-of-fact in giving me a quick book report, “Make no mistake – MVP is NOT about cancer.  It’s a book to read to your little ones or for a child learning to read.  It’s about a puppy who learns about sports based on our Labradoodle, Phoebe.”

His academic tone turns more cheerful as Greenberg continues, “Best of all, MVP will, again, send ALL author’s proceeds to the Jimmy V Foundation with the specific intention to fund pediatric cancer research.  We won’t make a dollar until, and I say this often, they cure cancer.”

Pausing for a moment, Greenberg sounds suddenly reflective, “Of everything I do, helping to fund cancer research is the most important.”

Given all of his daily commitments, that is quite a statement.

Greenberg, after all, wears many hats.

Greeny – the dad

Mike Greenberg became the face of early morning ESPN radio as the co-host of the enormously successful “Mike & Mike In the Morning” show.  He is now the face of ESPN’s newly launched morning television show called Get Up!

While the show’s names and co-hosts have changed, his early morning schedule has not.

Those early hours, Greenberg says, provide a perfect opportunity to be an active dad to his two children – now teenagers.

“I have the greatest job for a family guy.  I talk about sports and go home.  When my kids were younger, I picked them up at least 3 times a week – and, normally, everyday from school.  In fact, Ms. Hoover, my daughter’s 1st grade teacher, gave me the greatest compliment after speaking to her class many years ago.  She said, ‘I’ve been here 30 years and you are the first dad to know each student’s name.’  I still love to think about that.  I was there – and still am.”

Greenberg’s love of fatherhood and family is evident as he chuckles and compares his children’s early years to today, “It’s funny, now my kids put me to bed.  It’s different with older children – not less wonderful, just different.  I have conversations with my kids that I’d never dreamed of – about everything.  It’s the greatest.”

Greeny – the star of ESPN’s new morning show, Get Up!

For 17 years, Mike Greenberg co-hosted America’s most popular sports radio show with Mike Golic – a daily, four-hour program aptly entitled Mike & Mike In the Morning.  The two Mike’s diverge personalities and opinions – Greenberg often acting as the voice of the fan while Golic represented athletes in the locker room – was a recipe for remarkable success for the national radio show and its T.V. simulcast.

On November 1, 2017 Greenberg left Mike & Mike for his next project – a new, high-profile morning sports television show called Get Up!  The show premiered in April 2018 and is anchored by Greenberg, former NBA star Jalen Rose and Michelle Beadle.

Just one month in, Greenberg’s enthusiasm for the show is palpable as we talk.

“Building something from nothing is a challenge.  The show is, and will be, evolving – and we’ll be doing it while lots of people are watching.  It’s not easy and not short-term.  If anyone wanted this to come easy, they shouldn’t have signed up for this project.”

While not dismissive of the criticism that Get Up! has faced in its infancy, Greenberg is steadfast in his confidence about the show’s future.

“Our goals are huge – they are big and it will take time to get there.  I love it.  Bon Jovi actually told me once, ‘I’d rather sell 1 million albums for 30 years then 30 million in one.’  That is our mentality.”

Greeny, Beadle or Jalen (GBJ)

As Greeny and I continued to talk about Get Up!, I was compelled to learn more about his two co-hosts.

I asked Greenberg to play a game I’ve named “GBJ” – three situations (2 sports-related, 1 about parenting) where Greenberg picks himself (G), Michelle Beadle (B) or Jalen Rose (J) as best equipped for success.

GBJ Situation #1: An 8-foot putt for an amount of money that makes you nervous – who is going to drain it?

“Beadle.  First, I’m a wreck over an 8-footer without anything on the line – so, I’m out.  Michelle has such an ‘ice-water-in-her-veins’ demeanor that I’d go with her under pressure.”

GBJ Situation #2: Who could best change a diaper for (a) speed and (b) tidiness?

