Monday, December 17, 2012

My Long Trip Home

Oostende Holiday lights.

  Finally home, and it feels so good.

  After struggling though another game Saturday night, I had a bright side to fall back on: I'd be headed home for a Holiday break!

  The game left me restless, and almost sick to my stomach, so it was definitely time for a break from basketball, both mentally and physically.

vs. Léon Trégor.
  In no mood to do much else after the game, I started gathering up my things, trying to organize my bags for the 20-plus hour trip home the next day. Once I felt I had wandered and puttered around my apartment long enough, I thought I should at least TRY to get some sleep. I put in my last load of laundry, set my alarm for 5:30am, started a movie, and settled in around 1am, hoping to fall asleep, for a few minutes anyways.

  Anytime I let things get quiet enough to think, my mind immediately went back to basketball, which unfortunately, made sleep impossible. With the minutes ticking by, and my window to get any rest getting smaller and smaller, I thought it was time to give in, and do something productive. You know how it goes.

Game action vs. Léon Trégor.
  I was bound to be a zombie the next day anyway -- whether I got three hours sleep, or 15 minutes. This way, with having gotten no sleep at all, maybe there was an even better chance I'd sleep my way across the Atlantic.

  Five o'clock came, and I decided it was time to start my day. Though, I guess it's hard to say when Saturday officially ended and Sunday began.

  It's always exciting to know you'll be home soon. But it's hard to get excited for such a long day of travel. It's a necessary evil. I am so thankful to be able to go home for the Holidays, so traveling 20 hours and 7,000 miles is well-worth the uncomfortable seats, tired eyes, and wobbly legs.

Lily & I trying to show off our Buff pride!
  We started out for Brussels from Dunkerque around 6:45 Sunday morning (9:45pm Saturday Portland time). My flight left Brussels at 11. I'd fly through Chicago, so once I made it through customs and found my way, it was time to settle in until my next flight. I did what I've always do once I land Stateside: I grabbed some Starbucks and found a TV to watch some Sunday afternoon football, as I waited for my connecting flight to Portland.

  I always find myself a little chattier than usual when I first get back to the US. I think that comes from not being able to really communicate with people on a regular basis when I'm out and about while overseas. When I'm in France, I don't exactly chat up the checker at the grocery store, or talk to people passing by the way I might when I'm in the US.

  Heading home a week before for the real Holiday rush was a nice change. The airports were busy, but not their usual jam-packed madness you often see mid-to-late December. Thankfully, everything was on time, and my flights went smoothly -- I even arrived early!

Holiday lights along the beach in Dunkerque.
  I was welcomed home by the glorious Portland rain (and my mom, of course). We rolled into the driveway at home at 6:45pm Sunday (3:45am Monday morning
Dunkerque time) for a grand total of 21 hours travel time. And you thought I was exaggerating. ;)

  I'm looking forward to these next few weeks at home. It will be nice to take my focus away from basketball, and enjoy the company of my family and friends.
Dunkerque Holiday lights.

  Hope you get the chance to celebrate the Holidays with loved ones, and really enjoy and appreciate what the Holiday season is all about! I know I will!

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Injury Treatment

In a physical game, there are bound to be injuries!

  Injuries are a part of athletics. Unfortunately, over the course of a long season (and an even longer career) they are very difficult to avoid. Whether it's a major injury, or minor bumps and bruises, eventually there will be something you need to give extra attention to, and potentially miss a practice or game for.

  I've had my fair share of bumps and bruises, and a few major injuries along the way. So I thought it might be interesting to think back on the differences in how injuries/illnesses are treated in the various countries I've played in, including the US. 

Inner Voice vs. Outside Voices
  As a competitor, you always have that voice inside of you, urging you to get back on the court. But sometimes that voice is too eager. It's during those moments where it's important to have professionals around you, who you trust, advising you.

  Another aspect is the attitude the people around you have towards injuries/illnesses. What sorts of things are you hearing from management, coaches, fans, etc as you prepare for games? You may get pressures and feelings from influential people that don't necessarily match up with the feelings of the medical staff.

No foul.
  There's nothing worse than feeling you aren't doing what's best for the team, that your personal heath isn't important, or having your toughness questioned.

  For me, some seasons have been more injury-riddled than others. So sometimes you get a little too-familiar with the medical system, and while they're usually great people, get to know your team physio too-well.

  I've always had great medical staffs take care of me and my teammates. From college, and throughout my time in Europe as a pro. I think I've learned something valuable about my body, and how it 'works' from each and every one of them. So I thank you for that!

Ice or Heat?
  One of the most-diverging thoughts between treatment in the US and in Europe has to do with whether to ice or heat an injury. In the US, we ice everything, at all times. In Europe, you will only hear your doctor or trainer tell you to ice if it's within 48 hours of sustaining an injury. Anytime after that, they will tell you to use heat.

