20
May
15

Doing it for the cupcake

A few weeks ago we traveled to Florida to spend some time with my dad. He and I spent a lot of time talking, and when we do I always get new insights into him: things I never knew he did, or felt. One morning we spoke over a some cold tea while the kids went to the pool, and he told me of when he first moved to Florida.

When my Dad relocated from Wisconsin he had retired from a career of owning his own business that was often 20 hour days and 7 days a week. Some would say he was a workaholic, but in our family we see it as “just doing what needs to get done.”  In Florida he started volunteering to make use of his new-found surplus time . He volunteered in a school and was given the task of supervising 4 of the biggest behavior cases in the class of 3rd graders. Now years ago before going into business, my dad was a Milwaukee cop. Back in the day being a police officer was all business and he had to be a pretty tough guy. That same facet of his personality was called up again when he had these kids to deal with. It was no B.S. when you were with Mr. O.

Through the course of the year the kids fell in line and learned to behave respectfully to the teacher, the other kids and the school. The kids learned that though Mr. O was demanding, he had respect for them and he knew they were capable of being as successful as the other kids. He told them that if they did the work they could accomplish anything.  Near the end of the year my father was saying good-bye to the class and his 4 students. He was convinced that the kids would be happy to see an end to their time with Mr. O, the tough ex-cop. But one little girl came to him and hugged him around the leg, (my dad is a tall guy), and gave him a cupcake  she had made for him. She said thank you for the year and told him that she would miss him over the summer. When my dad shared this story with me, we were both clearly emotional: him because he knew his time had meant something, and me because, maybe, for the first time my dad might see why I do what I do.

I explained to him that the reason I became a teacher (and coach) was never for the money, it was for the cupcakes and the too often silent appreciation of the children and parents who know that you, in some way, have changed their child for the better. You cannot take the figurative cupcake, or a literal cupcake for that matter, to the bank, but the non-cash rewards are so much sweeter.

gymfinity, dad and the boys

My dad, my sons, and me.

When we do evaluations of our staff at Gymfinity, we always ask them what is the favorite part of their position. Most reply that they love to see the children develop confidence, strength, or skill. Being witness to that is what fulfills a teacher. We do it for the love of teaching and maybe for the importance of being important to a child.

So “Good on you Dad”, somewhere there is a little girl who is doing great in school because of you. She thinks back on the tough teacher’s aide she had in 3rd grade; the one who believed in her,  and as she does her work respectfully her eyes are on the future. Some of the success can be attributed to you Dad. Enjoy your cupcake, you deserve it.

06
May
15

I think you can take one more turn.

On average you have about 79 years to live.

You will literally sleep through about 26 of those years that leaves you about 53 years of being awake.

You’re going to spend about 6 solid years in classes and getting your education. That leaves you 47.

You’re going to graduate and get a job. You will put in about 11 years of solid work time. Let’s take that off and you are left with 36 years.

You are going to spend about a solid year’s worth of hours sitting in traffic unless you live in Chicago, then its double. But let’s give you the benefit of the doubt. That leaves you 35 years.

Photo-Dec-30-7-47-40-PM-e1420214336992Let’s subtract another 3 years from brushing your teeth, showering, and sitting on the can and so on. Also lets take off about 4 years for your time sitting down to eat and drink. Now you have only 28 years left.

Take off 3 more years for shopping, and 6 years for doing chores like cooking, vacuuming, and cleaning. Also take off about 2 years for child care. Down to 17.

The average person now spends about 9 years of screen time. That’s computers, tablets, and TV. It’s Facebook and Reddit and other time sucking websites (does not include reading this blog). Your generation will be much higher, I’m taking off 11 years. You’re left with 6 years.

That only leaves you 6 years to see the world, fall in love, and practice in the gym. That’s not a lot. In retrospect, you spent 3 years on the toilet, so I think your mom will understand you staying 10 minutes late to do one more routine. Go chalk up.

22
Apr
15

Stress in the gym: Stop. Breathe. Look again. do one more.

 I just got out of school. I have a paper due tomorrow that I didn’t start. Exams start next week. Our first meet is in 2 weeks. I haven’t stuck a dismount since Tuesday. The rest of the team is going out for pizza and I have to go home and watch my little brother. Now the coach wants to see a full routine but I haven’t really warmed up yet. ARGHHH!

We all get stressed. It’s normal.

There is definitely a negative physical response. We understand it but at times being stressed can be beneficial. Personally I used to do specific things to make myself stressed out when I was in competition. It made me feel “edged” and the raised heart rate and queasy stomach were things I embraced and defined them, not as stress or as anxiety, but as excitement. I was like a race horse, nose against the gate, ready to run. But I was taught to control the level of stress I was feeling.

We are all experiencing stress. The issue is that without control, it staircases to such elevated levels that we have actual negative and long lasting reactions. In the opening paragraph the gymnast might have 10 stress units over the paper that’s due, (I made this up for illustration sake), 5 units over the start of exams, 5 over the upcoming meet, 10 over low quality practices, 5 over no social outlet, 10 over her little brother’s care. Those 45 units are multiplied by the 20 units of the coach asking for a routine RIGHT NOW and she ends up with 900 units!! The result may be a breakdown, crying,  or a frustrated tantrum, or adding in an additional multiplier by doing the routine poorly and reinforcing the previous stress.

As coaches we need to first stop the staircase climb of stress by explaining that the only thing that can be affected right now is the current request. We have to shock the system by backing down the demands and allow an immediate release of the pressure.  Possibly give them an early release to get the paper done, or something to help them see that solutions are available.  We determine with each athlete the amount of push, pull, or release needed to get to an optimal performance.  We learn those levels by trial and error.

But without controlling the stress level the gymnast will not be practicing optimally and runs an increased risk of injury. None of that is worth pushing through the elevated stress feelings that a gymnast is having.

To the contrary side, there are times when stress is a valuable tool. At Gymfinity we have simulated stressful scenes to help an athlete prepare for that moment when they will be performing. For example, if you have a gymnast that is nervous about performing in front of a crowd, you may want to have an audience come watch a practice meet, or have a time in practice when everyone stops and watches a routine. Eventually through this type of controlled exposure they are desensitized to the stress that a performance could trigger.

In any respect, a performance sport like gymnastics, can be very stressful to a child. Again, as coaches we have got to take steps to teach children how to accept the feelings and eventually control them.  If we don’t, we will not only lose the kid, we will make the sport unappealing to others. Part of the fun of gymnastics is the feeling of being stressed, a little. It affords us the opportunity to show kids that if you embrace stress you can control it, and even make it work for you.

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?




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). 

May 2015
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