O’Neal Golf and Boys Basketball Coach Jeff Haarlow invited several celebrity guest speakers to join Zoom calls with his student athletes this week. First, teams were joined by Coach Haarlow’s cousin and current New York Knicks sideline reporter, Rebecca Haarlow. Ms. Haarlow spoke to the Girl’s Golf Team and the Boys’ Basketball Team. Before joining the Knicks Ms. Haarlow worked with the Lakers, Clippers, Trailblazers, NFL Network, Fox Sports, TNT, Big Ten Network and enjoyed a long career covering sports. An Illinois native, she is a Princeton University graduate, where she starred on the track and field team as a Heptathlete.
At the start of the conversation with the girls’ golf team, Rebecca mentioned the importance of dedication, discipline, and drive. Fittingly, this is O’Neal’s athletic mantra, #DDD! During the Zoom, Ms. Haarlow spoke about the individual vs. team mentality sharing her belief that “you're only as good as your team.” With this idea in mind, she emphasized that individuals find they get more "praise" the better the team is. She asked the student athletes what they were doing to encourage their teammates. Rebecca stressed the importance of connections and relationships and tasked teammates to encourage one another!
Next, the Lady Falcons enjoyed hearing from Vicki Goezte-Ackerman. Vicki is a two-time US Amateur champ, former NCAA Champ (UGA), seventeen-year LPGA career veteran, and is currently in her eighth year as the LPGA Player’s President. Mrs. Goezte-Ackerman is also a golf instructor in the Tampa area. Coach Haarlow asked her to talk about short game and how to be mentally prepared as a golfer. Vicki had a great deal of advice for the girls starting with setting goals, both short and long term. In the short term she recommended focusing on daily practice. She encouraged the girls to have a specific goal in mind every practice session, “the goal could be the amount of time you work on something or when you accomplish a task. Long term goals could include improvement in scoring average, how you place in an upcoming tournament, up and down average, etc.”
Mrs. Goezte-Ackerman spoke to how one practices and advised athletes to remember to have three aspects of practicing; mechanical, feel, and scoring. She shared the importance of focusing skills meaning, being able to focus on a shot for 30 to 40 seconds and then relaxing your mind in between shots. “Focusing is a skill set that will only improve by practicing it.” She encouraged the girls to “make sure [they] have more in life than just golf. Golf can be your primary focus besides school, but you need outlets in your life to get away.” She advised the team to “remember, self-worth has nothing to do with your score. After a bad shot, give yourself five seconds to move on. Once your club goes back in your bag, it is over. Always stay in the present, not the past or the future but in whatever you do, give a 100%.”
After the separate Zoom calls, Coach Haarlow shared his thoughts recalling, “it was neat to see the same comments from Rebecca and Vicki in terms of mistake response. They both said to forgive yourself, reflect, then move on. Vicki said to think until you put the club back in the bag. Everyone is going to be a little different in their ways of dealing with a mistake, so we as individuals need to figure out what makes it better for us! Not everything you do needs to be perfect. We are all going to mess up. Gain confidence in how many times you have done that "thing" well. You hit a bad wedge, think how many good wedges have you hit? She mentioned the importance of meditation and yoga. She said it may take up to a month to really feel benefits of meditation. She really likes the CALM app.”
Coach Adams asked Ms. Haarlow about anxiety, and like Vicki, she believes “nerves are good, use those as fuel or energy. It is a reminder that you love what you do! Lean into the nerves and anxiety." When asked, how do you gain confidence, Ms. Haarlow shared that “you get it from your support people; family, friends, inner circle but, ultimately it is a practice-time answer. Practice, time, and preparation!
Later Ms. Haarlow spoke with the Boys Basketball Team on perseverance and work ethic. She stated the importance of having a passion and love of the game. She advised student athletes to be “willing to work hard, accept less than ideal to get a foot in the door, and make the most of every opportunity. With regards to work ethic, she shared that “the easier and more seamless something appears externally, the more work, preparation, and effort goes on behind the scenes and away from view.”
Rebecca explained that teamwork applies across broad occupations. She stressed that everyone has an important role to play. Just like she did for the golf team, Ms. Haarlow stressed that there would be no individual success without team effort and support. She advocated constant preparation. Ms. Haarlow shared that she personally reads all articles related to the Knicks and a relevant topic each day. She believes that “rehearsal and preparedness allow for quicker thinking in the moment and on live television.”
Ms. Haarlow wrapped up the Zoom call by encouraging the team to “work through difficult circumstances, learn to adapt to constant travel, accept the late schedule because the train doesn’t slow down. Trust your coaches to monitor and ensure you will get the rest you need. In the end, just remember, “Demeanor matters. Do you love what you do even when events are not going according to plan?” She used the example of Carmelo Anthony again and again showing up and taking responsibility.
Also providing advice to the Falcons basketball team was Tommy Brown – former head coach at Lee University, assistant coach at Presbyterian College, and University of Illinois. Mr. Brown is currently the athletic director at Boyd Buchanan High School outside of Chattanooga TN. He is the owner of One HeartBeat Basketball, a non-profit that is organized to help underprivileged kids learn leadership, defining a “warrior culture” in sports. Coach Brown shared some great advice with the team regarding mental toughness and resiliency. He shared stories of Kobe Bryant’s hard work and passion for the sport and many different “culture ideas.”
Thank you to all the guest speakers that were able to provide inspiration and motivation to our O’Neal teams!