Archive for the 'Character' Category

24
May
17

Lessons from a ghostly guide

This year the team traveled to New Orleans for the Jazz Invite. It was a great meet, and a lot of fun. But one of the highlights for me was the “Ghost Tour” we took through downtown New Orleans. I went with a few team girls, their parents, and some strangers on a walking tour of the French Quarter and areas outside the Quarter.

Our guide was a long haired, trench coat wearing Cajun. He spoke English but would occasionally spout out a word in French/Creole and then admonish us with a look of disdain for not understanding . As we walked he spoke of the city’s rich history from slave trading to torture, from heroic battles to voodoo rituals. It was creepy, at times, but even more, it was fascinating. As he spoke he would beg us to understand “his city” and it’s growing pains. He would stare into the eyes of one of the group as he spoke, and underline his comments with “Do you see?”  He was weird and creepy, but we were so

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Here I am, freaked out,  in the seance room of a ghostly hotel.

engaged all through the tour that the time seemed to pass too soon.  In fact, the next day (during some free time) I went back to a few of the sites on my own, in the safe light of day, to see more of the historic area. But my favorite part was that night, when the tour was over, about 11 pm. The group dispersed. All but the Gymfinity portion of the tour had gone on to experience the nightlife of the Quarter. Our guide stayed and answered questions and followed up with us until it was just too late to be out. His responses covered architecture, history, and of course, the paranormal. But as we reached the end of the night, he made one more comment to our girls. I, for one, felt that his closure was worth the full price of admission.

He told the girls that they needed to understand that each one of them was their Great Great GrandMama’s dream. Those women, from so many generations ago, dreamed of a day when their offspring would be allowed the strength and freedom to become the people that they wanted to be. A world, or a time, when those future girls could live out their lives however they wished. He explained that today’s generation of young women have more opportunities than any generation that went before them, and he wanted to be sure that their for-bearers efforts were not delivered in vane.

He asked them if they were good in school? He told them that their ancestors would be ashamed of them if they didn’t use the tools they are given to make their lives extraordinary. The past generations could only imagine, in their wildest dreams, the day when a young woman would be allowed to challenge the world unfettered and unencumbered by the belief that she was incapable simply because of her gender. He stared into their eyes and asked if they saw that these old women worked, sweat, and bled for these girl’s ability to live that once only dreamed of life. He asked them if they wanted to make their Great Great GrandMama’s dreams come true. If they wanted to make those long-gone women proud of them. He wanted to know if they thought that what they were doing would allow those generations to feel that their own lives were validated. He explained that by living the embodiment of their grand-generation’s dreams that they would allow those spirits to rest. Were they willing to live their lives in a way that would allow that?

I had 5 team girls there, from age 10 to 17, and each one stood with their jaws clenched, their arms tight, and their spine strong and tall. Their posture answered his questions; Yes, they saw it. They knew that their lives, like all of us, are the embodiment of our ancestors dreams.

What a beautiful message to these young women and what a great end to the night, and some of the best ghost stories I have ever heard. That wild, weird, trench coat wearing Cajun, hit a nerve with each of us. My girls went home knowing that they had dreams to live up to, and not only their own. Powerful.

I love when life places people, in unexpected places, to teach us lessons. Page back through these posts to read about the time I got a dose of reality from meeting Picasso in, of all places, San Jose California. (page down from here). https://gymfinity.wordpress.com/page/10/

02
May
17

Advice to the new Gymfinity parent

Way back many years ago, when the world found out that Steph and I were expecting our first baby, people stepped up to advise us. People who had kids and had already done the baby thing made themselves available for Steph and I who were feeling pretty anxious about being parents.  “Sleep when they sleep, sometimes let them cry, don’t give him potato chips…..J”, and other nuggets of advice really helped us out.  In that spirit, I wanted to offer some advice to parents that might be considering joining the program at Gymfinity.  I am a parent, and I get the parenting concerns. My kids have been in our program and in other sports too, I have seen the best and the worst of kids activity options. I am a coach too, I have answered many questions and concerns over the years, so I feel particularly qualified to offer a few “remembers” to you here. So here are 10 things you should know about your time at  Gymfinity.

