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?


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.



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.



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.


Resolve for a better life by moving

Another year and another reason to start working out. Right? Will it be another year where you do it a few times then you hear the siren call of extra sleep, or worse, the beckoning of the couch and TV remote? What you need is a good sound reason. A reason that resonates with you and covers the attraction of the couch’s lure.My son asked me the other day, why I was going for a run when it was so cold outside. Usually not at a loss for words I stumbled around to justify changing clothes, different shoes, and bracing for the cold to and sweat outside until little icicles form on my cap. I think I had a hard time because I too was wondering: “what the heck am I doing?” But now I have had some time to think and a chance to sit inside and warm up a bit: so here are some reasons for you. I am writing them as I should have said them to my son (s). Maybe visualizing talking to your children will help. Find one that motivates you and get yourself moving.Winter runner1. Why are you going to run when it’s so cold outside?  And I say “Well, you know how sometimes you still feel sleepy when you get to school? After a run, my body is awake and alive. I get so much more done on days when I run.”

In fact, research has shown that people who exercise are more productive than those who are sedentary. Whether you exercise early in the morning, in the mid-day, or even late at night; your body becomes a more efficient machine.

2. Why are you going to run when it’s so cold outside? And I say “Sometimes I feel like I need a little time to get myself feeling better. When I exercise I feel good about myself. Sometimes the best cure for feeling down is to get yourself up and workout a little.”

Exercising hold many benefits when it comes to enhancing self-esteem. Being more fit makes you feel good inside. Even if you lose a few pounds or inches, or maybe you don’t; internally hormones are triggered to provide a feeling of happiness. Just like some people find with a beer or a candy bar but this is free and it has a longer lasting positive effect. That’s win-win.

“There are sometimes when I also just need to burn off some steam. Maybe if I had a stressful day or it’s a rough week, it helps me to deal with feeling overwhelmed by stress. I don’t like feeling like I have no time to do everything I need to do, and weirdly enough, when I spend some time exercising it seems to make more time for me during the day. Then I’m not so stressed out.”

Exercise releases endorphins that not only make you feel better, but help your mind prepare for stressors that might arise later. One of the best strategies to alleviate stress is to get up and move. From executives to laborers, exercise outside of normal activity gives you the strength to deal with stress.

3.  Why are you going to run when it’s so cold outside? And I say “You know I have to be sharp. I have a lot to know for my job and sometimes I have to make split second decisions. Plus, being your dad it’s important for me to stay on my toes. I always want to be there for you if you have questions or need help with your homework. When I exercise it keeps my mind functioning well.”

Not only does exercise prevent memory loss but it aids in production of cells in the hippocampus, which is responsible for memory and learning. You could say that exercise not only reduces memory loss, it reverses it. Also, research has shown that your chances of dementia are drastically reduced. Exercise is a “smart” thing to do in more ways than one.

4. Why are you going to run when it’s so cold outside? And I say ” Exercise makes me happy. What do you do to be happy? Maybe your Legos or playing with your friends makes you happy, and running just makes me feel good.

As I mentioned; exercise releases happy juice in your body. This creates a feeling of euphoria and can make you feel pretty good.  When you feel good, your days are better and you get through life with more smiles on your face than frowns. There is great research that shows the correlation of exercise and feeling fulfilled in life.

5. Why are you going to run when it’s so cold outside? And I say ” Well, I want to be healthy so I can be with you a lot longer.  If I make sure my body is healthy and working like it should I won’t get sick as much and I will live a lot longer. Maybe I can be around long enough to see your kids and I’ll get to hear how you answer these kinds of questions.”

Regular exercise is shown to reduce the amount of cellular damage to tissues and organs that lead to many chronic diseases and even many acute sicknesses like colds and flu. A system of regular exercise makes you less likely to have heart disease, Type II Diabetes, Hypertension, and a myriad of other ailments that our US sedentary lifestyles have blessed us with.

There are studies that link extended life expectancy to exercise (This is just one study, there are literally thousands).  So out of all the reasons that I stated here: feeling energized, reducing stress, better self-concept, better brain function, and a happier life, this one may be the most important. Whether you have kids or not, the fact that you could contribute to our world for a longer period of time is paramount to a fulfilled existence.  Knowing that I may someday see grandchildren, or that I will get to see my team kids grown up and be successful, makes the temporary discomfort of a cold weather run well worth it. 30 minutes of exercise and icicles on my hat is a small price to pay to feel good, think better and still be around to play human for another 50 years. Honestly, is it too much of a price for you?  


We don’t wear their shoes

DSC00641My last post brought me some commentary. Not in the comments following a post but in face to face interaction. Though I love talking to people, especially about things I see as important, like raising healthy children, I do wish people would post comments more on this blog to start the conversation here for everybody.  Most of what I heard was in agreement. The problem that still stems is that most of us don’t see ourselves as trying to control our kids. It’s those other whack-job parents that are crazy; we’re all right. However, I confess that I am a controller. (Those that know me are thinking: “What? You?” and snickering).  I will admit that I attempt to control my kids but not their experiences. I want them to be respectful, intelligent, open and brave, and I encourage those experiences but I also want them to feel pain, failure and loss to an extent. That is easy to say here on a post, but difficult to actually allow. As a caretaker of many many children, I want to make a child’s fears go away. I want to show them that they can win, regardless of the circumstance. But often it turns into me just “doing it” to be sure it’s “right”. (Thanks Mom for that genetic hand off). But I am learning, and practicing, and failing, all  to learn and make it better.  I will give me that much.