“Hold on.  Of all of the skills that diaper changing requires, speed in doing so is not one of them.  I’ve changed a lot of diapers so I’ll take this one – and I’m a tidy person for sure.”

GBJ Situation #3: Swimming in the East River (the backdrop of the Get Up! set) – who is going the farthest?

“Jalen actually says that he’d swim in the River if something improbable happens – so this one is all him.  I’m telling you right now, under no circumstances am I swimming in it.”

Now, subtly chuckling at his impromptu responses to my silly, made-up game, Mike Greenberg and I wrap our time together.

It’s the top of the hour so I assume he’s headed to another interview in the lead up for his new children’s book, MVP: Most Valuable Puppy.

Greeny, I assume, is off to, once again, poke fun at his own idiosyncrasies, call himself “an idiot” and to do whatever he can to help cure cancer.

In doing so, Mike Greenberg is not simply selling another book, he is honoring the legacy of his family’s dear friend, Heidi Armitage, whose loss still eats at him today.

Click here to order MVP: Most Valuable Puppy where 100% of the authors’ proceeds will benefit pediatric cancer research.  

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My patience was waning but retired NFL star Ronde Barber was unfazed as, one by one, adoring fans approached our table at lunch.  The fans were all unique but used the same opening question, “You’re Ronde Barber, right?”

Barber’s reply was as predictable, “That’s me.  How are you?”

His smile beamed as brightly as the sun overhead as he first greeted an older gentleman seeking an autograph.

That same smile welcomed the next fan – a young lady, who spelled her son’s name as Barber wrote a quick, handwritten note for him.

Her son’s name is Mason – and Ronde confirmed its spelling as he handed the tattered, white index card back, saying, “Tell him I said ‘Hi’.”

I bet Barber made that family’s day – the chat he and I had afterward, certainly made mine.

Success was never a question.

Ronde Barber will hold a place in any Pro Football record book for the rest of time – the stats don’t lie.

  • Barber is the only player in the history of the NFL to have 25+ sacks and 45+ interceptions.
  • From 1999 to 2012, Barber started 215 games, the most of any defensive back in the history of the NFL.
  • Barber holds the Buccaneers’ franchise records for single season and career interceptions, most starts and games played, and most non-offensive touchdowns.
  • In 2018, Barber was a Semi-Finalist in voting for the National Football League Hall of Fame – in his first year of eligibility.

And, as striking as these gaudy achievements are, Barber admits that he doesn’t have the secret anecdote for being successful.

“People ask me all the time: ‘What makes you successful?'”

He grins, sips his iced tea and continues, “It sounds cocky, I don’t mean to be.  I knew I’d be a success.  I just did.  There was not another option.  I thought that way running track in high school, at class, at Virginia and in the NFL.”

Barber was rather matter-of-fact as he continued, “Self-doubt is a killer – an absolute killer.”

Little did Ronde Barber know, he was being interviewed by a serial self-doubter and listening to him immediately worried me.  After all, I’m filled with regret and, at times, pessimistic about what the future may hold for my kids because of that fact.

Worrying is my job as a dad, right?

Why not, as Ronde Barber did, focus our kids less on an activity and more on developing a deep-seeded, internalized belief in their ability to make good.

In doing so, our children are self-assured, not cocky.  They expect success so much that achieving it becomes a given.

My preparation was too dialed-in to be nervous.

Nearly 20 minutes into our conversation, I asked Barber about getting through nerves.

Taking a tortilla chip from the basket, Barber laughed, “Nope.  I was never nervous.  Never.”

I didn’t believe it, “Come on.  What about the Super Bowl?”

“Never.  I can almost hear Ron Marinelli’s voice right now.  He’d have us redo the same drills, same techniques, over and over and over again.  I’m telling you – I was never nervous because I knew how much I had prepared.  Like, I probably back-peddled ten-thousand times in practice.  Maybe more.  So, why would doing that same thing in a Super Bowl be different?”