  1. Remember that coaches are people too.

We work for you and we have goals and aspirations for your kids just like you do. We have knowledge of skill and a basic understanding of child psychology, but we are human. There will be times when we say something that may be misconstrued, but we are not mean people. We might forget to return a call, that doesn’t mean we don’t like you or your child. We might ask your child to work hard, that doesn’t mean we don’t understand that they are human too and sometimes get frustrated or tired.

  1. Remember that this is for your child’s development

Our program naturally provides skill and confidence, but we also have the goal of teaching kids to think. Analytically, like why do I lose balance when I wave my arms? Critically, like I know that I can do it but I want a mat under the beam too. And independently, like asking for consideration like a mat or permission to try a new and different skill. We want them to be able to not only do gymnastics but to understand gymnastics and how to think things through. Gymnastics is a great vehicle for understanding many broader concepts outside the skills they are taught.

  1. Remember that coaches very rarely bite

We know that some kids are shy, but we need them to communicate with us and share their fears, goals, and concerns. When we better understand your child, we can better serve them. Shy works for a 6-year-old, on an 8-year-old it can be tolerable, but after that we need kids to speak up for themselves. This is a goal for us, to have every child in our program be able to speak their mind.

  1. Remember that we really do like your kid

There will sometimes be occasions when we tell your child that they are doing something wrong. There will be times when they may be corrected and they feel like we picking on them when we make corrections. We are not. Once we get to know a kid we generally like them, that’s why we are in this business. Our job is to be critical and to make corrections, sometimes it may make your child feel deflated. Through correcting and applied effort, together, we will get your child to feel great about their outcome. It may take a while, and it will require patience on all sides.

  1. Remember that we are striving to surpass your expectations

Our staff is background checked, safety trained, and under constant supervision. Every one of us has a required amount of continuing training credits that we must fulfill each year to stay on staff. We travel to seminars, clinics, and conventions to learn to be the best we can. We bring in national and international trainers in our industry to teach us to be better teachers. We will never stop trying to be better than we are right now, but if we don’t live up to our reputation or your expectations we will gladly help you pack and move to another program.

  1. Remember that Gymnastics is not the world.

It’s close, but c’mon. In the end, it’s a game. It’s a sport that you play for as long as you can and you hope it leads to good things while having an amazing time. If your child struggles with a skill, or they have a rough performance it does not diminish their effort. The game has ups and downs, like life, and sometimes it makes us smile, sometimes it makes us cry. These are both OK. Don’t value your child on how well they compare to anyone else, nobody is like your child. They are wonderful, warts and all. Just know that they may be great at this. They may not.

  1. Remember that Gymnastics can be the world.

When your child is in a sport like gymnastics, it can feel like it’s everything to them. Some of our kids go on to do college gymnastics and some become coaches too. When I was a young gymnast it was how I identified myself. It was why I didn’t party in school. It was why I did my homework. It was what I wanted to do my whole life. If my mom would have told me when I was younger that it was not important, I think I would have been crushed, or in the least, resented her for saying it. Should they choose this sport, let them love it.

  1. Remember that you hired us to do this.

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    We’re here to help

You hired us to provide your child with something. Some want their kids to develop confidence, some want their kids to be more coordinated, some want their kids to make friends in a positive place with good fun and fit objectives. Let us do that for you. This is what we know. We’ve been in this business for many years (I started coaching before some of the parents that bring their kids here were born). You came in, saw the program, met us and tried us on. Be sure you let us do what you expected us to do. Sometimes it’s hard to let go, but trust us. It will be worth it.

  1. Yes, we know your child is special.

Every child has the right to feel special. But when we have a group of children in a class, we try to make every child feel loved and appreciated. No one is entitled to be special-er than anyone else. Part of the process of growing up is sometimes taking a backseat to someone else on occasion. Everyone will get their turn in the front seat. It’s OK. Re-read number 4.

  1. Remember that even honeymoons end.

When a child starts a new program, they usually have a great time for the first few weeks running on the novelty alone. The gym is great, the teacher is awesome, the class is their favorite thing ever! But then the novelty wears off. It’s still a great class but they may not seem as excited. This is pretty typical. There are stages to their involvement, the first is the honeymoon, and everything is amazing. The second can be a slow down, motivation is lessened and they seem to have lost a little interest. Kids may seem to lose some of the passion when they are getting ready to come to class, but they do fine once they’re here. This is a time when your encouragement and support is needed to deliver a little bump to get to Stage 3. The third phase is a renewed interest and an acceptance that this is THEIR class and they are now a part of a bigger program. They feel at home and their renewed efforts start to produce skills and smiles. It’s phases one and three when they are doing cartwheels all over the house. The only time cartwheels stop is phase 2 and when they leave for college (sometimes not even then).

