07
Feb
17

Training Confident Kids (part 1)

I had some people ask me questions regarding a past post discussing motivation and it’s relation to confidence.  Here is the first of a 2 part post on Confidence and how we get kids to be more confident.

As coaches, we always want the best for our athletes. We train them physically to be strong, flexible and powerful. We train them cognitively to know the skills, routines, and rules. And we train them emotionally to be strong, brave, and confident. Or do we?

For our discussion lets explain confidence in relation to our comfort level in doing things. Our comfort levels are depicted by a box. Within the box we have everything that we are comfortable with, things we do easily, people we know, experiences that range from typical to mundane. Right outside the box are new and different things.  Experiences that put us on edge, make us a little uncomfortable, new places, people, and things. Far away from the box are the things we are very unsure of; things we feel very uncomfortable with, things that make us stressed or nervous.

Confidence is developed by knowing we can perform or interact with the world in a way that is comfortable to us. Things we do that are within our comfort box can be done confidently and things outside might be done with less confidence.

While the majority of our lives occur within our comfort box, it’s only when we reach outside the walls of the box  that we can truly grow and learn. Our comfortable box is where we wish everything to be, but sadly, that is not reality. In the box, we often operate by rote memory, we do our routines and our day to day existence just seems to happen. Chicken or egg? Are we comfortable in that “box” because we do things there easily, or are things easy because we have the confidence to do them? The answer is both.

I remember as a young baseball player, I played 3rd base, shortstop, second base, and catcher. Our coaches rotated us, what seemed at times to be, randomly. It’s likely that they were trying to find our ideal position, the place where we were comfortable playing and where we would be the most effective for the team. But what it also did was allow us to “try” other positions; positions outside of our comfortable little boxes. This was imperative for expanding our proverbial comfort zone as players and as kids.

We are always being advised to “step outside the comfort zone”, or “think outside the box”. When we are confronted with occasional challenges, it allows us to expand our acceptable “zone” or, put another way, our “box” gets bigger and more of the world outside comes within.

When we are no longer afraid of stepping outside the comfort zone, we find that the space within, where we feel in control, becomes bigger. When our coaches moved us around, often unexpectedly, we found that we became a more confident team. I know personally that I gained a lot of confidence because I knew I could handle more than I originally had thought.

For another example, let’s take a gymnast learning a new skill. At first the skill is new and requires focus and a lot of effort. After practicing it for a bit it gets added to the repertoire and becomes “just another thing she can do.” It no longer causes her stress or discomfort, it has become “easy.” But, that same gymnast no longer trains that skill, it is possible for her to “lose” it. That’s obvious. But also, if that gymnast is not challenged with performing the skill in a new combinations, on a new apparatus, or in a performance situation, like a meet or a public demonstration, the skill again may equally be lost. Coaches have to allow that gymnast to perform the learned skills under pressure so that when that skill is needed in a meet performance  it falls within the skills in the comfort box. When it does, it reinforces confidence in performance and positions the athlete to seek more new skills and more growth.

Confidence come from challenges

Confidence come from challenges

Sometimes we can be asked to reach far away from the box; this is when we have greater discomfort over a task or skill. When we feel that we are over our head or incapable of performing, it manifests as a lack of confidence and the feeling can be so strong that we believe that we cannot be successful without the help of someone else.

When an athlete  has rarely been challenged to step outside their comfortable box and are then confronted with change or challenge, they often cannot adapt. Usually this person must rely on others to carry them or assist them through their tasks. I have seen this situation in several scenarios: kids who freeze up, suddenly cannot do more simple skills, or devolve progressions for new skills. There are other reasons that these outcomes may occur too, but it’s often the lack of confidence is the culprit.

Confident people have a larger comfort box and  it affords them a expanded ability to adapt and feel adept.  Also, by occasionally being challenged it allows for a greater tolerance for uncertainty, which means that the areas that cause panic are minimal. However, people with confidence are not fearless. They do experience fears but the fear is often mitigated by both feeling that they can accomplish things with a little  effort, and/or with minimal help. Confident people have either made choices to be challenged or had life throw them enough curve balls that they have learned that they have the capacity to hit any pitch. Or more easily put; they’ve learned, by adaptation, to figure out problems and conquer what once seemed daunting.