Barber continued, now sitting back, “I prepare like crazy to this day – for broadcasts, for public speaking gigs.  I may not love to naturally do that stuff but, I’ll work at it until I get it.  After that point, I’m good.”

As Ronde Barber goes on, I’m terrified at the thought of my kids’ ability to independently prepare – for anything.  In fact, I immediately think of the prior Saturday when Yosef, my sixth-grader, was late for flag football simply because he lost track of time.

I next think of the concept of repetition and the idea that confidence on the field or in the classroom is linked to doing the little things over and over and over again.  The reality is that preparation can be boring – both for the parents and the participants.

Lynden, age 10, should be using his multiplication flash cards everyday.

Everett, my 5 year-old, should be writing the alphabet each night.

Yosef could stand to work more on his juggling skills to improve his ball skills on the soccer pitch.

I’m left thinking that I have so much work to do.  As importantly, so do my kids.

It all starts with doing your job.

In some ways, Ronde Barber’s notoriety comes from being part of a team – whether that be with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or alongside of his twin brother, Tiki of New York Giants NFL fame.

So, I was surprised when Barber spoke about a very simple lesson that NFL players come to quickly realize – you must do your job and let others do theirs.

“I don’t care if it is the NFL or at the office or when I talk to my kids, so much comes down to being the best version of you.  Be great at what you’re supposed to know.  Everything becomes very simple when everyone understands that and trusts each other.”

“Watch Tiger or Jordan or Kobe – whomever.  They were absolutely focused on being the best at each piece of their craft.  At times, they lose – some days, they aren’t the greatest.  But, then, they let it go, refocus and go back to work.”  Barber continued, “If you’re being your own best, doing the job you should be doing at a high level, nothing can get in your way in the end.  It takes grinding, reps and unflappable concentration.”

I didn’t have to assume a parenting lesson here – Ronde talked about helping his daughters find their own, personal “bests.”

“My oldest daughter plays lacrosse and her traveling season will start in a few weeks.  I want her to be at her best – so much it kills me.  But, it’s up to her to have the desire to get there.  It’s not for me to say – or push her.  I won’t insist that she starts to get ready.    It’s her best – not mine.  I wish more parents would recognize that.”

I nodded and thought about times where I’d pushed my own agenda with my sports-loving kids.  I tried to quickly remember times where I watched my kids perform – on stage or the balance beam or on the ball diamond – and knew they were at their best.

In searching my memory bank, I suddenly realized that it was tough for me to assess when or if my kids were at their best.  After all, I don’t much ask them when they feel best on the field.

I’m too busy correcting them, talking about the other team’s obnoxious parents or another classmate that has the voice of an angel.

“Excuse me, guys.  You’re Ronde Barber, right?”  My introspection ended as the restaurant’s manager stood at the end of our table.

Again – queue Barber’s beaming smile, out-stretched hand and polite greeting.

“Can we get a picture for our Wall of Fame?”

Barber and I nodded at each other, silently giving ourselves the “it’s okay to end the interview” look.

Our time was ending but our conversation will stick with me for a while.

I want my kids to be as self-assured without a shred of cockiness – the kind of self-awareness that invites people in like Ronde Barber does.

My children should prepare relentlessly – understanding the need to do the mundane stuff over and over again so that they can do their job flawlessly like Ronde Barber did for 16 years in Tampa Bay.

I sincerely hope that my kids find their own, personal best self through experiences I can help provide – the same “best” that Barber looks for in his family.

When my kids become the best – at whatever that is – I’ll beam with pride.

I’ll hold out hope that they can make five stranger’s day – just like Ronde Barber did the day we met for lunch.

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I love baseball – everything about it.

As my wife snoozes on Sunday nights, I’m locked into whatever game is on ESPN.  It doesn’t matter if it’s the hated St. Louis Cardinals playing, I’ll watch.

So, when Everett, my 5 year-old, asked me to play tee-ball several months ago, I almost cried in excitement.