  As an American, my first inclination has always been to ice. It took me several years to break that mentality. Now, I think: what am I about to do? If it's to prepare for a practice or game, I heat. If it's after a workout, practice, or game, I ice. You want warm, loose muscles as you prepare to play. And after playing, you might have some aches and pains that icing will help.

Treating the Pain versus Treating the Problem
  After 10 years in Europe, I've found there is a second vastly different treatment belief. I think the people I've worked with in Europe are more concerned with your individual body structure, why something is causing you pain, and how they can cause the pain to stop. They then work with you either through exercise/rehab, or manipulating/adjustment to hopefully make a more-permanent structural change.

  I think in the US we treat the pain first and foremost. Instead of treating what's the root of the problem and what's causing the pain, the why am I feeling pain? We are too quick to ask, how can I cover up the pain, by taking this pill, or getting that shot.

Getting my broken finger attended to.
  After thinking that way for a long time, I am now 100% anti-pill, and anti-shot. We feel pain for a reason. Masking it, does not help. If I have pain, I want to be able to feel it, and make a decision from there.

  I've clearly just made a gross generalization. But it's my personal belief based on my experiences. I obviously have a lot more experiences in Europe, especially as of late. Of course, there are medical professionals in both the US and Europe that don't fit either mold I have just put them into.

Elevated Heart Rate 
  A third difference comes before you ever step foot onto the court. In Europe, you're required to pass a physical before you can compete for your team (it's usually written into your contract).

  Those physicals include an EKG, observing your heart both at rest, and with an elevated heart rate. Since that is what basketball consists of, competing with a raised heart rate, the doctors want to ensure you are fit to do so.

  In the US, I never had my heart tested at an elevated level (that I remember). That practice may have changed in the 10 years I've been competing in Europe, however.

  Here are a few specifics about some of the places I've played: 

Italy - We had a doctor who came on occasion, and a trainer who was at every practice. It was my first experience as a pro, and I quickly learned that it was up to you to get yourself taken care of. They weren't going to check up on you, or make you come in for treatment. You'd just better make sure you were ready to practice and play.

  I didn't have any injury or illness that caused me to miss time during my two seasons in Italy.

Poland - No team doctor. Trainer/massage therapist who was very attentive. I didn't have any issues that caused me to miss practice or game time.

Bosnia - No team doctor, no physio/trainer present at practice. I had a horrible ankle injury in a game in November. The doctor put a cast on me, and said to come back in a several weeks. No rehab, no exercises, nothing.

  After a week of listening to him, I cut the cast off myself because I knew I needed to be doing rehab exercises, and using my leg muscles, if I wanted to come back and play in a reasonable amount of time.

  After another week or so, the doctor wanted to put another cast on me. So I told the team I needed to go home and get it taken care of. I did just that. I didn't play competitively until the following season.

Sweden - No team doctor, no physio/trainer present at practice. We had access to a great physio when treatment was needed. I found that less importance was placed on massage therapy, and more on exercise and rehab exercises.

  If you were sick, even just a little, you did not practice or play.

Germany - No team doctor, no physio/trainer present at practice. I had various injuries in Germany, and two AWESOME physios to take care of me.

  I had a foot injury that caused me to miss almost a month of practices and games. After a few games, and the team started to lose, I felt pressure to play from management; that I needed to play, no matter what.

  With illness, if you were on antibiotics, they told you not to practice.

France - Team physio present for games, but not practice, and access to physio/team doctor throughout the week. I think out of all the countries I've played in, the French are the most-cautious. They are very quick to hold you out of practice for something I would consider minor.

Playing days at CU.
  I think it's important to understand that trainers and doctors are employed by your team. Their job is to get you on the court. And your job is to be on the court. You can imagine that those unified attitudes can get you into trouble on occasion, and you push a little too hard.

  That's where trust comes into play. You have to trust yourself and your body, first and foremost. And you have to trust that your trainer/doctor has your best interest at heart, that they pay no mind to the pressures of winning or losing one particular game.

  I've said it many times before: when it comes down to it, my job is to be ready to play on game day. That may include resting a time or two during the week, to allow those aches and pains to heal up. But I've found that the most important thing to do is to listen to your body!

Your Health First
  As my career has progressed, I have taken on a different attitude towards injuries. Before, I would play at all costs. Maybe I thought I was invincible, and could play through anything. Now, not so much. I am very cognizant about long term implications and effects from playing through injuries. I think that mentality changed about three or four years ago for me.

Always playing with contact.
  And not that I question trainers, doctors, physios now, but if I don't feel comfortable with treatment, or how something feels, I won't hesitate to speak up. Whereas earlier in my career, I would have taken everything at face value, unquestioned for the most part.