I am trying to change the way that I parent (sorry Mom) and it’s because I know cognitively what is right. But I have trouble being hands off when my kids may experience (speaking generically) pain. How many of us have changed how we do things as a parent over the years? I bet every parent has experienced a learning moment after a failure of parenting. The  world is always changing. There is value in our kids seeing us make mistakes and admitting that we did something wrong and then letting them know that we will strive to be better.  We teach our children by modelling. In fact, when we try to be a great parent, and fail, it becomes a learning experience for the children as well as for us...if we allow it to be. We will make mistakes, it’s OK. Lesson 1 is that we try again and we will get better.  Lesson 2 is that there are many ways to do something, and lesson 3 is that if one doesn’t work, or has negative consequence, then we should try another way.  These are 3 simple lessons that we can show kids through our own struggle to get this parenting thing right.  It is simple problem solving and kids need to learn that too.  When our children begin solving their issues by themselves we should reward and praise them even if the solution is not what we would do in their shoes. We don’t wear their shoes, and if we do we other issues to worry about. We should let them see that sometimes it works and sometimes…not so much, but by allowing our kids to resolve things, just like we try to do, they become confident in attempts to control their own outcomes and this is a very positive result of our trust. Yes? Yes.


Benefits of a skinned knee

Sometimes it hurts to learnI came from a school. That is to say that my education was in education. I taught in a middle school for one year and realized that after years of stress, struggling to keep up with studies and working my way through college that I didn’t even want to be a teacher. I found that the school system was designed to pass kids through it and really was inflexible and impersonal. This to me, as a young man, seemed to be the exact opposite from what a structured educational system should be. There was no room to focus on the needs of a single child. There was no way that a teacher could stretch their wings and teach kids with passion, no way to teach them how to be passionate about learning. It was all about following the DPI plan and it was a bucket of cold water over the flames of passion that I came into the school with.

I see now, 25 years later, that there is a need for a “system”, a structure that does the most good for the most amount of kids. But there is still a problem with so many important lessons being missed by many, if not all kids. Now, through the eyes of a being a parent, my frustration comes from a different angle. No longer am I frustrated by standing by and not being able to teach what I deemed necessary. I am now frustrated that my own children may be missing a learning opportunity and yet, still, there is nothing I can do about it.

Schools are great for institutional learning. My children are learning new ways of doing math that are beyond my understanding. My kids tell me that I’m “old school” without even getting the pun. My kids are learning computer applications, grammar and reading skills, and history, and cultural studies. As far as learning from books (or screens) they are very exposed. But what I miss are the life lessons that kids are no longer experiencing. This is not only the school experience that is lacking, it’s the parent input that has gone shy.

Parents need to infuse every moment with educational value. (See prior post) and sometimes that is difficult to do. I believe that children should be allowed to skin their own knees on occasion to learn about safety, about panic, about pain and about getting back up after a fall, plus so many other things.  But as a parent asked me once, what if the skinned knee you are allowing is really a broken arm or worse, and you could have prevented it? We could battle from both sides of the argument but the essence of what I was stating is that kids need to experience failure to appreciate success: whether it’s a skinned knee, a broken arm,  a failed exam, or yes, even worse.

I think we are missing the opportunity to teach kids that no matter what happens that we can, and should, overcome.  I think that too often we teach kids, inadvertently, that at times we are all helpless. That it is easier to complain and go along then to stand up and make a change. To be so bold we need to teach them that they can do what they set their mind to. That is one of the beauties of gymnastics and sports. Training teaches them that they are competent enough to achieve what they once thought impossible. By allowing them to fall, and to fail we give them opportunity to get back up and try again. We encourage the return to the competitive floor, so to speak, but we cannot do it for them. This is a most prized lesson.  It simultaneously gives them confidence to succeed and humility in failure.  And there is no final failure because all failure can hold educationally value. Without a fear of failing there is freedom to learn and succeed. Magnificent.  My son’s teacher Ms. Kroetz) is so appreciated for this reason. Within the structure of the school system she is allowing kids to have controlled failures. The controlling part is not witnessed by the children and they see that they can have difficulty and still be a success if they work hard, never give up and persevere. She does not hover over them and give them reminders about what they should be doing at any given moment, they have to learn that themselves. As an ex- teacher and current parent I cannot tell you how this makes me happy.

Helicopter parents are the bane of a functional society. There. I said it. I know people who proudly identify as a hovering keeper of their child’s life experiences. They feel security in controlling and being sure that the child makes safe decisions. However, I actually believe  what I just wrote above. If you do too, then this will make sense to you, if not, you will think that I am a inattentive and negligent adult: so be it, either way. When we oversee every experience and control outcomes then the child learns to be dependant. To some parents this feels like it makes them valuable. The truth is that it makes them necessary for the child to think, and that is actually crippling. When kids leave home they look for other things that can again control them or make them feel secure, they find controlling friends and relationships, they find dominating bosses in jobs that make them feel like pawns. To be sure this doesn’t happen kids need time to think on their own, play on their own, imagine,  dream,  plan, succeed and fail; all on their own.  In this they will find the strength inside. Strength that was there all along. The strength that you dream of for your child.  How can that be bad?


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). 

February 2015
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