I was so overjoyed, in fact, that I volunteered to coach his team despite our already overwhelmed, weekly schedule.

Everett, age 5, waiting to bat at a tee-ball game. (April, 2018)

Finally, I thought, I have a ball player!

Now two months into our season with two games to play I can’t hide the truth that I’ve tried so desperately to suppress:

Tee-ball – the dummied-down, methodical game that introduces kids to baseball – SUCKS!

  • Tee-Ball sucks because it’s mind-numbing-ly slow.
  • Tee-Balls sucks because, really, there are two kids involved in each play – a batter and the pitcher.
  • Tee-Ball sucks because, as a volunteer coach, I spend more time keeping Everett in “ready position” than cheering for him running the bases.  
  • Tee-Ball sucks because it tries to simulate a game that the kids have never cared to watch.

Is it just me?

I’m a baseball guy so I’m yearning for some saber-metrics that tell me I’m not the only one that has grown to think that tee-ball has jumped the shark.

The decline in baseball’s place as “America’s Pastime” is well documented and the data is indisputable.

A Gallop poll released in early January, showed the following order of America’s favorite sports: 37% football, 11% basketball and 9% baseball.  This was the lowest reported level for baseball in history.  The high water mark during my lifetime for baseball was 1992’s level of 16%.

The participation numbers for baseball in America, though, are encouraging.  Participation rates are growing at an average annual rate of 3.9% over a 5 year period and a whopping 6% in the last year alone according to the Sport & Fitness Industry Association’s 2018 Topline

 Report.  As a point of reference, the five year average for tackle football was down 3%, basketball is flat and soccer is up nearly 2%.

Little league is, rightfully, trumpeting these numbers as leading indicators of baseball’s return to its previous predominance.  I interpret these facts differently when taken together – if participation is up and popularity is down then baseball has a first-impression problem.

Yes, more kids are playing and less are liking doing so.

So, I say it is high time to change the way we introduce future generations of American kids to the game.  Tee-ball needs to go or, at minimum, should evolve.

Change Tee-Ball Idea #1: Substitute Wiffle Ball

The 5 year-old’s I coach could care less about stepping and throwing, a proper swing or running through first base or stopping at second.  These kids want to move, to run and to hear their parents cheer for them as they do it.

When I tell Everett to play shortstop he has no idea where to go.  The 4 year-old on my squad, Brady, still can’t locate first base.

There is no need to worrying about proper positions, what hand to put your glove on or how to hit a ball off a tee at these ages.

If don’t have to scrap baseball concepts, but want kids to take an interest, why not simply replace tee-ball with coach-pitch wiffle ball?

Our little sluggers will see the light-weight ball hit the bat and fly into the air – not dribble weakly toward the awaiting pitcher.

Outfielders all have chance to participation with each new batter – not only those standing closest to the tee near home plate.

If the kids in the field lose interest, there is no danger of outfield tomfoolery – the ball can’t hurt anyone and either could a thrown bat.

And, best of all, fielders give chase to the hitters as they avoid being tagged out.

Change Tee-Ball Idea #2: Play Tag Instead

Another option to better introduce kids to baseball might involve creating a game that teaches pieces of the game without similar rules.

If a parent wants to compel their kid to action, or to listen, or to move around there is one tried-and-true game that will do it: a game of TAG!  There is something about running around avoiding each other that kids love.

Building from that love and mixing in baseball skills might be a creative way to grow the game.

My vision is simple and, admittedly, not well defined (yet):

(1) Teams have 5 kids and line up on opposite baselines

(2)  Hula hoops are placed at all bases on the infield

(3) Each team sends up one batter while the other four kids stay put

(4) Using soft balls that mirror the colors of the team’s jersey, each batter hits four balls off of a tee as quickly as possible.

(5) When the coach yells “Go!”, the players on the baseline run to get the balls of their jersey color while the batters drop the bats and try to “tag” the opposite team “out” before they place their team’s balls inside of any hula hoop.

