08
Apr
15

My advice to me growing up

 Oh, if only it were possible to talk to me when I was younger and thinking I knew it all already. I have been coaching for over 35 years (yeah I can’t believe it either), and there are things that I know now that I never could have known then. I had a few coaches come in and out of my career, I never really could say that anyone specific was the guy.

So I never had insight shared with me by someone who really knew me.  A coach doesn’t only teach you skills and take you from competition to competition, season to season. A coach is one of your best and most trustworthy advisors. The men and women who coached me, even for short times, provided me with wisdom and insight that I would never hear from anyone else; or if I did, I likely wouldn’t listen because they weren’t my coach. As a coach, if I could talk to younger me, knowing how I was so hungry to learn, so in search of perfection, so scared of success and failure, and so in need of validation; here is what I would address.

Would you trust this guy's advice?

Would you trust this guy’s advice?

First out, it may seem like the world has conspired against you, but it hasn’t.  No one thinks that you are so important that they all got together to hold a meeting on how your life should go. So get that out of your head. The decisions you make will lead you to opportunities, and action on those opportunities will determine what actually happens. That’s it. No conspiracy, no meetings. You may have been given a hard set of cards, but stop complaining about the deal and play your hand. If the game seems like it’s not going to go well with your cards, then make your own game. You after all, get to decide whether you are happy or sad, aggressive or passive, a success or a failure. That’s a lot of responsibility, take it seriously.

Be the guy that does 11 when the coach asks for 10. Don’t point it out, don’t brag about working harder, just quietly do it. The extra 10% will add up and even if it doesn’t mean that you win a meet, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you did your best and it’s really not asking for a lot, is it?  Your best effort will be your prize. All of your awards, medals, and trophies will eventually be lost after being packed in a box in the basement so how important could they be?  Yes, there will be those people that do better than you and work only half as much. You don’t get to control their story and their life will matter only minimally to yours, in time your 10% will make a difference and you can be satisfied that it wasn’t luck, or someone else that got you where you are, it’s all you.

Don’t be afraid of what’s next. Crave it. Look for the next step, the next skill, the next opportunity. When you sit back and relax, happy that you completed a phase or a season you have to realize that that moment of reflection is a needed temporary respite from the labor of progress, but it’s the chase, the work, and the desire for growth that is where you will find real joy. Always ask “what’s next?

The sport is a game. Sometimes you win and sometimes you learn. The judgment is based on your performance at a given time, in a given place with a given set of circumstances. That’s not your life, it’s a game, a show. Treat it like what it is, it’s a fun reason to show off what you can do. Sometimes you will land on your butt, sometimes you will be amazing. Both times are just for fun, do your best, that’s it.

Appreciate the rough times, that’s where the most valuable lessons will come from. Instead of feeling bad and trying to get someone to pity you, look deeper and see what you can learn from whatever is happening. Your education never ends because every day will throw you a new chance to learn something. You may have to look for lessons some days though, but don’t be discouraged, they are there.

It’s OK that you don’t fit in. It’s better to be separated and be yourself than to try so hard to fit in and be in a group. Go ahead, get the earring, read your books, listen to your weird music and wear your hair long, wait until you see what happens.

Mom is usually right, she may be a little nutty, but she has seen life and she knows what time it is. Listen to her.  Oh, but don’t sweat that she doesn’t like your girlfriends, it’s just that she always thinks no one is good enough for you. She’s wrong on that, you will find the right one, trust me and just be patient.

Lastly, everything will be fine. There will be times when you feel like you are sliding backwards. You’re not. You can’t always progress, sometimes you may slow down, that’s OK. There will be times too, to be sure, that you feel that everything is perfect. That’s not right either. Never will it all be perfect, never will you allow it to fail. It all is going to be fine because it will come out just as you imagine it to be. Remember when I said that you have the responsibility to be happy or sad, to be a success or a failure? This is when it applies. Imagine what you want and make it so. Even if it doesn’t come out perfect it will be better than if you never cared one way or another.  There is nothing as satisfying as knowing that everything is just the way it should be, because you made it so.

Now go climb the rope, you need upper body strength.

 

 

25
Mar
15

Why we do what we do (My lunch with Ed.)

I had lunch with my old friend Ed the other day. We coached together over 20 years ago, I coached 2 of his daughters and in fact met my wife at one of his daughter’s wedding. The best part about reconnecting with an old friend is how you re-validate who you are, or possible the converse of that, maybe you realize how much you have changed. In the case of our lunch, I found re-connection to a kindred soul and met myself again in the conversation.