  I think that comes from learning more and more about my body each and every year, knowing myself, and truly wanting to do what's best for my health. Instead of years before, where my only concern was: 'what's the quickest way I can get back on the court?'

  Having supportive people, both in management and on the medical staff, is really important when trying to overcome injuries or illnesses, no matter their severity. Having a united front, where everyone believes in the methods, is beneficial to everyone.

  Again, thanks to the many trainers, physios, and doctors who have helped keep me healthy! It really is a team effort.
P.S. I'm knocking on wood throughout this entire blog.

Monday, December 10, 2012

"When you win, say nothing. When you lose, say less."

vs. SIG 

  Game Recap Monday is going on hiatus.

  There's a saying that goes: "When you win, say nothing. When you lose, say less." So after consecutive demoralizing blow out losses?!? As of now, I'm following that advice.

  I'm all for constructive criticism, and trying to improve. But that's been tried, over and over. And frankly, I'm out of good things to say. If you have nothing good to say, keep your mouth shut. Maybe that's a little harsh, but that's what the current situation is.

  So until we've turned things around, there won't be any game updates on Mondays from me. I'm tired of it. Tired of trying to find the bright spots. Tired of airing my frustrations about bad basketball. Tired of trying to figure out what's wrong -- why I'm on a team that is struggling this much, at this stage of my career.

  This year, and last, is the most I've ever lost as a pro. I've won an Italian Championship and Super Cup, played in EuroCup and the Polish All Star game, advanced to the championship series in Sweden (on a team that won 20-something consecutive games), and have been on a playoff team every season except last.

vs. SIG
  Winning is my habit. I'm not accustomed to losing week in and week out. And I never will become accustomed to it, nor do I want to be. It will never be acceptable.

  Part of the frustration comes because I'm doing nothing differently than I've done in those past seasons. My approach, my work, my play, my effort. Maybe that is the problem, who knows.

  Every athlete deals with failures and losing. You're never perfect, and your team is never perfect. Usually, you learn from the losses and mistakes. You and your teammates make adjustments and work harder -- to change the outcome, to improve the result. That's what separates winners from losers.

  Winners keep fighting, keep scrapping, keep looking for a way out of the hole. Losers quit.

  So I am at a loss for words.

  You don't want to get to the point where you're numb to losing. Where you don't feel anything.  Where the loss no longer stings, or puts a bad taste in your mouth. That's when you've given up, and you've accepted it.

  I'm not giving up, I'm just taking a different approach and re-evaluating.

  Whether I'm writing about my games or not, you can be certain that I will be working my tail off, no matter what, doing everything I can to turn this season into a winning one.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A Quick Countdown

My mom's pretty Christmas tree.
  T-minus one week (and a little change) and I'll be headed home for a some Holiday Cheer.

  Honestly, the nearly-four months that have passed since I came back to France have flown by. I remember my first several seasons overseas when I would have a countdown-til-home started by mid-October. But not this year. I'm not quite sure what that means, probably just that I've become all too familiar with the countdown game

  Time has gone so fast that I think I'm the least-prepared I've ever been for the Holidays. I haven't gone shopping one time, let alone thought about potential gifts to bring home for family and friends.

  So I have a week to get into the Holiday spirit.

  And win two basketball games.

Last Christmas with my nieces.
  That's really at the forefront of my mind right now. You probably know that I've been less-than-satisfied with how the first half of the season has gone. So I'm focusing in on these last two games before the break, hoping to get things turned around.

  Maybe that's why I feel like it shouldn't be Christmas time just yet: I have too much unfinished business left on the basketball court.

  Come December 16th, we'll be at the midway-point of our season, and I'm hoping the last two games before our break will be a sign of things to come for the second half of the season.

Home to see the fam!
  This season, my teammates and I are in the unusual but fortunate (I guess) situation to be going on break a week before the rest of our league does. Before the season got underway in September, one of the teams --Armentieres -- dropped out due to financial problems.

  It just so happened that we were scheduled to play Armentieres the last game before Christmas, on the 22nd. So now, with them out of the league, we will be at the midway point a week early.

  Til then, I'll be getting things organized for my trip home, doing a little shopping, and more-importantly, doing my best to come home for the Holidays with two more wins!

  Maybe I should turn on some Holiday music, and that'll help get me into the spirit.

  Bon week-end!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

There's an App for That

Nike Training Club app
  Eating healthy, sticking with our workouts, finding new, refreshing recipes -- living a healthy lifestyle really can be overwhelming! It can consume a lot of time. And if we don't have that time in abundance, it's far-too-easy to slip into the status quo, the do-what-we've-always-done routine.

  As always, I just want to help! I've found a few tools that hopefully will help keep us on the healthy-living track.