Next time: 5 things we can do to create more confidence in our kids.

23
Jan
17

Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.

A few weeks ago my wife and I took a mental health weekend, and traveled to Sedona Arizona. It was beautiful and relaxing, and the energy in that city was exactly what we needed at that time. While we were gone, Wisconsin experienced it’s first snow storm of the season. We came home from the desert mountains to a foot of snow and below zero windchill. While the plane circled the airport we could see the white snow on the ground

Yes that's me on the rock....look close.

Yes that’s me on the rock….look close.

and I began to feel anxious. Then I remembered a Doctor Suess quote* from “Oh the Places You’ll Go” that really resonated. Suess said “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” and my anxiety slipped away.

I had just spent a few days in one of the most beautiful places in the world with my best friend, what better cause to smile? I got to thinking about life in general, and realizing the impact of the words on our lives. Having lost my father this year had struck me deeper than I ever imagined it would. My father and I were not very close being a child of divorce.** My relationship with him was borderline positive sometimes, until he became a Grandpa. I learned more about him and his life growing up, his time as a Milwaukee Police Officer, his time as a soldier, as a business owner, and simply as a man, in the last 12 years than I learned in my first 40 years.  I have posted before about my dad and some of my experiences (Doing it for the Cupcake: May 2015) but I was forced now, with him gone to reach inside and figure out how I felt.

Of course I was sad, I lost my father. Of course I mourned, I would never be able to speak (or argue politics) with him again. But I did find some comfort in the realization that I was very fortunate to get to know him. To see him as a Grandpa was a joy for me and my sons. To have him, in the middle of a political battle, say “yeah, you may be right.” was a big validation for me. I thought about my dad and I smiled.

I realized, circling the airport in the dark,  that it doesn’t have to be sadness when we reach a chapter’s end when, overall,  we appreciate the book.

 

  • * Sorry about bringing up Dr. Suess again, I guess he had more influence on me than I thought. (see a few posts ago, The Only Doctor I’ve Ever Trusted December 2016)
  •  ** I was born in November of 65, my parents divorce was finalized in April of 66. I cannot recall living in a house with my father.
09
Jan
17

Motor Boats and Trains

I have, for a long time, used the analogy of motorboats and trains when I speak to my team kids about motivation. As I raise my own children I realized how this also applies to anyone who may need a little flame placed under the backside.

I ask my team kids if they are a motor boat or a train. I explain to them that I want to help them, I am there as a resource and can provide them drills for skills, code application for routine development, and simple guidance as they progress through the sport, but I need to know what drives them. download

Are they a Train? Are they the type that needs to be pulled? The engine in front, pulling the trailing cars. The conductor sitting in the engine car and deciding where the train goes, how fast it travels, and when it can make stops? As an athlete, do they need me to pull them? Are they needing to tuck in behind me and have me call all the shots, determine the routines, the meets, the training and pull them forward?

Or are they a Motor Boat? Are they the type to be in the captain’s seat and determine direction but need a push from the engine that sits at the stern? Do they have direction and drive and just need the coach as a boost and occasional force?

I have often spoken about the development of the coach relationship with kids in the sport. When they are young, or lower level, the relationship is very much like a master and servant. The coach says “jump” and the gymnasts jump  until Simon says stop jumping, (that works particularly well if the coach’s name is Simon). All decisions are made by the coach, and the gymnast begins learning about how they will develop by seeing it planned out in front of them. In the mid-levels, around beginning optionals, the relationship becomes more like a partnership. The coach is still the primary director but the gymnast has input into their own development and performance. I often say, at this stage, that the coach says “jump” and the gymnasts now ask, “how high?” In later levels and ages, the coach relationship becomes more like a reference that the gymnast can come to for assistance. At this stage, the gymnast directs their pathway and the coach helps in facilitation. This is when the gymnast may ask “Should I jump?”. The relationship and the most effective coaching style evolve over time.