It’s often a new experience and it takes some getting used to. But thankfully there are veterans around who can offer advice and guidance on this journey. Many of the parents of kids in your child’s class started out with questions too, it’s OK to talk to them. And, as always, feel free to ask us, we are always available for you.

18
Apr
17

How we do things here.

A few weeks ago I was having a discussion with my team kids. We do a Word of the Week that focuses on character and motivation and the word was “Role Model”. I explained that it wasn’t the words that were important, it was the concept. The concept that, good or bad, other people are observing us and we are showing them what WE are like. I explained to the girls about a study that was done involving monkeys and I actually wrote about it in a prior post about 5 years ago. Here is a clip from that post:

The first is a study of monkeys placed in a cage with a set of stairs. If any monkey stepped on the top stair the entire floor surface was given an electrical shock (minor, but uncomfortable). The monkeys started to think communally and punish any other monkey who attempted to climb the stairs, even if they did not reach the top. The offending chimp was pulled to the ground and physically punished.  When some of the chimps were replaced, the remaining monkeys were quick to “teach” the new inmates about the repercussions of the top stair. Over time the trigger was deactivated. Still no one was allowed to reach the top step. When all of the original monkeys were rotated out, the beatings still continued because the remaining monkeys, who had learned the lesson from other monkeys though never experienced the shock personally, felt compelled to teach the new simians.

The study demonstrates that culture begets culture. It shows how we have no problem teaching the new kids, or new monkeys for that matter, that this is how we do things here.

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Level 8’s, February 2017, New Orleans Jazz Invite.

I explained to the team how we present ourselves matters very much. When younger kids in classes look to the top-level kids; they are evaluating how it looks to be a team member, a high level, or even how to be a teenager. I asked them how many times they said hello to a class kid, or how many times they watched a younger gymnast and commented on their effort or their skill. I explained how much impact it would have on a little gymnast to be recognized for trying, by someone like them. I asked them if they knew how many kids ask us if, in our pro shop, they can get leotards like “the big girls” wear. What would it mean to compliment an up-and-comer on their new leo? I asked them if they remembered when they would play gymnastics at home and they got to be a team girl for a day. They remembered because it wasn’t that long ago that their role models were on the team, and they were just starting out. It was only a few years back when they dreamed of being in This group.

We talked about what they show the other kids in the gym when they have a tantrum, or when they cry because the training is sometimes hard. Is this how we do things here? And we talked about how they joke with, and support each other as team mates, how they cheer when one gets a new skill, or how they get loud when pumping up a team mate to “go for it”. Is that how we do things here?

The gist of the conversation is that everyone is being watched and evaluated every minute. Every one of them is teaching new generations how to behave and what to expect as they progress. Every one of them is showing our parents in the lobby that this is the program that they have their kids in, good or bad.

Now, I can honestly say that I have never been more proud of our team. They get it. They know they are evaluated by class kids, parents, and young team kids too. They represent themselves, their families, their team, and their gym with pride. They are not only great gymnasts but they show everyone that they are great people as well. After all, that is how we do things here.

04
Apr
17

Can you share in the feeling?

Meet season is ending up and it always leaves me pensive. Did we do ok? Could we do better? Should I have done more of this? Less of that? But one thing I am thinking this year is about how people, in general, often don’t get gymnastics, or maybe it’s that they don’t get gymnasts.

I think it’s difficult to appreciate what some of these kids (after all, they are still children) go through to be able to do this sport, let alone do it as well as they do. People who see gymnastics often are amazed at the young girls who flip and fly, defyin

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Level 9 and 10 Team in St. Paul,  Minnesota, February 2017

g gravity and demonstrating such great strength. But there is another level of appreciation that most people miss.