  Many of us have made the jump, and now enjoy the benefits of using a smartphone. Whether it's an iPhone, an Android, or whatever else there is to choose from, there are a few more things that our smartphones could be doing to make our lives easier.

Fooducate app
  I'm sure everyone knows about the calorie counter, recipe finder, or fitness tip apps. But what about when you're in the grocery store, and you find yourself staring at a list of ingredients that requires a PhD in chemistry to understand? Or maybe you have a food allergy, and you're unsure if a product is okay for you to have? Or, it's late in the day, and you really want to get a workout in, but you can't get out of the house, or you find yourself fresh out of ideas?

  Fortunately for you, there really are apps for all that! And they're free! (And most are available for iPhone/iPad and Android.)

Food Apps
  • Fooducate - Scan the bar code of any product in the grocery store, and this app will grade the product nutritionally, point out red flags (high fructose corn syrup, high salt, GMOs, etc), provide alternative suggestions, and more.
  • True Food - Trying to avoid GMOs? This app will help you do just that! Though it looks to be a bit outdated, most the information remains relevant. 
  • Shop No GMO - This app is a shopping guide to help you identify and avoid GMOs. Good idea, but the app freezes a lot. Hopefully they're working on a fix. 
  • What's On My Food? - Lists and identifies the foods that have the most chemicals on them, which of those chemicals may be most-harmful, and how you can avoid them. Again, a little out-dated.
  • Epicurious - Lets you search almost 30,000 healthy recipes from various resources. 
  • Harvest to Hand - This app helps you find locally harvested food, farmers markets, specialty shops, etc.
True Food app.
Fitness Apps
  • Nike Training Club (NTC) - Basically like having a personal trainer in your phone. You choose from dozens of set workouts that you can do almost anywhere. Has instructional videos. Push play, and go! (iPhone/iPad only)
  • Nike BOOM - Similar to the NTC app, but geared more towards men, in my opinion. Can be sport-specific, and has modes for warm up, workout, and interval training. 
  • MapMyRun GPS Running - Allows you to search for new running routes, maps/tracks your runs. Also available for cycling (MapMyRide).
  • MyPlate Calorie Tracker - Tracks your daily calories and exercise.
  • Nike+ Running - Similar to MapMyRun. Tracks and maps your workouts. 
  These are just a handful of apps I either use myself, just downloaded and intend to use, or have read about. I'm sure there are many more than I haven't yet stumbled onto. And chances are, if there's something specific to you, or something you want to know more about, there's an app for that as well!

  Have you found an app that you use, and want to share? Let me know!


Monday, December 3, 2012

A Team Above All...

  All it took was two wins, and we got complacent. Or content. We thought all we had to do was show up, and winning would 'just happen'. That, just because we were home, and we were supposed to win, it would take care of itself.

  That's the tough lesson we learned on Saturday against Strasbourg. After TWO wins.

  It's not enough to just hope, or want, something to happen. Or think something should happen. Winning does not happen by mistake. You have to earn it. You have to show up (in more ways than one: physically of course, and mentally), work your tail off, and do your job.

  Here's the thing about competing on a high level: your opponent believes they will/should win too. You have to out-work them, 'out-compete' them. Each and every play, of each and every game. And you rely on your teammates to do the same. Taking a possession or two off is not going to cut it. Teams are too competitive, and too talented.

  Instead of pushing our winning streak to three games on Saturday, we got a butt-whooping. We were never in the game against Strasbourg. And it's a shame.

  There's a saying that goes, "Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard." And honestly, I think it's a shameful way to lose. Whether we were more talented than Strasbourg is an argument for another day. But there's no question which team worked harder, and more together.

  After a game like Saturday's, you want a re-do immediately, but we all know that isn't possible. So there's nothing to do but to make sure it never happens again.

  It's my feeling that the team I play on is a direct reflection of me (and this is the case every season, with every team). Its effort, its attitude, its result on the court = me. You look up DMBC Dunkerque, you see my name on the roster, it's a reflection of me, and my work. It's my reputation. And frankly, I don't like being associated with losing and giving up.

  In team sports, you're reliant on the group as a whole for your success. You don't win alone, and you don't lose alone. That's what can make it incredibly frustrating, or incredibly satisfying.

  You're putting your trust into your teammates that they will be there when you need them. It's the sum of ALL the parts that either makes a team great, or makes a team fail.

  Yes, you have control of yourself.

  It's up to you to do everything you can to pull your own weight, do your job, and make sure the end result is something you can be proud of. AND HOLD YOUR TEAMMATES ACCOUNTABLE. It's only after doing your best, that you can have no regrets -- win or lose. And you rely on your teammates to have that same attitude.

  It's not happening again. Not for the lack of trying anyway. Not on my watch.