I any event the gymnast is going to need motivation, either internally or provided for them externally. This is true and applicable regardless of the relationship level with the coach. When the coach, boss, teacher, or parent, understands how the child is motivated they can better help the child move forward. Motor Boat or Train? Neither is preferred and degrees of both may be present, but it’s understanding at any given moment which vehicle you are driving that makes a coach more effective at any stage of the game.

12
Dec
16

The only Doctor I’ve ever trusted

One of my favorite shows during the holidays is How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Way back in 1957 Dr. Suess warned us all about the commercialization of Christmas, though we didn’t heed the warning he was prophetic.

I was talking to my children the other day, they’re 12 and 8 and now old enough to comprehend bigger concepts (Yay!), about what the “arms race” is and what it could mean for the world. In our discussion, I referenced The Butter Battle Book, published in 1984. Where the two opposing sides conflict over which is better; bread buttered side down or buttered side up. Again, Suess.

One of mine and my kid’s favorite books is the Lorax, that explains the potential outcome of the planet if we don’t take care of it. Originally published in 1971 and again, sadly unheeded.  But I got to thinking about the good Doctor and all that he has taught us, whether it sunk in or bounced off, the lessons are still most valuable. Let’s look at a few of the lessons as I have seen them while growing up:suess

I learned to be me. Suess asked me “Why fit in when you were born to stand out?” and I responded by living my life by my own standards. Sometimes looking like a fool, sometimes looking like a genius, sadly more the former than the latter. But we were all born to be ourselves and for us to play the important part we must play to make the world great, we need only be ourselves. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to others, or attempt to fit the restrictive frames others can picture us within. We make our choices to live how we live and by doing so, we can succeed by any standard. He even told us “Only you can control your future.” How right you are Doctor.

I also grew up believing that education was the key to my success.  I cannot impart that wisdom upon my own children enough. And of course Suess concurs, learning content is important, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go…” What high school graduate didn’t get a copy of Oh the Places You’ll Go (1990)? But who better to share the lesson that we get to choose; we have the awesome power to be amazing? As I am sure you’ve derived from previous posts, I firmly believe that we do. Thanks for that lesson Dr. Suess, Thank You beyond measure.

 

21
Nov
16

Gratitude is in the Attitude

Recently, my wife and I had this discussion:

  • Why does our son seem so ungrateful, he thinks he is so much more important than anyone around him?
  • Other people tell, us how wonderful he is but we don’t have the privilege of seeing that behavior at home
  • Where did we go wrong, I feel like I have failed because I did not teach him gratitude, and that makes me sad?
  • Do you think he realizes that Mom cooked this food for him?
  • Do you think he appreciates that we both work to be able to provide this food?
  • I wonder if it is possible to offer him opportunities that may help him discover that the world awaits his service, not the other way around

imagesWe had the discussion at the table, and right there, sitting and pouting because he was required to eat more vegetables than bread, was our son.

It got me thinking about this season, and how we can all do a better job of teaching gratitude for our plentiful lives before, during, and after Thanksgiving. Research has shown us that raising kids to appreciate all that is done for them can provide real benefits including greater life satisfaction, better performance in school, more adept at making lifetime direction choices, and even enhanced self-esteem, (which millennial parents believe is an entitlement).  In fact, a study conducted by Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, reveals that cultivating gratitude can increase happiness levels by around 25 percent. Other studies have shown that kids who practice grateful thinking have more positive attitudes toward school and family.

So what can a parent do that might impart this lesson? Here are a few ideas.