(6) The team with the most balls in the hula hoops “wins”

(7) Repeat for each player.

The baseball purest in me so badly wants to dismiss this idea, however, all of my kids just told me that “this sounds fun.”

Tee-ball is about fun first and baseball second.

Flipping those two priorities around has led us to where the game is now – a place where a baseball-loving, volunteer coach and father of five is struggling to find ways to describe the game he loves without saying that “it sucks.”

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At least once a each day while visiting Senegal, I could count on absolutely regretting having made the long trip with my five, young kids.

Okay, maybe even twice a day – depending on the mood of my over-tired, jet-lagged 2 year-old daughter, Emersyn.  During her many, daily tantrums I’d long for the normal routine of home and desperately yearn for the noise of the endless Islamic prayer calls to quiet from the mosque nearby.

Leading up to our trip, so many friends joked that we were crazy for taking five kids to visit Africa and, during these times, I was certain they were right.

My children at Lac Rose (Pink Lake) outside of Dakar, Senegal (March, 2018)

But, like many trials of parenthood, those fleeting moments quickly fade when something happens that rewards your perseverance through the pain.

I can picture my two oldest boys, Yosef and Lynden, playing soccer with cousins they’d never met before, surrounded by other kids that they couldn’t speak to – the cement court bustling with kids in Reynaldo jerseys.

I’ll remember that, I hope they will.

The thought of Everett, my 5 year-old, learning from a gentlemen on a ferry to Goree Island how to play a beat with a homemade percussion instrument made with two tree nuts and a string.  He drove us crazy with that instrument for at least three days.

Some memories aren’t as fun, but are just as vivid.

Like the time, Vivi, my 8 year-old, asked, “Dad, does that family really live on the street?”

In a sober tone, I replied, “They do, honey.”

For the rest of the trip she’d try to flash them a quick smile on our morning trek to buy bread for the day.

In some ways, I wish my kids would forget the mothers and babies on the street, but, in other ways, I’m glad they won’t.

Lastly, I’d get through the trip’s tough patches by remembering my 5 year-old son, Everett, laugh and cup his own breasts when he saw a statue of a naked woman’s silhouette for sale at the marketplace.

I laughed when he triumphantly proclaimed, “Boo-bays!”  at the top of this lungs – albeit, to his mom’s chagrin.

Yosef, Vivi, Everett and Emersyn in their “African clothes” (March, 2018)

Yes, traveling with little kids – particularly those that operate best on routine schedules – can be a pain, will test your mettle and, without doubt, is expensive.

If you have the means, though, make it a point to try.

The world is not small – but it gets smaller by the day.  Technology, after all, cares not about borders or walls or language barriers – it provides unlimited access to almost anything or anyone.

When I think about raising more worldly children, I’m determined to help my little ones learn another language – or even a few different ones.  As I walked the streets of Senegal or listened to my family at dinner, I was deeply envious of their ability to speak French, English, Arabic and local dialects.

I would bet, in fact, that my kids’ 10 year-old cousin in Senegal could make his way around the world better than I could with his ability to speak so many languages.

Make no mistake, though, when our kids learn about the world – or see it firsthand – they will see some ugliness.  They’ll be exposed to struggle – real, dire battles – like hunger and homelessness, disease and desperation.

The world, in places, can be discouraging and cruel.

But, through the bad, our kids will see opportunities to create good.

I hope that my kids will – and do.  That thought, without doubt, mutes the memories of my screaming, tired 2 year-old during our ten-hour flight home.

Yes, traveling to Africa was crazy.  More importantly, though, the trip was unforgettable.

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It’s 5:40 am on Friday morning.

The only lights on at Innisbrook Golf Resort‘s beautiful Copperhead Course are those of the groundskeepers placing today’s pins for the PGA’s Valspar Championship.

“Guys, watch out for the golf carts,” I forcefully whisper as my four oldest kids and I trudge toward the grand stand of the first tee.