A lot of the kids in gymnastics live parallel lives with their school and neighborhood peers. Gymnastics kids make many sacrifices. School dances, weekend hangouts, or afterschool clubs often don’t get a lot of gymnast participation because most of it happens on weekends when we compete, or at night when we train. Yes, the small girl doing loopty loo’s and flippy flews is amazing, but does the average gymnastics fan see what they had to do to be able to fly so high?

In the television coverage of the Olympics we don’t see only the sport played or the contest carried out. In the breaks or slower periods the networks do “human interest” pieces; video of the athlete at home, with their family, or maybe the clip of the person training, usually at ungodly early hours or with great strain. They show the human side to let us warm up to the athlete. When we feel closer, like we somehow understand their story, the viewing becomes more fun. We root for the ones we love, the ones who move us, the one’s that we can identify with. I often joke with friends that if everyone had a “human interest reel” that people could see before interacting that the world would be a nicer place, to be sure, but we don’t.

I believe that it is hard to appreciate the beauty, the irony, or the justice of the performance when we don’t have the understanding of what went into arriving at that moment. If we are given the opportunity to see the champion being made, to see the morning training, or the ups and downs of a warm up, we have difficulty in identifying the great value in what we see before us.

As former athletes it may be somewhat easier to identify with what is happening then those who have never done the sport, but there is still often a disconnect. Some of us have experienced the struggle to attain success in a sport, and some have not. Granted, everyone’s journey is different, but there is still something to be felt, a kinship, that makes us care and makes the performances more valuable. We know that they work so hard, overcome such struggle, grow (complete with growing pains), sacrifice, laugh, cry, try again and again. They do homework in the car on the way to the gym, or eat dinner while mom drives. They study while their friends are asleep because practice ended at 9pm. They can tell you about great restaurants in far-away cities because they travel more during their gym years than most people travel in a lifetime. They review the pictures in their phones and rattle off cities they have been to, that other kids may never get to see. They meet friends from other gyms, other cities, and they stay in touch like long lost sisters through their whole lives. They sweat and sometimes their hands bleed from that one extra bar routine they did last night. They love their team mates and offer them support and attention at meets, yet they always find where mom and dad are sitting so they can visually check in from across the gym for a smile or a thumbs up. They tremble; sometimes with anticipation, sometimes from nerve and in either case regardless of the reason, they step up when the judge salutes. When it’s their turn, you won’t see all that, but you will see the performance they trained to show you and the judges.

Maybe with a little peek behind the curtain, you can understand everything that went into making this moment, this opportunity to share their glory with you, the fan. Maybe, with a little empathy, your heart can race, like theirs. Maybe you can feel the importance of this one moment, this  one chance to shine. Even without the video background, maybe you can feel the spirit and the love of what they are about to do. Maybe.

21
Mar
17

So, you coach girls. Why?

 

Small talk at a party: “So you coach gymnastics. Boys or girls? Why?” I’ve been asked this about a hundred times, and everyone is surprised when I say “girls.” I think most people just think that a guy coaches boys and a woman will coach girls.  Not true.

So why do I  coach girls? I’ve tried coaching boys; it didn’t go well. I found that I spent more time watching wrestling and saying things like “I can wait until you are ready to listen….” Than I did actually coaching. It takes a special kind of a person to coach boys. I am not that special.

My standard answer when people ask “why girls” is that “girls listen better, pay attention more, and are usually smarter”. Then the universe graced me with two sons. So, I can’t use the “smarter” quip anymore, but the rest was pretty true.

I started thinking about why the difference was seemingly such a no-brainer to me but so hard to explain to others. As usual I ran the self-conversation during a long car trip and made frequent stops to jot notes. Then I did a little organizing research. Here’s what I came up with:

I was raised by my mom. I had a lot of respect for her and I aspire to be a parent like she was. She was confident, decisive, and strong. I realized that many of the girls that I coach have those attributes but often they don’t know it. So, on one hand, I think I want to help them develop those skills. Boys, it seems, are naturally confident, usually decisive (not right or wrong but decisive) and they usually show strength at an earlier age.  But why?

The best I can determine is that in terms of evolution males have always been more independent, had to show strength, and provide for the smaller weaker gender. Females were dependent, had to rely on the protectors and providers for survival, but today those traditional gender roles and attributes are in gray areas as women have become more independent and strong. when it comes to society we are slow to accept this and often the discrimination of our beliefs is unfounded. A big boat is slow to turn around, and this belief that woman are the weaker sex is a big boat of old fashioned thinking.

