Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A reflection of my epic Vacation to the West Coast and the South

This is still very rough!

I had spent the last two weeks laughing with old friends, watching sport at the highest level and absorbing the shit out of some serious sport culture!  I also ate grits, catfish, ribs, black eyed peas, fried okra and washed it down with some of the finest bourbon the South has to offer.   I am going to continue on from where I left off in my last rant/blog about the importance of friends and family with the second part of my trip and segway it into the difference in sport culture that has been created in the U.S.  But, before I go further I want to touch on something that bothers me about the perception of pro athletes.  I was lucky enough to see Jason before and after the Canucks game, and the same with Jordan and Chris.  When we see the news about these athletes it always seems to paint a negative picture so I want to make something clear.  For every asshole there are a lot more great people playing sport that should be highlighted.  After getting to go on the field or down below to the locker rooms all of them sent me a text thanking me for coming and taking the time to see them.  It is a weird feeling because I know that most people would be shitting themselves to get this opportunity and don’t quite get the bond that we have.   I think the perception is that most pro’s would just think of it as extra work when they could just as easily grab their post-game meal and get on their flights.  These guys hurry out of the locker room because friends and family are important to them (even if it is after a gutting loss).  So next time you hear about some idiot getting a DUI or having an assault charge, know that there are far more great people out there impacting our friends, family, communities and social networks more than you can ever imagine.

Any who, the second part of my trip had me and Craig flying from Seattle to Nashville on the red eye. We arrived in Nashville and met up with Chris at the hotel where the team stays before home games.  Leading up to this, I asked Chris where Craig and I should stay and where are friends should stay that are coming into town on a work trip and would be later joining us at the game.  He was awesome enough to hook us all up at the same hotel with a great friends and family rate not far from the stadium.  We were also greeted with 6 sideline passes for the pre-game.  The boys from Onni had been awesome enough to include us in with their “client appreciation” trip which included a fully catered tail gate party (with all the bud light you can drink) and to seats in the box they had rented for the evening.    I have been a part of this type of experience in the past and every time I get these opportunities I think it will be hard to top as I had no idea what was in store for the next two days.

The day after the game, Chris picked Craig and I up for our 3.5 hour road trip to Ole’ Miss.  When we arrived, we checked into the hotel and promptly headed towards the campus.  The town of Oxford looks like the set of Back to the Future, only everyone is wearing Ole’ Miss clothing.  After dinner we had a night out at one of the local establishments where I got to meet Elvis and a few of Chris’ old team mates.  If you have heard of “Southern Hospitality” you will understand why I am not going any further into detail.  The people were absolutely amazing!

We were woken up early by Chris with a hot bag of biscuits with fried chicken and grape jelly.  Don’t knock it till you try it.  We headed to the facility where we had basically a coaches parking pass and were promptly met by the football staff for a tour of the facility.  We started in the equipment room which is bigger than most Canadian university weight rooms where we were given Ole’ Miss shirts and hats so we wouldn’t look out of place.  We were then toured to the meeting rooms for each positional group, the “War Room” which is their recruiting room which has a huge round table with about 12 chairs for the staff to discuss and determine recruiting depth charts.  After this, we went through the locker room where we met some of the players and got a feel for the pre-game routine.  We then headed to what I was looking forward to most, the indoor facility and the adjoining weight room.  Again, I don’t think people in Canada can quite fathom the size or depth of detail that has gone into these facilities.  I have been pretty fortunate to see some big time university and professional facilities and each one gets me a little more pumped about the culture that is set forth by these institutions.  Throughout the tour, we were met by other coaches, families of coaches, support staff and recruits with open arms.  A friendly handshake and welcome by all.  Obviously with Chris having been a first round pick out of Ole’ Miss, we were privy to a little more than the average tourist and both Craig and I ate it up.  About 30 minutes prior to kick off we headed out to the field where we were right in the mix of things.  I was 15 feet from Miss Ole’ Miss as she sang the national anthem.   We kept asking Chris when we had to move, specifically after we almost got ran over by the marching band.  As the game got under way we were escorted to the VIP area where there was a steady buffet of biscuits and gravy and other southern health food which was mixed in with light beer and bourbon.  As a side note, there was a veggie plate that went untouched until I just brought it to our table as I was fearing I may get scurvy if I didn’t get some vitamins in me.  The game was all Ole’ Miss and helped push them up the most competitive non-professional sport ladder and into the top 25. 

I am hoping you picked up what I put down here without much mention of culture.  Like all American universities, the support of the fans, families and staff are unparalleled.  In Canada we have small pockets of great sporting culture, specifically in smaller communities but absolutely nothing that rivals what we were a part of.  Having said that, are they a bit crazy?  The answer is YES, but it is freaking awesome.  I am not expecting Canada to be like the States, but I would love to see a little more buy in by our sporting bodies.  Like everything in the sport world, there needs to be balance.  We are too far one way and the Americans are a bit too far the other but like both our medical systems, we could probably do a better job and meet somewhere in the middle.  After reading the recent information coming out about our local University’s attempt at cutting sport and what I am exposed to with my high school teams I feel deeply saddened.  I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to play and coach in both countries and I see a huge value in sport as do those that I surround myself with.  We have great athletes, staff and facilities in Canada but we lack a culture that is athlete centric at all levels.  Every institution and industry will struggle with some level of bureaucracy, but it is time for a change here.  I am not insinuating we should mimic the NCAA’s sport system or their Olympic Training Centers, but we are absolutely ignorant if we don’t take a look at what they are doing and try to see which parts of their successful culture can be utilized within our systems.   As I mentioned, we are doing a lot of great things, but if we think it’s the best it is time to check our egos.

Yours in lifestyle changes,

Joe McCullum

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