Why do student athletes fail? The question may be the problem.

Why do Student Athletes fail? The question may be the problem.

They don’t. The adults fail.

Student Athletes are products of the adults that love them (or don’t). Student Athletes live in a vacuum of adult created and crafted vacuums, each one filled with mixed messages, confusing priorities, and adult angst. Let’s get to the gut of it all. Adults identify (or don’t) the priority. Adults finance the space (or don’t). Adults are hired to achieve said priority (or don’t). Adults create and raise the student athletes, giving them love, purpose, love, goals, love, belief, love, and support (love).

Now that we have identified the new focus of academic failures, we can work to fix the problems. (Adults). Here is the plan: Keep the first thing first. These are student athletes, not athlete students. When done extremely well, they are SCHOLAR ATHLETES (Yes, I dare to set higher standards). Once the adults agree that the student comes before the athlete, then the path to succeeding at the first thing clears. There are fewer obstacles. There are fewer questions.

Adults, please remember moving forward (and up) that ACADEMICS is the thing. Academics is the key to love of self and others. It is the gift to one’s self that keeps on giving. It opens doors, it finds solutions, and it is a statement that the student is love, and loved enough to improve and add to society, community, and the planet. Practice this statement with your students “Learning is love”.

Adults build the communities, schools, and fields. If the academic focus and priority is clear, decisions about them become simple. What is the first thing? How do we make it better? Is it working? Is it love? Yes, love will be a constant in this. Love of self, family, community, school, others and planet. “Learning is love”. Teaching is also love. The giving of knowledge and information may be one of the great blessings known to mankind. The accepting of that love is the sign of intelligence that is carried throughout life. The openness and willingness to be taught, to accept information, to be questioned, heard, considered, and pondered is how invention and creation are born. And, reborn. Feed love. Love feeds.

When those schools are built, “This is where love lives” should be on every building and in every classroom. These words should be in every teacher contract and on every desk. Adults in place should be asked if they love themselves before being given the responsibility of loving our young futures. They should be asked if they love their students. They should be asked if they love what they are teaching and sharing. This ensures the reinforcing of the positive and loving environment that learning needs, and deserves.

When adult coaches are hired, ask them if they know what is THE focus is. (Academics) Ask them what should they focus on when the first thing and ANY other thing conflicts with it. (Academics) Ask what they are being paid for. (Academics) Ask again, what comes first? (Academics). Then celebrate them when they succeed at it. Celebrate them when the thing that comes first is KEPT first. Celebrate them when the love that they have is shared, repeated, and multiplied. Celebrate them!

When adult teachers are hired, ask them the same questions what comes first? (Academics) Then, ask again. Remind them that they are there to love someone’s, everyone’s young people, and to teach them. They are there to love them, even when they do not feel like loving them, or self. Does their love show in their lessons, in their planning, and in their daily connections? Does love appear on the faces of the students, and do the students leave their classrooms in more love than when they got there? Do the students ask questions, do they smile, and do they say thank you? The adults own the room, they are the keepers of time, and the directors of the lives they touch daily.

When the adults send the students to school, is there love on them already? Love comes in all sizes and colors. Love can be a few hugs before and after school. Love can be authentic questions about the day before, the day of, and what the next day holds. Love can be a kiss on the head during study time, it can be a text during the day to remind them of love of themselves and from home. Love can be an email to the teacher or coach saying thank you, one to the student confirming pride and support, or a text to yourself reminding you to send love later. Love can be ten minutes each week with no cell phones and just two smiles, yours and theirs. Love can be acknowledgment that you understand what they are going through because you were them, once.

When the schools, teachers, coaches, parents, and community all state constantly and consistently what they focus is, that is what it will be. When each of them remember that the system is simply the fence posts in place, each one needing the other to help boundary great young people into greater old people, the fence keeps the priority in place. When one post loosens, the others should feel a tug when resistance happens. When a student strays from the path, the posts are pulled with them, signaling to them all that reposting is needed. When the adults remember what the focus is, focus becomes clearer. It is up to the adults to not fail. As coaches are prone to say, “Win or learn. Never lose.”. Once the adults learn that it is STUDENT ATHLETE, winning happens. Some would say that learning leads to winning.

I cannot wait until the adults learn. The student athletes are trying to win. They need our help. And, our love.





Sometimes, the voice in the stands is a good one. Don Dunlap & LovePrints

Great people make great communities. Great communities make great people.