Tiger Woods on the practice green of the PGA’s Valspar Championship (March, 2018)

As we reach the course’s modest clubhouse, my 5 year-old catches a smile from an elderly volunteer who takes notice of our early, school day arrival, “Hey there!  Are you up early to see Tiger Woods?  He’s the greatest!”

My son, Everett, wasn’t sure (or possibly was not fully awake) and replied politely as he hugged my leg, “Yep.”

Indeed, we were there to see Tiger – the greatest professional golfer that I’ve ever watched.  The golfer who, I’d later tell Everett, “Was on Johnny Carson hitting balls at about your age, buddy!”

As it turns out, though, we weren’t the only ones that planned to catch a glimpse of the world’s most famous golfer.  In fact, the crowds were thick and crazy – far too crazy for a dad and his four children under the age of 12 to fight.

But, we did get to see the greatest work.

Watching Woods at the practice green was majestic and unreal – where the difference between the greatest player of my lifetime and the others that surrounded him that day was clear.

On the practice green that morning, I watched greatness.

As if on a mission, Tiger Woods began his putting practice by taking out six sparkling golf balls.  He placed four on the ground between his fresh Nike’s and two in his extended, left palm.

After meticulously separating each ball on the ground, Woods took his putting stance, pendulum’d back the club with his right hand and tapped each ball.

From about six feet away from the hole, one after another hit the bottom of the cup – until all that was left were the two in his out-stretched palm.

My concentration on Tiger’s warm up suddenly was interrupted by my 10 year-old, Lynden, saying, “He’s putting one-handed?  I wonder if he’ll give out those other balls he’s holding.”

Before I could answer, those two remaining balls filled the top of the cup after a more natural, two-handed stroke.

Woods went 6-for-6, but you’d never know it from his stoic disposition or his quick retrieval and re-do.

During those 30 seconds, we indeed had watched the greatest.

“Lynden, did you see that?”  I grinned as my son walked away, motioning to me that we had to go.  After all, the school day awaited.

And, as Tiger hit his driver off of the opening tee, the five of us walked in the other direction, we talked about what it would take to chase down Tiger – or Reynaldo or Tom Brady for that matter.

It takes precision.

It takes focus.

It takes crazy, gifted abilities and a love of the grind.

It takes myopic perseverance.

Above all, it takes practice – perfect practice at that.

I took my kids to see the greatest and we did – without following Tiger Woods on any hole or watching a single 300 yard drive.

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I talked with Jay Bilas of ESPN for about ten minutes – my notes are indistinguishable but the messages I took from our chat are clear.

Bilas doesn’t pull any punches – not when criticizing the NCAA, not when talking about the “one-and-done” rules in college basketball and not even as he brushed aside my witty open to our conversation with, “Tobin, what can I do for you?”

I respect his candor – and his honesty doesn’t cease outside the painted lines of the basketball court.

I wanted Bilas’ straight scoop – about parenting and athletics, about what he experiences as he travels the country and what he thinks about the role of parents in youth sports.

In just under ten minutes, I jotted down four parenting lessons.

I hope that other parents – even those who stand on the sidelines with me at the soccer field, baseball diamond or at the gymnastics arena – will also take note.

Bilas Lesson #1: If it isn’t fun, why go?

Bilas is quick to talk about his interactions with young athletes at his basketball camps, “I have had nothing but positive experiences with every kid at each camp I’ve ever done.  The kids are great.”

The tone changes as Bilas continues, “It’s the parents, though, that I don’t get.  I’d love to see their game film if they were so good.  Honestly, if going to games isn’t fun for the parent or kid – then why go?”

I can’t recall the last time I willingly missed a game.

At what cost, though?  I get to everything but am quick to complain about having to do so.

In fact, I’m boastful about being at every soccer match or flag football game – never-mind that I’m lost in Facebook updates or yelling at the referee while I attend.

