Saturday, March 21, 2015

Both children and adults...

This piece on the catechesis of confirmaton candidates crossed a couple of my timelines.

As both a parent and a volunteer catechist for the Confirmation program (which is for 16 year olds) here in Washington, I think there are a couple of points worth bearing in mind.

One truth of the article is that catechists should approach their jobs as supporting the students' parents rather than as people rescuing the students from their parents' poor work.  This has been the attitude I have tried to cultivate myself, and what I have observed in almost all of the other catechists I've worked with.

As with many other things in our engagement with the world, we need to balance engaging the world as it is with normalizing bad behaviors. It is true that many current Catholic parents are not currently well positioned to fulfill the role of "First Teachers of the faith" that they accepted at their children's baptisms. But does that mean we should base the design of our catechetical programs under the assumption that this will always be the case?

The "pull quote" from the piece is this:

If we have to choose between programs for adults and programs for children, adults are the priority.  Not because we don’t care about kids, but because we want what is best for kids.
I'm not certain I agree, unless we have a new vision of what adult faith formation programs look like.

If a parish offers a faith formation program, someone like me probably represents the outside edge of the set of adults who might possibly attend.  And even for me, it's probably not likely.  I work a full time job at a demanding employer, and am a father and husband.  Perhaps I should take my faith seriously enough that I would prioritize attending such a program, bit the reality is that I probably wouldn't.

More to the point, I'm not sure people like me are the ones the Church needs to be investing more effort in.

Now if I, the daily Rosarian, Confirmation catechist, who is bothering to blog about an article on catechesis, is unlikely to attend an adult formation program, how likely is it for the target of this program?  The person who has fallen away from the faith, who may have divorced and remarried or be cohabitating, hasn't been to confession in years, attends Mass semi-regularly, but does want her children to be confirmed due to some vestigial attachment to Catholicism.

I don't think offering adult formation classes instead of programs for candidates is likely to bring them back,

What may help is to see this time as an opportunity to evangelize to the parents as well as to the children.  To involve them in the process as much as possible.  To show them that the Church is there for them to support them in their role as parents.

It has long been my positions that we should offer a "First Teachers" program that runs at the same time as the formation program for teenagers and youth.  The problem is that often the youth programs take up all of the parish's facilities that could be used for such a program.  My current parish has Eucharistic adoration at the same time as Confirmation class, which is a nice opportunity for the parents, but is probably not the educational program imagined by the article.

On the parent side, I think we are perfectly capable of teaching our kids about the faith. Indeed, I think most of what they hear in faith formation classes are echoes of things they've already heard at home.  But it is nice for them to get another perspective, and I want them to know a community of other Catholic peer believers.  And it is important for them to know this community is in place as they move through adolescence and young adulthood.  This, more than nuts and bolts about the faith, is what they get from these programs.

And, in my judgment, giving our kids this is more important than providing (more) education for motivated adults, if we have to choose.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Mercy is for the weak -- meaning all of us

First, the obligatory clip:

Of course, Pope Francis does teach mercy in his dojo, and has in fact announced a  Jubliee Year of Mercy to that effect

To say this is is timely would be an understatement. If there is one thing the world needs now, it is the Mercy of our loving (but still just!) God.

As I've said before, we think we've escaped God's judgment, and all we've really escaped is God's mercy.

I pray for the success of this year, and will strive to do my part to make it so.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Analyzing Hack-A-Jordan

A couple weeks ago I watched an enjoyable game between the Clippers and the Spurs. It was tightly competitive, and featured many great plays from the team's stars.

Except for two stretches -- from 5:00 to 2:00 left in the 2nd and 4th quarter, the Clippers' possessions consisted of one of the Spurs grabbing Jordan, and Jordan proceeding to the free throw line to attempt two free throws, sometimes with ghastly results. #HackAJordan was on.

What had been an athletic competition turned into a psychodrama, with a man who was achieving the peak of his proficiency in all other aspects of the game being forced to confront the one discipline that evaded his mastery.

Given my loathing of anti-competitive video game sports tactics that manipulate the rules, one would think I would hate this, and, viscerally I do.  This hits all the notes.  Imagine if in baseball, for several innings, it was feasible to intentionally walk every batter until the pitcher came up.  This is what Hack-A-Jordan does. It takes the ball out of the hands of the other four players on the court (in this case, including Chris Paul), and puts up a player doing what he does worst. Ugh.

Still, there are mitigating factors, in that there are some counter-measures teams can take.

  • Hit the damn free throws Reggie Miller was doing the color commentary for this game, and was making this point. Of course, "easy for him to say" is a bit of an understatement. I'm sure Miller worked hard on his game, but I suspect shooting came bit easier to him than it does to Jordan.