The communities that we are raised in leave deep impressions on us. We carry those forward, and share them with the world. It is important to realize that those impressions can give us an advantage. Those impressions can give us direction, motivation, goals, purpose, and identity. Those impressions can provide support, affirmations, and a mirror to who we are, and can be. These impressions, when done well, are LovePrints.

As any community would want, our wish is that our young people learn from the elders. In perfect cases, the young people learn values, work ethic, the importance of the truth, and to love themselves and others. These LovePrints become the vehicle that moves the young people forward and up. These impressions are the voices in the ear of young people who leave the community. These impressions are the things that separate one young person from another. These LovePrints can provide boundary, focus, and the answer to many of life outside of the community’s questions.

The impressions can come in whispers, shouts, hugs, smiles, pats on the back, and looks from across the field. They can be the quiet, proud mom who simply nods, or the mom at the top of the bleachers, screaming at the top of her lungs to make sure that above the noise, above the action, the young person knows that she is there for them. They can come in notes from teachers who want to make sure that you get it, or from adults in the hallway who see you wavering from the forward and up, but nudge you back onto the line towards something good.

LovePrints can come in the from of the dad who sprints home after work to change from his Clark Kent clothes to his Coach and Superman Cape. They can come from the uncle or older brother who makes time to make sure that the young people understand that these are games, and that the game is not nearly as important as the person who plays them. These impressions can come from Pastors, Mentors, neighbors, and friends. No matter where they come from, if done well, they will travel well after they are shared.

One such LovePrint for me was the giant of a man with a thunderous laugh and a booming voice. His words were strong, and they always had purpose. He could smile and make you comfortable and uneasy at the same time. He was always processing information, and constantly sharing it. He had many gifts, including his amazing kids, and he had one that sticks with me to this very day.

As a young man, I played in the Arlington County Little Leagues, and among the hundreds of parents and families that stood out to me, this one has a special place. I managed to get transferred from my neighborhood clubs in South Arlington to some schools and teams from North Arlington. At age 9, I was bused from a predominantly black neighborhood to a predominantly white one. I lost some friendships, and gained some. The people that filled those holes may or may not know that they did so. Loveprints allows me to tell them.

At the new elementary school that I was sent to, there are certain people who became dear and lifelong friends. A few were made during gym class or at recess, with sports as the common thread that brought people together. We played the games, talked about our favorite players, and tried to emulate them as best as we could. In some cases, we became teammates. In others, we became rivals. In a few cases, we became both.

I can not emphasize this enough. Often, I was the only person of color in my class at school. I usually did not get the comfort of being comfortable. I became protective. I felt like it was me against them. And then, these friendships happened. They turned on the light and made everything bright. They allowed me to have some home base to come to. I had sounding boards, mirrors, and reflections.

Dave was one of the many who I connected with, in the classroom, and on the court/field. He had this awesome way of smiling as he played. It was competitive, but not angry. We both enjoyed playing the games. We tried to understand them. We never had a discussion that was about race. We just talked. We played. We were friends. We played together on a basketball team, we played against each other during baseball season, and we joked in between basketball plays and kickball victories.

On those days where games were played, everyone in Arlington watched everyone else play. It was a marathon of sports, all in one place, and all about each other. Among those watching Dave’s games, my games, was Dave’s dad. I found out that his first name was Don because Mrs. (Joanne) Dunlap often used his first name in addressing his ability to be louder at these games than everyone else combined. He had the ability to be heard from 200 feet away, this I knew. I could hear him as I stood in centerfield, at the free throw line, and at the concession stand.  DERRICK! Get your head up! (Wait, is that someone else’s dad yelling at me?) (Wait, that’s MR. DUNLAP!) Wait! (He doesn’t even coach me!) WAIT! HE’S COACHING ME! Joanne was always whispering “Don, give him a break, he doesn’t want to hear all of that! (They were both perfect. I didn’t WANT to. I NEEDED to.) She was an angel in my eyes. Another loving voice.

A reminder, this voice did not need a microphone or a speaker. It came with its own sound system and booster. It traveled above the normal voice levels of mere mortals, and it reached its selected ears with clarity and vibration. DERRICK! Settle down! Your feet are too busy! DERRICK! Finish the play! DERRICK! Great catch! Wait! Did he say great catch? He saw that! Awesome! I guess I better make more great catches. I like that a ton more than SETTLE DOWN!