  • It seems so simple, but if, each day, we actually say out loud, something that we are grateful for: “I’m so glad the weather has been nice for so long”, “I really appreciate those guys working on the highway-the road will be nice when they are finished”, etc. We set an expectation for our kids to notice things too.
  • Don’t be sucked in by Black Friday, Buy Local Saturday, and Cyber Monday: Of course we want to give our kids everything they want, but when we do they often lose where it came from. It becomes about acquisition and not about function, fun, or appreciation.
  • Allow them to earn their wants: They will want more toys, more candy, more of something. Give them the opportunity to share the responsibility for attaining it. Maybe through chores, maybe through saving allowance, they can help out. If they can share in that they will feel it is more earned, more valuable, and more important. Keep an eye on their screens too. At this time of year everyone is telling them that they NEED more toys, candy and stuff. A young mind often cannot understand the avalanche of marketing and can become depressed or overwhelmed by the “holiday spirit.”
  • Give them an assignment; have them hand write a note to someone whom has been nice to them, helped them, or in other way made their life happier. Have them spell it out, why are they grateful? In fact make it an annual tradition. Having been a teacher and a coach, I cannot tell you how much it impacts us when a student or athlete says thanks. Give that gift this year, don’t do it in conjunction with a “gift for teacher” mentality, it’s not a holiday thing, it’s a “for-no-other-reason-than-I appreciate-you” reason.
  • We have heard about how valuable the lesson is when our children have the opportunity to help a person in need; and I would never suggest that we do not do that. But what about helping out someone who doesn’t need help? What can be gained by helping a neighbor rake leaves, load a truck, shovel snow? It feels good to have someone say “thank you” when you know you didn’t have to do it, you just wanted to.
  • Demand politeness and respect; I cringe every time I see someone’s child ungratefully receive a good deed. A door being held, a sneeze in public, or a person having to side step the child in the aisle at Target should be answered with a “thank you”, a “bless you” or an “excuse me.” I insist that my children carry out these all-to-uncommon niceties. One time I had my son go to the next aisle to apologize to the person that had to dodge his silliness in the toy department. I feel that strongly about it.
  • I used to play with my children (still do) when they complained about something. “I hate these shoes” was answered with “How do you think that makes the shoes feel?” It usually, at least, starts a conversation to get to the bottom of the statement the child made, but I always believed that looking at things from both sides would lead to empathy and as a child I believed that all my toys had feelings, (I’m not sure I was wrong).

So, this year I have set a goal to have my children adopt an attitude of greater gratitude. How about this, let’s not tell the kids. How about all of us parents secretly plan on doing this together? Wow, imagine what we could do.

01
Jul
15

Perfectionism in Gymnastics is par for the course

Gymnastics, like other performance based sports, breeds perfectionism. The sport demands good lines, flawless skills, stellar performances, and lets not forget every coaches insatiable need to see “pointed toes.”

Coaches who work in this industry very seldom have an attitude of accepting average outcomes. I personally have a mantra that states “If better is possible, then good is not good enough.” I understand the open ended dissatisfaction with a statement like that, but I have always felt that our job, as coaches, is to demand that an athlete push their level of potential as high as it is able to go. Our job, I feel, is to encourage them to always reach higher.

Perfectionism in its pure form can become an unhealthy pursuit of ever elusive excellence. An athlete, left alone in that pursuit may develop self-doubts and a heartfelt fear of not attaining a coach, a judge, or a parent’s approval. An athlete left to navigate these emotional waters unaided can be subject to anxiety and depression. To be sure we provide enough support for these children we must take a position of acting as the reality monitor. Even in our demand for perfection we need to share that sometimes good is good enough. We need to be able to take the weight of never being good enough from their shoulders.

There are somethings that apply to these athletes that don’t always apply to the average kid. Knowing these behaviors or beliefs can help us be most effective for our athletes.

"It wasn't that bad, was it?"

“It wasn’t that bad, was it?”

A perfectionist takes everything to heart

These kids are feeling that they didn’t perform well. When a comment that is intended to be light-hearted is made, it affirms imperfection. They will see it as a derogatory attack that indicates dissatisfaction on the coach or parent’s part. They are also very adept at labeling compliments as condescension. Comments like “it wasn’t that bad” will be heard as “it was bad.”  We need to avoid blanket statements and instead point out the areas that were positive. “I liked the shape on that layout, that’s what I was looking for, well done.”  Granted, this conversation will continue as they invite you to pick apart the performance. But rest assured that what you compliment will get repeated. Coaches and parents should affirm the positives and save corrections until later.

