Keep Up the Chatter

This post was originally published on the Huffington Post’s sports blog, The Tackle. The same post is below, but if you’d like to see my name and head-shot on a big-time professional website, feel free to take a gander with this link:


I played a number of sports when I was younger. I played for my middle school basketball and baseball teams and I was the starting goalie for my high school floor hockey team. I’ll be the first to admit that I was never the star. I could box out well enough to get my share of rebounds, but my shooting stroke and ball-handling skills left much to be desired. I could hit for average and I had good speed on the base paths but no consistent power. I had ups and downs as a goalie but made consistent progress as we moved forward. I was never the scoring leader, but I found ways to contribute to help the team win.

I didn’t mind my role player status. I knew that my talents had limits and, to be honest, I simply wasn’t driven to work hard enough to become a highlight-reel player. But I also knew that our team didn’t need me to be the star; they needed me to be the goalie. My job was fairly simple: keep the puck out of the net. There were nuances, of course, such as blocking shooting angles, hugging the post and keeping my glove hand up, but the key part of preventing the other team from scoring had much less to do with physical athleticism and more to do with communication.

I had to tell my defenders when the pressure from the other team was coming and whether or not my vision was being screened. I had to make sure my teammates knew when I needed help and I needed to provide that last line of defense from our opponents’ attackers. Goalies may have a reputation for being quirky and isolated, not unlike certain starting pitchers in baseball, but the avenue for reaching the team’s objective remains the same: teammates need to talk to each other in order to accomplish a task.

It wasn’t until I became an adult that I realized that effective communication skills are a critical piece of social development. The ability to formulate an idea and articulate it in such a way that people from varied backgrounds can understand it is essential, not just for achieving professional or academic success, but for simply being able to interact with people on a daily basis. Whether I am speaking with my wife, my two-year-old son or the families that I work with as a social worker in the mental health field, I have to find the right words to be able to express my thoughts to my audience so that they will be able to internalize the message.

My son has to learn to ask for things that he wants calmly and respectfully if he wants people to respond to him in a positive way, as opposed to pointing and demanding to be waited on. In addition, if he does not get what he wants, he needs to find a way to handle disappointment without crying and throwing his toys. Parents and children who are experiencing conflicts often need to modify the language that they use in order to get better behavioral results from each other. In both cases, I have to make sure I model the correct language and behavior to help the people I’m speaking with become prepared to make changes in themselves.

I am not arguing that playing sports will necessarily improve a child’s communication skills. On the contrary, there are plenty of examples of professional athletes who have difficulty expressing themselves articulately. There is also a significant difference between explaining the implications of a mental health diagnosis to a concerned parent and shouting “Man on!” to tell a teammate to pay attention to an approaching opponent. On the other hand, sports do provide a mechanism for helping children to understand the need for effective communication.

Children need to learn that if they keep their teammates involved, the team is more likely to win. If everyone works in silos and only looks out for their own statistics, the team will falter.

Furthermore, children who play sports learn to express their feelings of disappointment when the team does lose, a vital skill for developing resiliency. Sports give children the opportunity to learn to work together with others toward a common goal and a framework for developing the skills they will need later in life to achieve those goals. Whether children are learning ways to support their teammates during a game or expressing an opinion during a debate, sports provide the medium for developing the ability to communicate their ideas clearly. The communication styles may be different depending on the sport or the level, but a child who learns to articulate their ideas effectively will end up winning, regardless of the competition or the opponent.

Something About This Other Place

My family and I recently traveled to Singapore to visit family. I decided to write about the trip, both to tell our friends and relatives how the trip was going and to give us another way to remember the trip after it’s done. We’ve since returned home, but I had a couple more blog posts in mind, so they’re still going to be coming out here. Enjoy!



That was the word that kept coming to mind during our vacation-within-a-vacation, our trip to the Indonesian island of Bali. The dichotomies were everywhere, from the broader scales of the types of government to the individual differences between the people living in different parts of the island.