I became curious as to what he said to David during his games. Get this…it was LOUDER! But, there he was, cranking out instructions, encouragement, reminders, cheers, and support. And the rest of the parents heard him, and followed. DAVID! Take the shot! DAVID! Great throw! DAVID! Meet me at the concession stand! (Yes, I am using exclamation marks to capture his spirit. He earned them!

After David’s games, or my games, Mr. Dunlap would always manage to catch me off to the side and speak to me., I pretty much could guess what he was going to say because he had said all of it ten times during the game. I always paid attention. I always had something to learn from him. It was always good. DON’T BE AFRAID TO BE YOURSELF! PLAY THE GAME! RELAX! YOU PLAYED WELL TODAY! Those things were constantly said to me. I always thought how lucky and afraid Dave must be. This towering giant would stand over me and rain down wisdom and guidance. He would stand next to Dave and coach us both. Here’s the thing. He did not have to, but he did it anyway. He may not have had the time, but he made time anyway. He always did.

As I grew older, I would hear Mr. Dunlap at high school games, and the voice never wavered, it never lessened. It always showed up. At a high school baseball game my senior year, I was having a horrible night at the plate. My final at bat of the night, THE VOICE hit me with STAY BACK AND GO AWAY! STAY BACK! Well, I stayed back and lined a triple down the right field line, and as I stood on third base, THE VOICE said SETTLE DOWN! I really never had to search for the source of the voice. It was like looking for the sun. Its just there. And there he stood, smiling. It was perfect.

Years later, I have run into the Dunlap family, and its always a homecoming to me. I am pretty sure that they don’t realize that they are deeply in my blessings corner, but they are. I see their dad in them, and I recall them in him. It hits me that he is a part of the coach that I am today. His words ring out, his presence is copied, and I remember to smile when I get their attention when I call out to them.

It was not until later in life that I found out that he played basketball for Maryland. It may or may not have made a difference since he was already larger than life anyway. But it did help make sense of his aura, he energy, and his person. It only made the whole persona thing make sense. He played for Maryland. It made sense.

What I hope is that some of you reading this are the Don Dunlap’s of your young peoples lived. I hope that you are the voice, the presence, the time giver, and the parent. I hope that you are loudly loving those who are near you, and that they some day tell people about you. I hope that David and Diane understand that I am thankful that their amazing dad shared himself with me, and me with them. I appreciate that I should be to others what he was to me. I hope that anyone reading this takes the time to be Donald Dunlap to someone.

Thank you, Dave & Diane. Thank you, Joanne Dunlap, for your constant gentle hands and heart. Thank you, Don Dunlap. Your voice is carried forward with me in your LovePrints. We all know that you are still with us. When we hear your voice, and think of your face, we look forward and up. That’s where you are.

You know your mission forward. Be someone’s voice. They are out there waiting.

Go. Love Out Loud.

LovePrints. Thank you. An uncle's love.

Great families make great people. Great people make great families. Love in Action. Action in love.

This mornings walk had me clearly in a conversation with my late uncle, Melvin Harris, Jr. It was so strong and clear that I had to sit on a park bench in the middle of nowhere to gather myself. His LovePrint on me was strong and loud this morning. I could hear his smooth powerful voice, I could feel his hands on me, and I needed to be present in whatever it was. It took me several minutes to regain composure and try to get home and write.

I write from my heart. When my heart speaks, I try to sit and put those things into words so that I understand them, and myself. Maybe, you have someone who spoke to you, guided you, or directed you. For those people, I honor my uncle today.

Uncle Bro. (Said Uncle BRUH). He was this brilliantly witted, composed, incredibly funny man. He would come to Arlington once or twice a week, usually on weekends, and visit my family at my grandmother’s house right behind ours. He would bring three of my best friends with him, and along with his wife Clara, they constantly appeared to give me a clue about what families were about. We would cookout (someone please tell me the difference between a cookout and a bbq), play cards, watch sports, dance, eat, and laugh. It is where my love of of those things came from. Bro was the loudest voice, the biggest smile, and the maestro. While my grandmother hosted with the most-est, my uncle would orchestrate the energy like a maestro, setting the priority of the day with game watch schedules, card game order, judge and jury of teams selected to play, and usually the head of the table when all was said and done in the meals and the games played.