Developmentally, there is some science to this as well. As fetuses develop, female brains are bathed in estrogen as early as 8 weeks after conception and the hormone bath develops brain areas that will be suited to language, communication, and emotion. While male babies are flooded with testosterone, which develops areas of the brain that focus on aggression and more base needs. As children grow, society reinforces this with subtle prejudicial statements like “she’s so girly” meaning dainty and innocent, and “boys will be boys” which means boys will be rough, uncontrollable and dangerous.

Society tells girls that they need to make the tribe happy, provide harmony, and develop relationships. Meanwhile boys are taught to stand up for themselves, be assertive and challenge the world.

How gymnastics plays a part in development

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One of many reasons I am proud to coach girls, here’s me with Bri Slonim. 

Because females traditionally have been protected from risk they have not had the benefit of learning from their failures. I believe that this is where sports, particularly gymnastics, has a great developmental benefit. I think that girls can be shown that they can approach perfection, seek to surpass their own perceived potential, and encouraged to take risks. I believe that in so doing, children (not just girls) are given an opportunity to assess their efforts, learn from their skinned knees, and get back to their feet, try again, and grow stronger. Nothing is better than gymnastics at showing you that you did not do your homework. Our sport will let you know when you don’t work hard enough, and it will let you know in no-uncertain terms.

My mother, by virtue of divorce and strict Hungarian parents she had to learn that if she wanted something, she had to work for it. She never took breaks, and when she had 3 sons she knew she had to teach us those very lessons and values. I think that as a pre-parent younger coach starting in the industry,  I felt a strong sense of mission to share that lesson with children growing up. I think I gravitated toward coaching girls because they seemed more eager to learn from me. Boys, at least by the impression they try to give off, already knew everything.

Now I have sons and I get to see behind the veil of masculinity that though boys may show bravado, inside they are still pretty insecure and squishy. I think that too is evolutionary. I know that if I had to coach boys again,  I would see it from a different perspective. I have learned that boys tend to overestimate their skills, while girls tend to underestimate themselves. I have always fought for the underdog, and maybe it’s the “Yes, you can do it”-ness of coaching girls that fulfills me.

I have written before about confidence and how we can help children develop it. I feel as strongly about independence and being self-secure*

Sports show us there are winners and learners and that we will not always be on the top of the podium at every meet. I cannot stand the meets and games that handout awards to every child. It doesn’t allow a child to assess any plan for success. It doesn’t validate their real effort, and it doesn’t imitate life at all.

So, I like coaching girls. I think I understand why, maybe I can’t explain it in a short 3o second chat, but I know that I can help make a difference. I believe that I should help to turn the boat and do my share to help the world see that women are just as strong, just as smart, just as assertive, just as capable, and just as good and anyone could ever ask. I think I owe that to my mom, who truly showed it to me.

 

 

*I hate the term “self-esteem” because it’s such a cliche. It has come to mean an entitled attitude of loving one’s self and feeling good. I use the term “self-secure” on purpose because it indicates a feeling of, though sometimes we may get frustrated with ourselves in action and habit, that we are comfortable knowing that we are good and functional in a positive way. It think it’s a healthy perspective on our self-image as opposed to a glossy “everything about me is great” feeling, that is a lie, at best.

 

 

21
Feb
17

Training Confident Kids (Part 2)

In the last post we covered how people can gain confidence by pushing the envelope of what is comfortable and what is a little out of the comfort box. Doing this frequently allows us to see things that would normally throw us into a fit of panic as only moderately stressful, and things that were stressful before are now simply acceptable.

That exposure to things outside our comfortable little world is a Macro plan. It’s a big idea, it’s something that we do that effects everything we do, everything we are and everything we think. It’s easy to sit back and say “I can do that pretty easily” but in fact the practice is effectively pushing, in small ways, everything we do. That’s not so easy. It’s a very large undertaking and requires a complete paradigm shift, a new way to see stress: as an acceptable challenge.

But there are other tactics coaches and parents can take to instill more confidence in our kids and athletes.

1: Allow children to intelligently and safely define their comfort box and it’s boundaries.