Over-effort is the way a perfectionist works

Our perfectionist athletes will ask for “one-more” chance to make it better, or to do a private lesson for that part of the routine that just doesn’t feel perfect. The coach needs to set these boundaries. We love to see our kids hungry to learn and do more, but we have to take into consideration that fatigue plays a factor. Frustration depletes focus. And, my favorite, allowing tired and frustrated performance will only reinforce poor execution. The coach needs to keep all of this in mind so that the athlete’s efforts don’t deliver the opposite effect.

A Perfectionist believes that if better is possible, than good is not good enough

They will look back as far as a few days to focus on the one or two reps that were positive, in comparison they’ll find fault in their current effort. This comparison is often very short-sighted.

As a coach I will explain that the new skill was done better previously because there was less thinking. I use this process as an opportunity to explain that over-analysis slows progress. Another opportunity for the coach is to reintroduce a status check that goes further back. “Do you remember what we were working on this time last year?” This can supersede the doubts and even provide a positive footing to restart the effort from a happier position.

A perfectionist will sweat the small stuff

Things that we consider trivial can be monumental for some kids. I had a gymnast once who had an awful meet because she was sure that her hair wasn’t pulled back correctly and it would affect her score. In situations where the focus becomes so clouded by minutia our job is to provide scripted thinking. Reviewing performance cues, or making detailed corrections that require the athlete to focus can derail the obsessive negative focus on minor details.

Perfectionists feel at home when the heat is on

For this reason you will find that perfectionists will put things off as long as possible. They like performing under pressure, so waiting to start that term paper until the day before it’s due is not unusual.

Often they will claim that they are waiting until they feel that they really “understand” the project, but in the end it’s the pressure to complete the task with which they can identify. This also leads to feeling that, because of the pressure and time crunch, that they didn’t do their best work. In this situation we need to do frequent progress checks and encourage them to do the project in smaller chunks, then do final revisions under the pressure they are seeking.

A perfectionist sees themselves as lazy

Often they see a list of things that need to be done. They spend so much time and effort on the first item that they don’t get to address items 2-5. They then come to believe that they must not be working hard enough. This again I have seen manifested in the gym when an athlete works one skill for an entire event rotation and leaves no time for other skill work. As a coach we need to be aware of the time spent and guide them in distributing time to work on other skills. With these kids I will often give them time allotments rather than performed criteria. Rather than say do 10 good cartwheels I will say, work cartwheels for 5 minutes then dismounts for 10 minutes, etc.

You cannot criticize a perfectionist more than they criticize themselves

Most often these are the kids who land a skill and immediately turn to you and say something like “I threw my head back didn’t I?” before you can say anything. They will be quick to reprimand themselves so that other don’t have too. In fact, they will see it as piling on if you load more criticism on top of their own. To avoid this you may need to clarify exactly what you are looking for. When they throw a question like the one above, I will respond with something like “I am looking at your hand placement first. I need to see you do that next time before I worry about anything else.”  As a coach we need to be able to steer the direction of the correction because often times their self-criticism will be imagined just so they have something critical to say. Don’t allow that to happen.

Perfectionists like to be sure

They will be thinking that doing this new thing, or creative application might not work out perfectly and so, it’s not worth doing. They would rather spend more time perfecting the old skills. Perfectionist kids will need to be led into learning new skills because they don’t want to do them wrong and make you, or their mom, unhappy.  Again, the coach will need to dictate the definition of success. “If you catch one, I will be happy…. Great you caught the bar on the release skill, now I want to see you tap into the swing a little bigger.” This way the child has defined success points but still realize that they are learning a skill. Remember that learning is almost always an unattractive process, and that’s OK.

As the adults in these scenarios we must always be aware that we can control the pace and outcome of any perfectionist child’s effort. We can re-frame comments to be more constructive and positive and offer encouragement rather than letting them feel that they are somehow imperfect. Though we know that their imperfection is what endears them to us, they will feel that it is what devalues them. These are children and we hold the key to whether they are pleased with themselves or not, that is a position of great responsibility. Don’t take it lightly.