He was the ignition for my love for sports. His sons were my first true teammates and rivals at the same time. We would find our way to the playground to take on whichever of my friends were at the court, or on the football field. Well, by football field I mean Oxford Street, or Pollard Street, where we would play touch football. I still have the scars from catching my cousin Anthony’s post pattern and running into a parked truck, or the emotional scar of driving my cousin Adrian’s blue cat mini bike into the fence at Fort Barnard. They were generous enough to let me craft point guard skills on the basketball court, and helped master the whiffle ball knuckle curve. I have four older sisters, and my cousin Tina was one of two cousins who were the same and having younger sisters. And she earned it by taking the jokes of us all. I apologize now, Tina. Our bad.

We would leave the games and return to my grandmother’s house for what was always the best meal of the week. My uncle introduced me to THE BROILER. MY HEAVENS. He explained that pepperoni AND sausage was the true king’s meal. He explained the joys of eating a slice of pizza, a half of a steak and cheese sub, and the worlds best French fries. Or, he would stand regally over the grill out back, perfectly timing the hamburgers, steaks, and hot dogs to whatever temperature everyone wanted without missing a beat or sweating. He taught me the proper way to bowl, and introduced me to the Washington Senators, often driving all of the way to Arlington to get me to let me go with them to games at RFK Stadium. He always made sure that we went on Frank Howard bat day, or Senators batting helmet day. He also made sure that we understood what we were seeing and why we should go.

My uncle taught me how to count books in bid whist and spades, and gave me the handbook on properly execution of the final book when running a boston. (I am sorry that some of you got lost just now, but I will gladly explain it in private). My hand hurts just thinking about perfectly palming the big joker and bringing it above the head but not behind the ear to deliver it powerfully to my grandmothers good dining room table.

My uncle taught me to love my family even if it wasn’t a good family day. He is the constant reminder to love those around you whether they are yours or not, as though they are yours. He is the annual reminder of why I do not use fireworks, and the laughter I hear at any table of food. He is the standard of work ethic and love that I strive for.

I guess I just wanted to put it in the air that we all have the power to make lives better. This man loved me enough for me to remember him decades later. That, my friends, is a LovePrint.

Thank you, Sir.

Thank you.

LovePrints - Love Class 101

Love in Action. Action in Love. Love. Out. Loud.

I can not bury my lead. We need to teach love. Love of self, of others, of us all. We need to teach love of nature, of the planet, and of the world. Most importantly, the first thing first. Love of self. From that, love of everything else becomes easier. More comfortable. More consistent.

As a coach and mentor, I often find myself educating outside of the normal boundaries for the sport or topic that is in season. Sometimes, the classroom is the playing field. Sometimes, the playing field is the classroom. Often, the home becomes the classroom, and things get taught there that serve us all well no matter where we are or what we are doing.

In a perfect world, there would be a classroom for it. There would be a curriculum for it. There would be teachers and leaders of it. There would be fundraisers, seminars, and homerooms for it. There would be homework assignments, study halls, extra credit, and work study for it. There would be teams using it as the team name, teams chanting it as they play, and accordingly, chanting it as they win. There would be team captains based on it, MVP’s awarded because of it, and there would be celebrations filled with it at seasons end.

In a perfect world, coaches would coach it, teachers would teach it, and trainers would make it stronger. Announcers would announce it, the news would broadcast it, and churches would preach it. Grocery stores would stock it up, planes would fly you to it, and cars would be blasting it over the radio as we ride.

In a perfect world, parents will ask "how will you love my child?". "how much love is in your life?", "how much love do you have to give?",  "Is your love, good love?".

It would be the assembly of the year, hosted by the principal of the year, hosted at the school of the year, all because they loved more, loved louder, loved prouder, love more often, and loved out loud more than its rivals. The rivals would swear to love longer, louder, prouder, and better moving forward, because no one wants to be second in love, or last in love.

One day, a school will figure it out and offer it. Love 101, for beginners. Love AP for the high achievers, and Love College for the advanced and gifted. Of course, we would have to have Remedial Love for those who struggle with it, and tutors for those in greater need. And we would award and honor those special lovers with certificate and degrees in Loving in a higher level. We would give them letters behind their name so that the entire world would know that they are WHERE LOVE LIVES! Imagine that. Jane Doe, L.O.V.E.

I KNOW. Silly. Silly, silly, me. To think that love is important enough to be taught early, often, and completely.

I can dream.

Until then, go…

And as always,