Explain to your children how and why things are done the way they are. This allows them to accept or deny the challenge. If I explain to a gymnast that the upcoming meet will require skills on the high beam, and the calendar allows this week to be on a floor height beam if next week goes to a medium height and up again the following week. If I explain that the skills and drills they’ve been doing apply to the new skill, and I give them the choice to decide in which level they will train today. They can evaluate the supporting reasons and make an appropriate decision.

It’s important to allow them in on some of the decision making because kids want to feel, a least a little, in control of their outcomes. When the progressions turn out to lead to success they are reinforced at making good choices and creating the successful outcome. This reinforces their confidence, not only in themselves but in the coach and the coaching process.

  1. Skinned knees are Okay

If, in the above scenario, the athlete decides to take an easier path, one that doesn’t step outside the comfort box too far; you have to be accepting of their error.  When the athlete, or anyone, experiences failure based on their own decisions it still reinforces the process and even fortifies the other un-chosen options that were available to the athlete. When they are not ready for the competition on the high beam, they (in conjunction with you, the coach) should reconsider the plan they made. Make amendments. And try again. At Gymfinity we have a saying; “Sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.” Failure can be a powerful teacher.  Note: it’s imperative that we, when processing the re-evaluation of the plan, do not take away their power to make a new plan. We can offer advice, or personal anecdotes of when we faced similar issues, but we should not make the plan for them.

  1. Reading is fundamental

Every child was a winnerYou have to know what it looks like when your kids are pushing the envelope to a little discomfort and stretching the acceptable levels of stress. You also have to know the symptoms of when your kids are over their head.

Every kid is different. Some will be enjoying the thrill of pushing boundaries, others will appear nervous and tenuous. Just like watching people return from a rollercoaster ride; some are smiling and excited, some are tearful and look like they are done for the day.

In any case, you as the coach or parent, need to be sure the child knows that they are allowed to experience the exhilaration of being out of the box, but that you are there for when they are done playing. They should feel that they are free of judgement and criticism, until they feel more competent. In addition, for the times when they are  over their heads, they should still be aware that you are there as their safe harbor.

  1. Everything is a work in progress

Experiences should be created for every child to dabble outside their own comfort area. Occasionally throwing in a challenge keeps kids forward focused. It also allows them to check their progress on their own confidence. If, in the beam scenario above, I explain to the child that next week we will be on the medium beam for the new skill, then I unexpectedly put a stack of mats under a high beam to create an equal in height to a medium beam, I can challenge the gymnast to up the discomfort while still being within the plans of gradual growth. She may balk or she may accept the challenge. Balking means that she is still pretty firmly placed in her discomfort zone. Whereas trying the challenge means she is ready to progress.

  1. They’re looking at us

Our kids are always looking at us to see how a “real adult” handles the things they encounter in their day. We can actually allow the kids to hear us self-talk as we evaluate potential outcomes, the possibility of success or failure, repercussions of each, and the development of a plan of action. Again, what we show kids is what they learn.

In addition, we need to reinforce their efforts regardless of outcomes. A “nice try” or “good effort” goes a long way. I find myself frequently saying (following a failed attempt) “I see what you were trying to do, and I like that”.

Having a good plan and knowing things you can do to help a child is only part of the process. You will also need to know how to process the results of trips to the discomfort zone, and do so consistently. Questions I usually ask are: What did you learn? And what would have made that easier? Come up with questions that you can use to help them talk about and own their new found confidence.

Coaching, like parenting, is a paradox of urging children to dare risky things and the fear that they may not be successful. We also have to encourage risk while simultaneously being afraid that they may be totally safe. It’s often a fine line to balance upon.

I have stepped over my kids before to tell them what to do, I have pushed my agenda for growth without consulting the athlete, and I have also done it right several times as well. This is all very natural. Just like our kids we have failures too, and hopefully we learn from them. Yet if we do it right, we can develop confidence in our kids so they will be able to attempt and fail, many times if needed.

We will develop kids who can confidently make decisions about how to proceed in skill development, performance, maintenance, and growth.

Our kids will be powerful in mental, emotional and cognitive strength as well as being physically strong.

And best of all, our kids will not feel shame in failure because they will know that it is a means to an end. In so doing, they will never be afraid to try.

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.




May 2017
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