    Tim Duncan has managed to turn his free throw shooting from a liability to acceptable. But the struggles of Shaquille O'Neal, Wilt Chamberlain, Dwight Howard, and now Jordan lead me to believe that it's not just a matter of effort, and it could be something they're just not good at.
  • Team Depth This problem has been thrown into relief with the injury to Blake Griffin and Jordan's emergence as an elite player. There is a big drop-off between Jordan and whomever Doc Rivers might play in his place, so he has little choice to leave him on the court.

    And maybe that's not such a bad thing. One of the good things about basketball as opposed to other sports like baseball and football is that it defies extreme specialization. A player who is a complete liability on one end of the floor is not playable, especially today when coaches pour over film and find ways to exploit weaknesses. As a National League guy, I enjoy that NBA players must have diverse skill sets.

    On the other hand, I'm not sure driving someone like DeAndre Jordan is the type of player we should be driving to the bench.
So, at least in this case, the Clippers' possible counter-measures are not so effective.

One other counter-measure is that when the clock goes down to 2:00 and the rules change so that Hack-A-Jordan is no longer possible, Chris Paul generally plays like a wild animal let out of his cage.

There is also the 6 personal foul limit for individual players.  This doesn't seem to be much of a deterrent, since each foul is a stoppage and provides an opportunity to substitute. Teams can have "designated foulers."

So what rule changes could we make?

  • Same rules all the time It is a bit odd that the rules suddenly change with 2:00 left in the half. The rule in the last 2:00 is that the fouled team can choose the shooter for fouls away from the ball. This would make players like Jordan more playable.
  • Three For Two In the old days of the NBA, fouled players had three shots to make 2 shots. This would turn the expected number of points for a 40% free throw shooter from 0.8 to 1.14. The problem is that it would mean players like Jordan take more free throws per trip; a bad experience for all involved.
  • Only call "real" fouls Hack-a-Jordan is typically executed by a player from the opposing team alerting the ref, then walking over and putting his hands on Jordan, often apologizing afterwards. The refs could ignore these "fouls" and only call fouls that are actually physical or impact the game.This would likely result in a number of undesired consequences, people clubbing these players, smashing him on screens, and ensuing fights.
I'd probably fair the first change.  But it may not be necessary. 

Friday, March 06, 2015

The Anti-Progressiveness of Sports Analytics

I've been finding it interesting that the sports analytic movement, driven as it is by people who I suspect are good liberal Obama voters (if I can judge by the throwaway jokes they sprinkle throughout their pieces), nevertheless leads to conclusions that Rush Limbaugh would cheer.
  1. The "bad contract": I've covered this before, but the time was when a player's best contract would come at the end of his career, perhaps with the team he had toiled for for many years, including his time as an underpaid player without access to free agency.

    No longer.  Any player rewarded with such a contract is likely to read his name on a regular series of "worst contract" articles ( with GM's name as perhaps an afterthought).  GMs and owners who avoid these are no longer considered cheap, but shrewd.  We celebrate GMs who win with small payrolls, and discount those who win with high payrolls.

    Owners must love this. It's gotten to the point that fans who might question their favorite team making no attempt to win for 2 years are considered unenlightened.  It's a great time to be a cheap owner!
  2. Diversity in the Front Office and Announcer's Booth  It's interesting that, just as everyone was waking up to the reality that there should be more diversity in the ranks of sports management and commentary, along came a "revolution" that stated that one needed to have particular knowledge (which happened to be possessed by white guys) in order to comment or act intelligently about sports,* and that experience playing the game was largely irrelevant.

    This became clear to me in the dispute surrounding Charles Barkley's recent comments.  It's odd (perhaps progress?) to see an outspoken African American athlete cast as representing the "old guard."  I also notice that popular targets of the analytical revolution include Dusty Baker, Billy King, Art Shell, Denny Green, Barkley, Don Baylor, and Joe Dumars.  A popular website for this was called "Fire Joe Morgan," for crying out loud. A look through their darlings reveals a crowd  about as diverse as an RNC meeting in Mississippi.
  3. Management > Labor In today's analytic piece, Kirk Goldsberry posits that player performance is largely a function of the system they operate in and laments that marginal players are paid more than the best coaches.
  4. Fat Sluggers > Toolsy Athletes  This isn't so much the case now, but before the development of better defensive statistics, sabermetric analysis often favored fats sluggers who drew a lot of walks (e.g. Matt Stairs, Adam Dunn) over players with more diverse and athletic skill sets. (see Adam Dunn vs. Juan Pierre)

    It so happened that the former often happened to be white, and the latter often happened to be black and Latino.

    This was somewhat countered by the tendency to defend brooding sluggers like Barry Bonds who may have been undervalued because the press didn't like them.
I find this all interesting.  I suppose I should salute these analysts for following the data event when it leads to ideologically inconvenient destinations.

* Again, I doubt this is intentional, and I suspect many of the more analytical people would be horrified by the notion that they are pushing minorities out. But it's still interesting to note the effect.