The city-state of Singapore is known as “Asia Lite” because of the wide range of people who live there. We visited Little India, Chinatown and the Arab Quarter all in one day, essentially getting tastes from Mumbai, Beijing and Istanbul within the span of a few miles. Singapore prides itself on being a diverse country1 and some have said that one of their favorite things about living there is that they can get the feeling of being in a place like the markets of New Delhi, for example, without having to deal with the smells of human waste or the potentially toxic water systems. As I mentioned in my earlier post, one individual street includes houses of worship for no fewer than four different religions. It’s an urban environment, to be sure, with an industrial sector filled with factories, a downtown area filled with financial offices and a busy night-life scene. In fact, if you were to add in some litter and a few more police and ambulance sirens, we might as well have still been at home.

Bali was a completely different experience. For every store advertising Polo Ralph Lauren or Oakley sunglasses there was a building whose roof had caved in or a structure whose front wall had somehow gone missing. Outside of a handful of nicer restaurants, the night life in Bali consists of wandering from shop to shop as the store-owners sit outside on milk crates or the curb and beg you to come in to inspect their wares. I mean “beg” in the literal sense of, “Yes, lady, you’re looking for dresses? Shirts? Please, come have-a-look,2 I find something for you. You buy from me, give me good luck.” Their water is also tainted; it’s been almost a week since we left Bali and I still think about how nice it is to be able to brush my teeth with water from the faucet, rather than a bottle. The Indonesian rupiah is in such bad shape that the smallest bill is worth 1000 rupiah; the rule-of-thumb conversion I kept in my head was that 100,000 rupiah equals about eight bucks.

The most striking difference was the transition between the town and the resort area. We spent the first night in Nusa Dua, a small village on the southern end of the island. Our hotel was in the same general area as a few others. In order to get into the resort “community,” cars have to drive along a small, four-lane road that splits in the middle. The two lanes coming out of the community stand alone, while the two entering the area go through a tunnel that houses a security checkpoint. On the outside, we saw the structures of a poverty-stricken village, marked by Hindu architecture in disrepair and crumbling buildings. After the security guards opened all the doors to make sure no one was hiding inside and checked both the hood and the trunk with a bomb-sniffing dog, we were allowed to pass through the tunnel.

The resort community was a different world. The road passed by lush green lawns, marked by newly painted statues of smiling animals by each fire hydrant and the shade of full, leafy trees. The hill in front of our hotel proudly displayed an elaborate fountain in the shape of a terrace farm with elderly women gathering water. There were no beggars here. There were no faded advertisements or piles of rubble or people walking around barefoot (unless you count the people wading in the pool). Our other hotel – in Legian, a more urban area across the street from a public beach – was less separated from the surrounding community but still maintained a distinct boundary between the paradise inside and the poverty that lay outside. I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable at the idea that I was able to enjoy such luxuries as a heated pool, a bed with clean sheets or a pulsing showerhead while the people who were living just down the street were competing just for the attention of the tourists, let alone the possibility that someone might actually buy something. I know that I work hard to support my family and that we earned the opportunity to take a significant vacation like this. But something still felt… off.

I don’t mean to sound depressed about this part of the vacation. Please don’t misunderstand me: we really enjoyed Bali, especially once we got to Legian. We sat by the pool, played in the water and ate delicious food.3 I don’t even mean to sound like this trip was some sort of revelation for me about white privilege or the fact that other countries of the world are worse off than we are as Americans. All the same, however, I felt it would be disingenuous to just write about the great time we had, while not acknowledging the other important social aspects of the trip. If nothing else, it has been a reminder to me over the last week to really appreciate the things that I have and the lot that I’ve been dealt in life. It might not always be the most pleasant way of thinking about the world, but it’s true that things could always be worse.


1. You can be jailed for making racist comments.

2. “Have-a-look” was one word.

3. We also took the absolute creepiest cab ride ever and Trudy and I genuinely feared for our lives for a few minutes. But everything was fine and that’s a different story.