Ed told me how he ran into a young woman that we coached so many years ago. They spoke for some time while in a store. As her children grew antsy waiting for the grown-ups to stop talking she shared with Ed how her life had some rough spots and that there was a time when she was very nearly homeless. At the time she was out of work and her first child was due soon. It was stressful for her but she overcame it; she worked tirelessly to finish her education, get a new position and establish some security.  The baby was born, 7 years ago, healthy and happy. She explained to Ed that she was so happy now and has a family of 3, a great job, a loving husband and a truly fortunate life. Ed, as any of us would, felt so happy for her that he got a little misty eyed even when relaying the story to me weeks after it happened. As they separated and went off to finish shopping, Ed had a fleeting thought. He called her back and explained to her that he was no longer coaching and was retired from his career job as well. Left to ourselves, guys like Ed and I, could wander into a belief of self-doubt that we ever had an impact, or a belief that we did when we didn’t. Introspective people like us are always seeking a sign of validation.  He wondered, again, as we all do, if he ever made a difference for her. Was there anything that he taught her that she found of value?  She responded, I’m sure with a smile, “Of course coach, you taught me to set goals and keep my eyes on them. Without that lesson I would have never made it through those hard years.”

When Ed shared this story with me we both had tears in our eyes because it’s short stories like this that remind us that gymnastics is only a vehicle that we can provide that gives these children valuable life skills. They learn so much from us aside from cartwheels and somersaults. I think that every once and awhile we need to check our perspective and remember why we have this job. We teach perseverance, determination, focus, and goal setting. We bring skills, strength, flexibility and healthy lifestyles to children. We teach physics, anatomy, bio-mechanics and psychology. Gymnastics is merely an activity that allows these lessons to be presented.

I’ve had champion gymnasts and champion teams, but the things I brag about most often are the wonderful children that turned into strong and healthy adults. I’ve coached scientists, therapists, business people, doctors, moms and all points between. I can confidently say that gymnastics; that I provided, helped them, one and all, be who they are; successful and healthy people. This is what fuels my day. What does it for you?

11
Mar
15

Failing to succeed or succeeding by failure: your call

A while ago I had a coach rebuke me for telling a gymnast that “they were practicing how to fail” as opposed to, by inference, practicing for success. I agreed that out of context the statement was very negative and could be seen as discouraging.

The full story, however, involved a prior discussion with the athlete that was had outside the presence of the visiting coach, where I explained that success comes when the gymnast makes changes to a performance. When we repeatedly do the same error it perfects the error and makes it the “way” the skill is done. Without adjustments, corrections and changes the performance will continue to be done “wrong.” They will be, in essence, perfectingfail-forward failure. The product of having made changes is how one arrives at success. To sum up: if we always do what we’ve always done, we will always get what we’ve always got.

But how bad is it to fail? At Gymfinity we have a philosophy of “sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.” If you are, in fact, learning from failing then every effort is victorious.

The problem comes in when we (I say we because we all fall victim to this) define ourselves by our failures. When we internally reprimand ourselves because we are not doing things right we often label ourselves as the failure. But that only applies to us if we allow it. Things may not turn out as we expected or as we hoped, but that is not the end of our story. We evaluate our performance and assess what needs to be done differently in order to improve. That is, after all the only way that we can progress.  We should then be grateful for the occasional failure or set back, because it allows us to value victory, improvement and effort.

When I told the gymnast that she was practicing to fail, it was referencing that she was not making the effort, not stepping outside of her comfort zone, and not processing corrections. She was giving up, pouting, and defining herself as a failure. By doing that she was allowing herself to stop trying and she was molding herself to be a perfect failure.

I expressed to her that she could decide to give up and just be another kid who tried gymnastics, had a little success, but couldn’t move past fear and stress: or she could be the story that everyone tells about the girl who wouldn’t quit. The girl who was determined to succeed, the one who wouldn’t let the frustration define her. She could be that success story, and all it would take would be a minor correction.  After all, she is a master at Robert-Kiyosaki-Success-Picture-Quoteovercoming fear, on beating back doubts, and on succeeding even when it’s difficult because she had done it all before; it’s how she got to where she was. She was in the perfect place to be successful, she just needed to stop the practice of perfecting failure.  So within context, “practicing failure” was not demeaning or demoralizing, it was, in fact, a reminder that her focus needed to be on attaining success (improving one small thing at a time). I am happy to report, a year later, that she chose to be successful. She learned the skill, advanced herself and is positioned to be a real team leader.