If my kid’s participation is too exhausting, too costly or too much commitment maybe it’s time to heed Bilas’ advice and just stay home.

Bilas Lesson #2: You cannot make a pro athlete

When I asked Bilas about when a parent should look at having their child play “more serious” sports, he quickly questioned, “Why are the parents deciding?  It should be the kids decision.  A parent cannot make a pro athlete, the kid has to want it.”

To Bilas, the idea behind athletics is simple, “Sports are about recreation – or, at least, they should be – about getting out of the house, being active and having fun.  For everybody – parents and kids,”

And, while I find that most parents will tell me that they understand their little baller will not be a future N.F.L. All-Pro, I see hypocritical actions – writing big checks for team fees, screaming, “that is a FOUL!”  at the game official or running ourselves ragged trying to fulfill each of their little star’s commitments.

If I take Bilas’ words to heart, I’d quickly come to the realization that my kids may have picked divergent sports paths if I’d given them 100% ownership of that decision.

My oldest would have played tackle football and my 10 year-old would have likely tried several different activities rather than locking into club soccer for the entire year.

Would my kids be happier?  I’m not sure.

Would our family have more fun, less stress and more dollars in our pocket?  Probably.

Bilas Lesson #3: Talk about how your kids are doing, not how they are playing

After my son Lynden’s final soccer tournament game last Sunday, I asked him, “So, how do you think you played?”

From the backseat, he quietly replied, “Not good.”

Lynden’s head hung low for the forty minute ride home and, after talking with Jay Bilas, I may understand why.

Bilas talked with me about ignoring the play and focusing on the kid, explaining, “There is no model for success in this – it’s about your kid.  Try asking them how they are doing rather than how they are playing.  It’s not about you, it’s about your kid.”

This lesson should be fairly easy for me to put into practice – a matter of simply changing my question to, “Are you still having fun, bud?”  If I would have done so, I’d bet the ride home over the weekend would have been more upbeat.

Bilas Lesson #4: Learn to do the hard things well

With a New York Times Bestselling book entitled, Toughness: Developing True Strength On and Off the Court, I felt compelled to ask Bilas about instilling persistence in our children.

Again, his answer flipped my questions upside down.

“There is no canned, standard line for parents to teach kids to be tough.  It’s not about doing Army-like drills.  It is about practice and creative coaches teaching kids to do the hard things well.”

Applying this sports lesson to my household, I’m not sure what hard things my kids do well.  In fact, I’m not sure they are asked to do anything particularly hard with much frequency.

And, although I’m not planning to send my 5 year-old out to chop wood for the stove, I could help my kids by creatively making them sweat at home more often.

As my conversation with Jay Bilas wraps up and I tuck my garbled, illegible notes into my back pocket, I think of the way Bilas started our chat – by asking, “Tobin, how can I help you?”

And, although we may never talk again, I’m prepared to answer now.

From his 6 foot, 8 inch vantage point, Bilas can help me see the forest from the trees.

His advice can help me concentrate on having fun versus perfect form.

Bilas can indirectly help me do the hard things better – even if the hardest of which is looking in the mirror.

About Jay Bilas

Jay Bilas is ESPN’s top college basketball analyst and is widely recognized for his thorough knowledge of the game and his professional, clever style. Bilas provides expert color commentary from courtside on college basketball games as well as the studio as co-host of ESPN’s popular College Gameday, where he skillfully breaks down games and players. Since 2003, Bilas has provided in-depth player scouting and analysis for ESPN’s coverage of the NBA Draft.

A four-time Emmy Nominee, Bilas has three times been named the best analyst in college basketball by Sports Illustrated, as well as by the ACC Sports Journal, and Barrett Sports Media, among others. In 2016, Bilas was the recipient of the prestigious Curt Gowdy Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The New York Times Bestselling author of Toughness: Developing True Strength on and Off the Court, Bilas also writes for ESPN.com, and was awarded the Best Column of the Year in 2007 by The United States Basketball Writers Association.

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