17
Jun
15

Tid-Bits to make you feel better

“Fast food or something out of the vending machine.” That was my reply when a friend asked me. A while ago, what I usually had for lunch. Later he came back and brought me an apple. Subtle, but effective. He called my attention to why I felt so awful all the time. During our conversations I learned so much from Tom, and in subsequent months he even provided me with information that I never knew, and I have a degree in Health Education! For example, did you know….

…Fresh or frozen, fruits and veggies are good for you. Of course you knew that but it’s an old wives’ tale that warned us that freezing fruit or vegetables depletes them of their nutritious value, but that is not true.  The FDA has done studies that conclude that any loss of value is negligible. So buy ‘em, pick ‘em, freeze ‘em, whatever, but EAT ‘em for sure.

…You cannot use more calories digesting celery than the calories that are actually in it. There is a measure called TEF or Thermal Effect of Food that measures how many calories are used to digest food, and it’s usually about 10-20% of the value the food holds. So a piece of celery that has 10 calories will use about 1-2 calories to pass through you. That leave 8 calories for you to use elsewhere. Not much intake for a stalk, but on the other hand, you would have to eat 250 stalks of celery to have a 2000 calorie diet. Nobody wants to do that. Do you?

Gymfinity Blog

I am the rare kind of person that actually likes Brussel Sprouts, So I’ve got that going for me.

Did you know that the best veggie you can eat is the Brussel Sprout. It is full of vitamins and minerals and has very few calories, despite the bitter flavor this little guy is worth eating. There are lots of recipes that make them palatable. Google “Recipes that make Brussel Sprouts edible.” It’s worth it.

Did you know that there is a higher concentration of nutrition in the skin and peel of F’s and V’s than in the body of it.   Also the skin of carrots, apples, potatoes, and cucumbers have the great benefit of fiber. So stop peeling away the best part, your body will thank you.

Did you notice that when you shop for veggies you see more purple food than you used to. Carrots, potatoes, cauliflower, asparagus, and even corn now come in purple varieties. Not only does this make for a more colorful plate (It’s true that you should have as many colors on your plate as possible for the best nutritional benefits) but they contain Anthocyanin, also found in the super-food Blue Berries, and have been shown to have a positive effect on heart health, brain health, be a cancer preventative, and many other benefits. So eat purple.

And now from the “Hmmm, that’s interesting” file comes these two tid-bits: All Bananas are clones and Tomatoes are only vegetables because of taxes. Both true facts.

In the 50’s a blight of the banana crop called “Panama Disease” wiped out most types of bananas. Farmers had to use plants derived from a single Cavendish Banana plant in Southeast Asia, so technically all bananas are clones from the same source just like Star Wars Stormtroopers. (Watch the movies if you don’t get that one).

banana Stormtrooper Gymfinity

Attack of the Clones

And tomatoes, well you know how a few years back the government disappointingly classified ketchup as a vegetable for school lunches? That goes way back to the late 1800’s when the government could collect tariffs on vegetables but not fruit. I have no idea why, it is the government after all. But in order to collect more tax they classified the Tomato fruit as a vegetable. It was just a short hop from there to have a bureaucrat call ketchup a vegetable in the 1990’s. But for truths sake we should start calling the tomato a fruit (it is) and stop calling ketchup a vegetable. Maybe then kids could have more nutritious lunches in schools. Besides that, they tax everything now, so….

When Tom brought me an apple, I was drinking about 6 cups of coffee a day. I still have about 2 on average, but he showed me that an apple has a great mix of vitamin, mineral, and carbohydrate and could help a person stay energized for about 4 hours. Add in the fiber benefits and you have a no-brainer. You will find that an apple could replace at least half of your coffee consumption, and though Starbucks will miss you, I think they’ll be OK.

Far be it for me to tell anyone how and what to eat, but sometimes when we learn trivial little nuggets of information they can trigger behavior changes that are for the better. The choice, as always, is yours. Very rarely will you see me dragging through my days anymore, thanks to Tom, his apple, and some better decisions. Maybe some of this information will motivate you to eat better. You’re welcome.

And, I am the rare individual that actually like Brussel Sprouts, so I’ve got that going for me.




February 2017
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