I am often very proud of my team kids, but never so much as when they become successful; not only over skills, but over themselves, and they do it by using struggle as a tool and a motivator. That personal strength is what makes me most proud of my team and so very proud of our Grayce.

25
Feb
15

The benefits of ol’ Sol

Oy, I’m tired of winter. I need a little sunshine and fresh air that doesn’t hurt to breathe in. I brought up my feeling of missing the sun with a few friends and I was surprised that 2 of them said they would rather remain inside, even during warmer weather. What?  They believed that the sun could be so damaging that it wasn’t worth the risk. What?helenkeller120988

Helen Keller was blind and even she spoke about the benefits of the big happy light in the sky. In fact, there are even medical reasons TO go out in the sun.

Did you know that the sun was used to treat several skin disorders as well as having a benefit to strengthening the skins ability to be a barrier against germs and disease?

Did you know that before antibiotics it was the treatment for tuberculosis, and it’s still used to treat jaundice?

How about the fact that it treats Seasonal Affective Disorder? (yeah, I got that).  It helps regulate your body temperature, enhances biorhythms, and may be a treatment in treating T Cell Lymphoma. It may even help fight cavities. Really.

Click here to read more about the value of the sun from a post by Dr. Joseph Mercola.

So let’s hurry up to summer and get some rays. Are you all ready for a warm up?

11
Feb
15

Reality television is nothing like reality

This weekend the series Coaching Bad premiered on Spike TV. I had to watch it.

download (1)In a nutshell, several coaches from various sports are brought together to work with an anger counselor. This is all done under watchful former NFL player and current motivational speaker Ray Lewis. There were some real characters: a speed coach that races his athletes and berates them when they can’t keep up, a volleyball coach who got fired because of her abusive actions, a hockey coach/referee that hit a child with a stick when the child pushed him, a football coach that routinely wrestles his players (under 12 years old) to the ground, and a few others. They all call their kids names, tell them they are worthless, and dole out punishments for any and every reason, and this is what passes for a TV series?

I take issue with two things in this show and the very premise of it. First, and quite simply, these people will not change that easily; if at all. These people are reinforced when they are abusive, intolerant, dictators and you can’t turn a mess that big around with one show and a few “motivational moments”. Though the show is trying to demonstrate that they have the power to make bad coaches into good, the fact is that these people will likely return to their habits and negative personalities as soon as the cameras are off.

Next, I take issue with presenting coaches that are so far gone that they become caricatures of a stereotypical “bad coach.” They are presented to us as representative of a profession that really should be held to high standards. As parents we want to best for our children. We want the coach that can get the best results out of our children and we want the coaches that helps us raise our children to be successful and strong.  We live in fear that the person working with our child  could be a negative influence on our most precious children. But the fear is easily played on and we are manipulated. The truth is that 99% of coaches are there to encourage children, training the skills but also caring for the child as a person. These television shows that play on our fears lead us to believe that there is a villain, more awful than we can possibly imagine, around every corner. It’s simply not true. I am in the profession and I have seen good coaches and bad, yes they do exist. But we give so much attention to the bad behavior that we make people feel that it is typical. We never spend any energy on praising the good coaches. Where is the series that shows a coach that goes above and beyond for an athlete? Where is the series that glorifies the men and women who spend their weekends working with OUR children? It’s sad to me that these fear tactics always get the most attention and they beget more of the same.

Since Gymfinity opened we have been approached twice by television producers who were pitching a series idea of middle to high level gymnasts training for championships. We were interviewed, screen tested, and had to do video interviews with a few parents to submit for evaluation. Well, to summarize, we were too normal. During the process (from the second company) I was asked to provide a list of parents that are very “engaged” in their child’s performance. I was asked if we had any parents with alcohol concerns. (What?) I was asked how often I raise my voice in the gym and downloadwhat a typical “Punishment” would be if a child didn’t perform well. When all of these red flags went up, I decided to pull the plug on the project. They didn’t want the reality of children working hard, sweating, straining, and dreaming of bigger things. They wanted another Abby from Dance Moms, a villain that an audience would hate. (PS, I have a friend that knows Abby from Dance Moms and she assures me that the show is 90% staged, as Abby is nothing like that in real life).  The upside of providing what they were looking for would be fame and fortune, Abby’s studio is at record enrollment because people are buying into the show’s version of reality. But what does that say about the parents who enroll their children in what they believe is a potentially abusive program? Oy vey, the problem is deeper than a bad coach.

One character on the Coaching Bad show actually says (paraphrased) that this is how football is coached, the parents don’t get that, but the kids love it. That is when my reality meter broke. The kids don’t love it, they live in fear of you. Your reality is distorted and you are a freak. But there was some truth; the parents of his team, in reality, don’t get it. They value the trophy over their child’s happiness. If they don’t get that their own priorities are mixed up then that is a potential new series. But the disclaimer is that those parents, like these coaches, are freaks and are not typical. In order to get the TV folks to stop glorifying these freaks and these fears we need to stop watching what they put in front of us.

 

28
Jan
15

Eating right is hard, but worth it

Lunch with Coach Tracey yesterday. She explained how she is working tirelessly on providing whole-foods for her family as opposed to processed foods.  The FDA classifies processed food as anything canned, cooked, frozen, mixed, added to, altered, dehydrated, or milled. That doesn’t leave a lot to choose from.

Coach Tracey is my inspiration

Coach Tracey is my inspiration

The biggest worry is the “food” that has been altered. Foods with chemical enhancement or alteration are the biggest problem facing consumers concerned with healthy eating.

According the Melanie Warner author of “Pandora’s Lunch Box: How Processed Food Took Over The American Meal” 7 of 10 things we eat are laden with chemicals or include un-natural ingredients.   But these foods are engineered to provide a neurotransmission of dopamine that makes us happy. It is, in a very literal sense, a drug addiction no different than street drugs. We are given it, it makes us feel good and we seek more. The rub is that, that it is so easy to find, and cheap too.  This makes the addiction even harder to break.

The chemicals in processed food can range from the odd (like silicon dioxide, or sand, in Taco meat) to the truly scary (like sodium bisulfite, a toilet bowl cleaner found in potato chips).

What’s worse is that studies published in the Journal of American Clinical Nutrition concluded that virtually ALL chronic diseases are in part caused by our modern diet of engineered foods. Extended out we can surmise that processed food causes disease, disease causes death….therefore….

I am a junk food eater I confess. I have always thought that as long as I exercise that I would remain fairly healthy. However, the National Institute of Health shares that the body needs twice as much (literally) activity to burn the same amount of calories burned after consuming whole foods. So I now know that a Snickers may satisfy but it means burning over 500 calories just to break even.

So, good on you Tracey, you have motivated me to eat better, but it isn’t that we didn’t know these things, it’s just that doing the right thing seems to take so much effort. Wow, I wonder if that axiom applies to anything else in life.

 

14
Jan
15

Losing what’s in hand to reach for more

The following was shared with me by my friend Patti Komara, who owns one of the best gyms in the country. Patti not only runs a great program but she shares her wisdom with neophytes like me on topics of business, teaching, and life in general. I have learned so much by simply being her friend and I gratefully share the following tale that she found in a sub shop, of all places, but wisdom comes wherever you find it. 

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied, “only a little while.” The American then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish?

The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”The fisherman

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life.”

The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats. Eventually, you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this take?” To which the American replied, “15-20 years.” “But what then?”

The American laughed and said that’s the best part. “When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.” “Millions?” asked the fisherman, “Then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evening, sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos!” (Author Unknown).

I love this story because it shares something that I feel we often overlook. In our culture we are always looking for the bigger, better thing. Our homes, cars, clothes, and even our friends are constant targets for upgrades. We work harder to get more and never realize that we already have so much. I think that one of the driving forces for disease in our culture is that our society tells us that we are not happy yet. We could be happier and we should not rest until we are. However when we achieve the “more” we still don’t have enough. This constant dissatisfaction causes stress. We all know how stress manifests into any myriad of ailments. Then, when sick, we realize that this disease will slow us down and we will no longer be able to attain the “more”.  That realization either kills us or brings us to a place of peaceful regret.

There are many tales of people on their deathbed who realize that what they had in hand was lost when they reached for more. It’s sad that we often have to be in that tragic position to realize that we are rich beyond measure.




about.me

Jason Orkowski

Jason Orkowski

A Little about me

Born and raised in Milwaukee Wisconsin, I started gymnastics inthe late 70's and started coaching in 1980 to help offset the expenses of my own participation. I graduated from UW LaCrosse with a BS in Physical Education, then went back and got another BS in Health Education. That was 1989.

Having coached around the country at camps, clubs and clinics I opened my own gym in 1999...Gymfinity. 

In 2010 I was brought on as a consultant to 3rd Level Consulting working with business leaders in the children's acivity center industry, specializing in human resources and marketing as well as setting up business systems. 

I married a wonderful friend and partner in 2001 and Stephanie and I have 2 children; Owen (2004) and Emmett (2008). 

April 2015
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